Jeff Jacoby

Outrage that misses the target

By Jeff Jacoby
Globe Columnist / June 17, 2011

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‘SEAL UP the mouth of outrage for a while, till we can clear these ambiguities,’’ says Prince Escalus near the end of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.’’ That’s advice most of us could stand to take from time to time — we find it easy to get outraged, even when our fury isn’t justified by the facts.

Consider two tales from the week gone by.

One involved an Army unit returning home from Afghanistan, which ran into an unexpected hassle during a layover in Baltimore. A Delta Air Lines agent allowed each soldier to check up to three bags for free, but charged $200 apiece for those checking a fourth bag. The agent was apparently following standard procedure, but that didn’t protect the airline from scorching criticism — and a PR nightmare — after some of the returning troops posted a video on YouTube complaining about their treatment.

“How un-American can Delta be?’’ ranted one commenter on Delta’s blog. “Delta’s actions in this case, and its company policy regarding our troops, are beneath contempt,’’ seethed another. A VFW spokesman accused Delta of extending “the worst welcome home any soldier could receive.’’

Hating the airlines is practically an American pastime, but it’s not at all clear that Delta did anything wrong here. It isn’t unusual for military service members to front official travel expenses, and get reimbursed by the government later. Nevertheless, Delta quickly apologized and relaxed its policy; uniformed personnel traveling on orders will henceforth be allowed to check four bags at no charge.

If nothing else, this eruption of dudgeon conveys how dramatically attitudes toward the military have changed. US troops coming home from Vietnam were greeted with indifference or worse; some vets remember being spat on by antiwar protesters. Today, support for those who wear the uniform is so fervent that airport bystanders applaud returning troops, and charging soldiers an excess-baggage fee can trigger a public outcry. What a difference a generation makes.

From Boston’s Back Bay, home to the Catholic parish of St. Cecilia, comes a very different tale of misplaced outrage.

St. Cecilia’s worshipers include a considerable number of gays and lesbians, many of whom are active in the church’s Rainbow Ministry. According to its mission statement, the Rainbow Ministry works to “welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Catholics to worship God and . . . to embrace Jesus’ call to unconditional love.’’ Its goal is to “help LGBT Catholics seek reconciliation with the Church to enrich a spirit-filled life.’’

St. Cecilia and its pastor, Reverend John J. Unni, are obviously sensitive to the difficulties faced by gays and lesbians who are Catholic, and want them to feel fully appreciated as members of the congregation. That is admirable as a matter of basic decency. It’s also in keeping with church doctrine: The catechism of the Catholic Church expressly teaches that gays “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity’’ and that “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’’

But even as it enjoins goodwill toward homosexuals, the church firmly opposes homosexuality itself. The same section of the catechism describes “deep-seated homosexual tendencies’’ as “objectively disordered,’’ and says that gay sex can “under no circumstances . . . be approved.’’

So St. Cecilia plainly crossed a red line when it announced last month that it was planning a “Liturgy To Commemorate Boston Pride 2011,’’ and invited “friends and supporters of the LGBT community to a Mass in celebration of Boston’s Pride Month.’’ After all, there is no way to square the church’s condemnation of homosexual activity with a Mass “in celebration’’ of Gay Pride Month. The Archdiocese of Boston ordered the parish to cancel its plans — and the result, predictably, has been angry indignation.

“I think that’s horrible, just horrible,’’ fumed Marianne Duddy-Burke, a gay Catholic activist. Charles Martel, cofounder of Catholics for Marriage Equality, accused the archdiocese of yielding to “a hatred for gay people.’’

Their anger may be sincere. But denouncing a Catholic archdiocese for upholding Catholic standards isn’t rational. The Catholic Church, like any great religion, is open to all who seek to be guided by its teachings. It can hardly be expected to discard those teachings for the sake of popularity or political correctness — or to quell the outrage of parishioners who prefer a church more concerned with their self-esteem than with their spiritual well-being.

Jeff Jacoby can be reached at and followed on Twitter @jeff_jacoby.