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Catholic charity?

BY SNUBBING the annual Christmas dinner for Catholic Charities, Archbishop Sean O'Malley seems to be saying that believers like himself must sometimes turn their backs on the common good if there is conflict with the church's strict religious tenets.

Such a narrow, polarizing view could hardly serve the city well and is especially disappointing during a season associated with tolerance and good will.

The controversy rests on the decision of Catholic Charities, an arm of the Archdiocese of Boston, to honor Mayor Menino at its annual dinner next month. He would seem a sensible choice. Menino, like other supporters of Catholic Charities, focuses often on job training, affordable child care, housing opportunities for the poor, feeding programs, and summer camps for needy youngsters. Yet in the opinion of the archbishop, the Catholic mayor's good works would seem to be negated by his support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage. A letter from Catholic Charities explaining O'Malley's decision cites the need for ''accord with the US Catholic Bishops policy," which forbids Catholic institutions to honor individuals whose actions are inconsistent with the church's fundamental moral principles.

Massachusetts has seen too many examples over the years of cardinals and bishops using pastoral letters or public podiums to target congressional and other candidates who support abortion rights. Prominent politicians who disagree with portions of church doctrine, including Paul Cellucci when he was lieutenant governor, have been stripped of invitations to speak to Catholic institutions even when their speeches have nothing to do with sectarian matters. Pressure from religious groups to exclude those who don't measure up to an ecclesiastical standard is ever-present. O'Malley's withdrawal came after a boycott call from the conservative Catholic Action League of Massachusetts. But if Catholic Charities can honor only people who have never strayed from church doctrine, their banquets will be few. Even saints have flaws.

Menino may be out of sync with some church teachings, but he and other successful politicians know about productive compromise. Sensible politicians on both sides of the abortion issue agree, at least, that unwanted pregnancies should be reduced and that women who choose to bring their pregnancies to term deserve noncoercive information and medical support. Also, politicians on both sides of church-state issues are crafting methods, free of constitutional entanglements, to encourage faith-based groups to deliver social services paid for with tax dollars. It would be easier to retreat behind a hardened position. But how would that serve humanity?

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