Cardinal O’Malley visits Denver’s Annunciation Parish

Boston’s archbishop addresses immigration, life issues

Even though the horizon looks bleak when it comes to immigration and end-of-life issues, there is hope, says the archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley.

The cardinal, who is also the newest member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke to the Denver Catholic en Español during a visit to Denver last month, motivated by the first communion of his nephew.

The Capuchin cardinal, 72, made time during his quick trip to visit the parish served by the Capuchins here in Denver, Annunciation Parish, where he celebrated the morning Spanish Mass on May 28th.

Pope Benedict XVI elevated Boston’s archbishop to a cardinal in 2006, and in January, Pope Francis appointed him as a full board member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He is also a member of the Pope’s “council of cardinals” and president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Cardinal O’Malley has a master’s degree in religious education and a doctorate in Spanish and Portuguese literature from Catholic University of America.

Denver Catholic en Español: You began your priesthood serving the Hispanic community as the executive director of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Spanish Catholic Center in the early 1970s. How did you get to that position?

Cardinal O’Malley: I was in Washington from 1965 to 1984. When I was in Washington there was a great migration caused by the war in Central America. When I was a deacon, I was told that I was going to work on Easter Island in Chile with the Capuchins. But before my priestly ordination, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., told my provincial: ‘I have only one priest that speaks Spanish. Leave that brother here,’ so I spent 20 years in Washington working with the Hispanic community.

DCE: How do you view the situation of the Hispanic community of that time compared to the current situation?

CO: It was the time of the wars in Central America, and many of them were farmers and refugees. They fled from violence and misery. Their farms were destroyed by the wars. It was dangerous. There were a lot of Salvadorian immigrants. At that time, I got to know Blessed Óscar Romero very closely. Most of the parishioners were undocumented people. We can see that so many decades later we are in a similar situation.

Cardinal Se‡n O’Malley celebrates Mass during the Ascension of Jesus Christ at Annunciation Catholic Church on May 28, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

DCE: What do you think of the Hispanic Catholic community in the United States?

CO: I see that the Hispanic community growing, numerous, and active. I admire the enthusiasm, the religious devotion, the family values, their work, and their participation.

DCE: The Hispanic community faces many challenges with regard to immigration, how do we resolve this issue?

CO: We urgently need a new legislation to deal with immigration issues. We should have more generous quotas and work visas for those who want to work in the agricultural sector so that they can be with their families. Now there are many people who are trapped and cannot go back to visit their families, or re-enter the country for the next harvest. President Bush tried with a bill that was sponsored by John McCain, a Republican, but even with that it was not approved. Obama couldn’t either. And like that, many years have passed and this has become more urgent than ever. We must solve the problems of the people and stop these deportations.

More than 60 percent of undocumented immigrants that live here have been here for more than 10 years, and many of them have children who are US citizens. Many of them own a home. The government must have a policy that favors families and should consider the situations of many undocumented workers who have been hard workers and who have contributed a lot to the country. Talking about them as if they were all delinquents is very unfair, and the Church, which has always been an immigrant church, must raise its voice in defense of the undocumented.

DCE: What message can we give to those who fear being deported?

CO: The hope is that there are many people who already realize the need to have more just [immigration] laws, and a pathway for people to have documents. The president said that when they managed to close the border and deport the criminals, he would treat the undocumented immigrants who are here with mercy. I hope this happens soon.

Cardinal Se‡n O’Malley greets parishoners after Mass celebrating the Ascension of Jesus Christ at Annunciation Catholic Church on May 28, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

DCE: You are known for fighting in favor of the life of the unborn and the terminally ill, what challenges do you see in this country regarding life issues?

CO: The appointment of the new Supreme Court justice [Colorado native Neil Gorsuch] gives us hope. The president promised to name someone who was pro-life and it seems that he kept that promise. Also, the new judge has written a book on physician-assisted suicide. He is a man who understands the seriousness of these ethical problems. It is a very serious and very difficult challenge also because every year there are more states that submit referendums to legalize euthanasia. This is a result of the extreme individualism of the culture. We must take care of each other. Every human being at the beginning and at the end of his life needs someone to take care of him. It’s the human condition!

COMING UP: Banned books: Pushing back against the new ideology

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How would you know if you were being brainwashed? When something plainly false — contrary to common sense and right reason — is so constantly forced on you and you are not allowed to question it, it’s a good indication. This is the nature of ideology: imposing a position without truly establishing it or allowing it to be criticized. We have seen that something clearly opposed to the basics of scientific fact, such as the nature of sex as male and female, can be forced quickly upon American society through the influence of media and public education. And, perhaps not too surprisingly, even something as clear as 2+2=4 has been called into question by progressive educators, such as Dr. Rochelle Gutierrez, turning it into a sign of alleged oppression.  

In our time, dystopian novels have become reality. George Orwell best described the use of ideology in modern political regimes through doublethink, newspeak, and thoughtcrime. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the main character, Winston Smith, is coerced to accept that 2+2=5, showing his allegiance to ideology over reality. Orwell speaks of the way ideology gains power over the mind: “The Party is not interested in the overt act: the thought is all we care about. We do not merely destroy our enemies, we change them.” This domination does not broker any opposition: “It is intolerable . . .  that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be.” If the truth can circulate freely, then ideology will fail.  

You might ask how the acceptance of ideology differs from accepting the mystery of faith, which requires our obedience to God. A key difference is that God’s revelation makes sense even while beyond reason. God does not shut down our thinking but wants us to ask questions and continue to come to know him and his creation throughout our lives. Faith cannot contradict reason because they both come from God, from his gifts of revelation and creation. You know you are facing ideology, however, when it refuses any discussion of contrary views. Catholics have been accused of hate for refusing to go along with the new ideology of human sexuality. This ideology claims to speak truly of the reality of human life, although it doesn’t add up, contradicting itself and the clear facts of science. The fight for the future focuses on speaking the truth. Without the ability to think, discuss, and read freely, it will be hard to respond to the ideological wave overwhelming us. 

Throughout the country, however, great books and humanities programs are being shut down for their emphasis on the Western tradition. Cornell West, an African American philosopher at Harvard, writing with Jeremy Tate, speaks of the spiritual tragedy of one American university closing down its classics department: “Yet today, one of America’s greatest Black institutions, Howard University, is diminishing the light of wisdom and truth that inspired [Frederick] Douglass, [Martin Luther] King and countless other freedom fighters. . . . Academia’s continual campaign to disregard or neglect the classics is a sign of spiritual decay, moral decline and a deep intellectual narrowness running amok in American culture.” For West and Tate, cancelling the Western canon shuts down the central conversation of the pursuit of wisdom that touches every culture.  

Canceling the pursuit of wisdom hits at the integrity of our culture itself, as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, another dystopian novel, focused on saving books from the fire set on wiping them out, explains: “If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.” Books proved hostile in this all-too-real futuristic American society portrayed by Bradbury, undermining the state of contended distraction provided by an omnipresent virtual reality. The fight for truth necessarily entails the books we read and teach.  

In our current cancel culture, Catholics too are being silenced for speaking about reality. Amazon recently cancelled Ryan T. Anderson, who studied at Princeton and Notre Dame and now directs the Ethics and Public Policy Center, blocking the sale of its book on its platform for questioning transgender ideology. The book, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement (Encounter Books, 2018), provides a well-researched and thought-out response to the movement overturning common sense and millennia of acquired wisdom. Even more than that, Anderson shows how we are experimenting on our children, subjecting them to practices of hormone therapy and surgery that have not been proven safe or effective. Anderson provides evidence of ideology at work, through its coercive attempt to force us to accept what contradicts clear scientific evidence: “At the heart of the transgender moment are radical ideas about the human person — in particular, that people are what they claim to be regardless of contrary evidence” (29).  

Anderson does not deny the need to help those who suffer from gender dysphoria, although the heart of the books focuses on whether or not we are willing to accept reality and to help others to do so. As Anderson explains, “determining reality is the heart of the matter, and here too we find contradictions … Is our gender biologically determined and immutable or self-created and changeable? … At the core of the ideology is the radical claim that feelings determine reality. From this idea come extreme demands for society to play along with subjective reality claims. Trans ideologues ignore contrary evidence and competing interests; they disparage alternative practices; and they aim to muffle skeptical voices and shut down disagreement. The movement has to keep patching and shoring up its beliefs, policing the faithful, coercing the heretics and punishing apostates, because as soon as its furious efforts flag for a moment or someone successfully stands up to it, the whole charade is exposed. That’s what happens when your dogmas are so contrary to obvious, basic, everyday truths” (47-48). Not only philosophers like Anderson, but many educators, doctors, scientists, and politicians have been cancelled for standing up to the blatant falsehoods of this ideology. 

Does 2+2=5? Is a man a man and a woman a woman? No matter the effect of hormones and surgeries, every cell in the body points to the biological reality of sex, along with a myriad of other physical and emotional traits. Shutting down study and debate does not get to the heart of the matter, the truth of reality and the way to help those who suffer. The ideology does not truly focus on tolerance of others or creating reasonable accommodations, as it seeks to impose itself and coerce us. The reinterpretation of Title IX manifests an “Orwellian fiat” by which sex discrimination, meant to protect women, now becomes a means to discriminate against them: “The Women’s Liberation Front highlights the strange transformation of Title IX into a means to deny privacy, safety, education opportunity, and equality to women” (190). Anderson’s book provides an essential overview of the goals of the transgender movement and how to respond to it from a philosophical and scientific perspective. We should not allow the book to be cancelled! 

The goal of this new ideology is not simply to accept and tolerate a particular position, but, as Orwell recognized, to change us. It constitutes an attempt to redefine what it means to be a human being and to change the way we think about reality. Anything standing in the way will be cancelled or even burned. The quick success of this movement, and other ideologies as well, should make us pause. Do we want our children to think freely and wisely or simply to conform to what is imposed on them without question?  

As Catholics, we are called to think in conformity with faith and reason, upholding the truth, even when inconvenient. We are called to continue to form our own minds and accept the reality of how God made us and how he calls us into relationship with him, as the true source of overcoming suffering and difficulty. If you are uninformed and unable to judge rightly and logically, you are more likely to become prey to the new ideology, especially as enforced by government control and big business. We need Catholic freedom fighters, those willing, with charity, to stop the burning of the great ideas and the cancelling of our own faith.  


Photo by Fred Kearney on Unsplash