Normally, when I see articles in the ongoing 'speaker wars' where various people are up in arms about the views of some speaker scheduled to appear at some Catholic institution I pass on with a shrug to other more pressing matters. However an article I saw today from LifeSiteNews (h/t Mark Shea) was different, not because of its content but because of the speaker it was referencing.
I know Father Greg Boyle.
For the past eight years I have been a detention minister at two Los Angeles County Probation Department youth detention facilities. And once a month, like clockwork, Fr. Greg joins us to say Mass for the young men--just as he does at the more than two dozen other probation facilities and juvenile halls in L.A.
Now, Fr. Greg and I are not best friends or drinking buddies. I can't say that I've ever asked him about his views on gay marriage or women's ordination. After hearing eight years of sermons and a number of his talks, I can't say that I've ever heard him talk about those topics. After hearing his views, I have to say: "I disagree with him." Yet I am not shocked or scandalized. "California Jesuit expresses progressive opinions" is hardly a news-worthy headline.
What I do know about Fr. Greg, however, is that he has spent more than two decades preaching the Gospel to gang members and prisoners--trying to convince them that God still loves them, that he doesn't look at them and see 'bad people' but sons and daughters. I also know that he isn't just talking about gang issues. He runs one of the best (if not the best) gang intervention program in the United States, Homeboy Industries. He has personally kept hundreds, if not thousands, of people from being locked up in jails or being killed on the streets of Los Angeles.
I don't know about you, but I think that such things might just be worthy of a Catholic Charities speking engagement.
Oh, I know, I can hear the complaints already: "but you are ignoring the Gospel in favor of social justice activities!" No, I'm not. I fully believe in what the Church teaches regarding marriage and holy orders. However, I also think that painting someone with a broad brush as a "dissident priest" is unhelpful. Fr. Greg isn't a "dissident priest"--he's a good priest who holds some wrong opinions. We aren't going to help remedy the wrong opinions by creating a culture of 'ritual purity' where we try to shout down a priest who runs a successful Catholic charity when he is invited to talk at a Catholic Charities event.
If we want to change Fr. Greg's opinions about marriage and holy orders, we would be better off spending our time looking for charitable ways to express the Church's doctrines that answer the objections he expresses rather that walking ahead of him shouting "Unclean! Unclean!" Doing the later just helps further polarize American Catholics by forcing people to 'pick teams.'
Question: If the Holy Father can extend kindness and appreciation even to atheists who do good for others, can't we do the same for a devoted Catholic priest?