Singer Sheryl Crow has been in the news recently for her confrontation with Karl Rove and her thoughts that we all need to use less toilet paper. But it was a local story out of St. Louis that caught my attention. Religion reporter Tim Townsend writes in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about a trip the singer was making to St. Louis to raise money for a Catholic hospital that helps children with cancer. Crow, a Show-Me-State native from Kennett, is also a political activist. She supports abortion rights and stem-cell research that destroys embryos. That position meant her appearance posed problems, according to St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke. After asking -- unsuccessfully -- that the invitation be rescinded, he resigned as chairman of the hospital foundation board and told area Catholics to think before attending.
I think of all the ways a story like this could have been written and I think that Townsend did a great job of fleshing out the underlying theological views:
For the archbishop, the matter was simple. He had a moral responsibility to avoid the appearance of entangling church teaching and the views of a public figure who supports abortion rights. Burke said he could not allow someone who "publicly espouses the mass destruction of innocent human beings" to raise money for a Catholic hospital.
"What if, for instance, there were someone appearing who we discovered was openly racist and who made statements and took actions to promote racism?" he said at his first news conference in years. "Do you think that I would let that go on?"
Townsend speaks with the chairman of the planning committee for the fundraiser. He slams Burke:
"This event is about helping sick kids," [Allen Allred] said. "I'm disappointed and saddened there are people in our community who are attempting to use this event to further a political agenda. If we go down that road, do we start asking doctors for their positions on abortion? Do we quiz every single donor what they think of embryonic stem cell research before accepting their money?"
I could be wrong, but I think that many reporters would have approached the story with the same viewpoint as Allred's, presenting the story as an either/or option of helping innocent, sick children versus upholding church dogma. But Townsend takes the time to get Burke's response to such accusations:
Burke described the decision as painful. "I have to answer to God for the responsibilities which I have as archbishop," he said. "For me to remain silent in this situation would be the gravest scandal, because people would get the impression that their spiritual leader also thinks this is just fine."
The Catholic definition of "scandal" is conduct that incites others to act immorally or do evil. It is a major source of concern for Burke, who has said before that politicians who support abortion rights cause scandal by their positions.
St. Louis readers can agree or disagree with the positions taken by the Catholic hospital's foundation board or Burke -- but a story like this helps encourage understanding of opposing sides, rather than taking cheap shots at piety.
Image from Brandon Blinkenberg via Wikipedia.