MA Bishops Issue Statement on Controversial State Website

April 30, 2011

In follow-up of our posts from earlier this week–Mass Bishops, Catholic Conference Silent on Abortion-Promoting Site and Mass Catholic Conference Alert on Abortion-Promoting Websitewe are pleased to inform you that the 4 Massachusetts bishops publicly commented yesterday on the controversial state-funded “MariaTalks.com” website that advises teenage girls how to get abortions and is run by the AIDS Action Committee. See below for a screen capture from the site and the bishops’ statement:

The following statement has been issued today by the Board of Governors of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, OFM Cap., of the Archdiocese of Boston, Bishop George W. Coleman of the Diocese of Fall River, Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell of the Diocese of Springfield, and  Bishop Robert J. McManus of the Diocese of Worcester in response to the controversy surrounding the government-funded website MariaTalks.com:

The critical social issue of teen pregnancy warrants the attention of the entire community.  However, not all means proposed for solving this challenge conform to the dignity of the human person.  A great number of elected state officials and concerned citizens have objected to a government-funded website intended to respond to teen pregnancy rates in  Massachusetts .  This website employs demeaning and sexually explicit terminology, an approach that rightly deserves the criticism it is receiving.  This tactic only succeeds in talking down to minors under the mistaken assumption that the young are incapable of responding positively to challenging and uplifting appeals to their better nature.

The problems at stake here go much deeper than word choice and phrasing; a simple re-editing cannot resolve them.  Those defending the website argue that it simply conveys medically accurate information, but this view is contested.  As observed by those who seek the well-being of children and yet oppose the website, it promotes an overall message that sexual conduct for unmarried minors is acceptable whenever it “feels right.” Additionally, the website describes abortion in misleadingly opaque terms, touting the procedure as “easier than you think,” and emphasizes ways to obtain an abortion without parental knowledge.  The website fails to acknowledge that many women, especially those undergoing an abortion in their teenage years, suffer long-term negative consequences.  Furthermore, the website limits the list of available resources to organizations that advocate for or provide abortion and contraception.

For these reasons, we strongly support and join with those in the public policy arena who urge the state to eliminate funding for the website and who are asking the state to assist in its removal.  We do not agree that the only choices available are limited to keeping the website running with tax dollars or doing nothing at all to address the problem of teen pregnancy.  The state should work together with all sectors of the community, not just those with a vested interest in offering teens contraception and abortion, to find solutions that respect the dignity of young people and their capacity to make good and wholesome choices.

BCI commends the Massachusetts bishops for making this statement, which was reported in this Associated Press article and on local radio.

We also happened to hear new Mass Catholic Conference Executive Director, James Driscoll, effectively put forward the bishops’ perspective in a short radio interview aired as part of a news report on WBZ 1030 last evening. In the same news report, WBZ aired comments from a woman who was in some way involved with “Maria Talks”, and we thought her defense of the site was flawed. It seems that she was justifying the content by claiming the same thing the Maria Talks website says: “In preparation for the launch of the hotline and website, the AIDS Action Committee conducted key informant interviews with those working in the fields of family planning, HIV/STI prevention, domestic violence, sexual assault and youth services.”  But as the bishops said in their statement, that includes mostly people or entities with a vested interest in offering contraception and abortions to teens.

Here are a few opinion pieces from other publications critical of “Maria Talks.”

Flawed attempt at sex education cannot stand

MA Undermines Parental Authority on Abortion

BCI feels that the site should come down, state funding should be eliminated, and as the bishops articulated, “the state should work together with all sectors of the community…to find solutions that respect the dignity of young people and their capacity to make good and wholesome choices.


Mass Catholic Conference Alert on Abortion-Promoting Website

April 29, 2011

In follow-up of our post from Wednesday, “Mass Bishops, Catholic Conference Silent on Abortion-Promoting Site,” we are pleased to inform you that the Mass Catholic Conference has now commented on the controversy over the state-funded “Maria Talks” website that advises teenage girls how to get abortions.

Alert reader, “Mike,” forwarded us an email sent yesterday afternoon by Daniel Avila of the Mass Catholic Conference entitled, “MCC-Net Alert April 28, 2011 Legislators Oppose MariaTalks.com website–Action Needed.”  We understand Dan has announced he is leaving the Mass Catholic Conference shortly to take a job with the USCCB in Washington, so we hope MCC has someone lined up to perform this same function in the future.

We commend MCC for finally acting on this appalling situation and asking Catholics to contact the Governor’s office. All readers should call the Governor’s Office at 1-888-870-7770 and ask that the “Maria Talks” website be taken down and defunded.  Here is the MCC alert:

MCC-Net Alert

April 28, 2011

MariaTalks.com Update: Legislators Need to be Thanked for Taking Action and the Governor Needs to Hear from You

Sixty-three (63) state legislators signed onto a letter circulated among members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives that was sent to Governor Deval Patrick today urging his administration to defund and remove a sexually-explicit website targeting teenagers. Funded by your tax dollars and promoted by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, MariaTalks.com tells unmarried minors that engaging in sex is good whenever it “feels right,” assures them that abortion access for teens is “easier than you think” and is “done all the time”, coaches minor girls on how to get abortions without telling their parents, and employs graphic sexual content marked by consistently crude and offensive terminology.

The letter emphasizes that the legislators opposing the website represent a bipartisan group with a spectrum of viewpoints—yet all who signed the letter agree that the website “crosses the line.” They write that in these economically difficult times “we find it disturbing that some must endure cuts to basic services in favor of funding a grant that is being used in such a controversial manner.”

Action on your part is critical.

First, please read the list below of legislators who signed onto this letter and then call your state representative during business hours as soon as possible. Your state representative can be reached by calling the State House switchboard at 617-722-2000; ask to be forwarded to the appropriate office. If you do not know who your legislators are, go online to http://www.wheredoivotema.com/bal/myelectioninfo.php and enter your home address to find out.

If your representative added his or her name to the letter, thank him or her for this courageous action when you contact the office. You should convey your message of gratitude to the staff if you cannot reach the legislators directly. The officials who signed the letter are standing strong in the face of tremendous pressure. This pressure is generated by the very same government-subsidized groups and their private allies that the website directs teenagers to contact for abortions, contraception or related support. These legislators need to know that they have your backing in their districts.

If your state representative’s name is not on the letter, ask if he or she opposes the website and whether they have taken any steps on their own in response. If he or she opposes the website, thank him or her and ask that he or she contact the Governor. Let those legislators who do not oppose the website know that you as a constituent object to this egregious misuse of your tax dollars. It should be noted that at least one Senator, Senator Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge), sent an individual letter to the Administration expressing opposition. The group letter sent to the Governor today focused on state representatives because the House was in session this week to debate the budget.

Second, call Governor Patrick’s office at 1-888-870-7770 and urge the Governor 1) to take down the website, 2) to order an investigation into how such a misuse of our tax dollars occurred, and 3) to report back to us the taxpayers with his findings. Our children deserve better from their state government. Forward this email to your friends and urge them to act as well.

Text of Letter and List of Legislators Who Signed On In Opposition to the Website

April 28, 2011

His Excellency Deval L. Patrick
Massachusetts State House
Office of the Governor
Boston, MA 02133

Dear Governor Patrick,

We are writing to you to ask for your assistance in addressing a matter of profound concern to us relative to the website http://www.mariatalks.com, which was highlighted in a recent Boston Herald story.

It is our understanding that the website was created and maintained by the AIDS Action Committee through an annual grant from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The website, targeted at teenagers, uses graphic and inappropriate language to describe various sexual activities. Further, the website describes abortion in an insensitive manner and advises how to circumvent parental notification requirements.

A review of the Facebook fan page for this website raises serious questions regarding the use of tax dollars to advocate for or against public policy. In a fiscal climate where the Executive Office of Health and Human Services has faced many cuts over the past few years, we find it disturbing that some must endure cuts to basic services in favor of funding a grant that is being used in such a controversial manner.

We would emphasize that this is not a debate over the pro-choice and pro-life position on the topic of abortion, as we represent a spectrum of viewpoints on that issue, but rather the necessity of funding this website in a time of scarce resources as well as the manner in which the website is constructed.

While we understand that teenagers may have questions about sexual education, we believe the Commonwealth should uphold a level of appropriateness in the way we interact with our youth. This website uses language that crosses the line.

As a bipartisan group of members of the House of Representatives, we strongly urge you to make immediate, substantive content changes to the website or to eliminate funding and assist in the removal of http://www.mariatalks.com from the internet.

We would be happy to meet with you to discuss this issue in greater detail and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Signed April 28, 2011 Letter to Governor Opposing

MariaTalks.com Website

 

Signed April 28, 2011 Letter to Governor Opposing

MariaTalks.com Website

Title

First

Last

Party

Home City

Rep. Paul Adams

R

Andover
Rep. James Arciero

D

Westford
Rep. Brian M. Ashe

D

Longmeadow
Rep. Demetrius Atsalis

D

W. Hyannis
Rep. Bruce J. Ayers

D

Quincy
Rep. Jay Barrows

R

Mansfield
Rep. Carlo Basile

D

East Boston
Rep. Richard Bastien

R

Gardner
Rep. Matthew Beaton

R

Shrewsbury
Rep. Nicholas Boldyga

R

Southwick
Rep. Michael D. Brady

D

Brockton
Rep. Thomas Calter

D

Kingston
Rep. Nick Collins

D

South Boston
Rep. Edward Coppinger

D

West Roxbury
Rep. Geraldine Creedon

D

Brockton
Rep. Mark Cusack

D

Braintree
Rep. Linda Dean-Campbell

D

Methuen
Rep. Vinny M. deMacedo

R

Plymouth
Rep. Angelo D’Emilia

R

Bridgewater
Rep. Marcos Devers

D

Lawrence
Rep. Geoff Diehl

R

Whitman
Rep. Stephen DiNatale

D

Fitchburg
Rep. James J. Dwyer

D

Woburn
Rep. Ryan Fattman

R

Sutton
Rep. Kimberly Ferguson

R

Holden
Rep. John Fernandes

D

Milford
Rep. Michael Finn

D

West Springfield
Rep. John P. Fresolo

D

Worcester
Rep. Paul K. Frost

R

Auburn
Rep. Colleen M. Garry

D

Lowell
Rep. Susan W. Gifford

R

Wareham
Rep. Thomas A. Golden Jr.

D

Lowell
Rep. Sheila Harrington

R

Groton
Rep. Carlos Henriquez

D

Boston
Rep. Bradford R. Hill

R

Ipswich
Rep. Russell Holmes

D

Mattapan
Rep. Steven Howitt

R

Seekonk
Rep. Donald F. Humason

R

Westfield
Rep. Randy Hunt

R

East Sandwich
Rep. Bradley H. Jones

R

North Reading
Rep. Kevin Kuros

R

Uxbridge
Rep. Steven Levy

R

Marlborough
Rep. Marc Lombardo

R

Billerica
Rep. James Lyons, Jr.

R

Andover
Rep. James R. Miceli

D

Wilmington
Rep. David M. Nangle

D

Lowell
Rep. Harold P. Naughton Jr.

D

Clinton
Rep. Shaunna O’Connell

R

Taunton
Rep. George N. Peterson Jr.

R

Grafton
Rep. William J. Pignatelli

D

Lenox
Rep. Elizabeth A. Poirier

R

North Attleboro
Rep. Angelo Puppolo

D

Springfield
Rep. John H. Rogers

D

Norwood
Rep. Dennis Rosa

D

Leominster
Rep. George Ross

R

Attleboro
Rep. Angelo M. Scaccia

D

Boston
Rep. Todd M. Smola

R

Three Rivers
Rep. Joyce A. Spiliotis

D

Peabody
Rep. Walter F. Timilty

D

Milton
Rep. James E. Vallee

D

Franklin
Rep. David Vieira

R

E. Falmouth
Rep. Daniel K. Webster

R

Pembroke
Rep. Donald Wong

R

Saugus

#   #   #   #

Now a few final comments from BCI.  Please share this message with your friends and family members and ask them to also call the Governor’s office.

Additional note to MCC: Is there a reason why MCC was not present at the hearings for the Governor’s controversial nominee to the Supreme Judicial Court, Barbara A. Lenk, to offer testimony regarding the nomination or ask the judge questions? Here are a few articles that explain the controversy over her nomination.

SJC nominee’s record is hotly disputed at hearing

Lenk misses link to common sense

People are wondering why MCC was conspicuously absent, so we encourage MCC to make it a higher priority to participate in such hearings in the future.


New Head for Mass Catholic Conference

April 7, 2011

On Wednesday the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC) Board of Governors announced the appointment of James F. Driscoll as the new MCC Executive Director.  Mr. Driscoll succeeds Interim Executive Director Gerry D’Avolio who filled in after the death of Ed Saunders in August 2010. The biggest question people have been asking us over the past 24 hours is “Who is James F. Driscoll?”

BCI has never heard of him, nor has anyone else we asked.  Maybe he is a good fit for the job, but we just do not learn anything from the press release that suggests he has done something like this successfully before. We actually learn nothing in the press release about anything he has done successfully–all we learned is what titles he has held and what positions he has occupied:

Mr. Driscoll has served in the Office of General Counsel in the Office of the State Auditor as Associate General Counsel since 2007 and as General Counsel since 2009.  His previous public service was as General Counsel and Assistant Executive Director for the Massachusetts State Lottery Commission beginning there in 1984.  He began his career as legal counsel in the Office of the State Treasurer in 1983.

So, the announcement tells us he has worked for the state on the taxpayer dole, apparently for most of the past 27+ years, but what did he actually accomplish during that time to advance the quality of life for “Joe Average” citizen of the Commonwealth?  We do not know.

According to MCC, this job function advises the four Roman Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts on issues of public policy and acts as the legislative agent for the Archdiocese of Boston and the Dioceses of Fall River, Springfield and Worcester.”  Maybe BCI is missing something. Does anyone else understand how working for the state lottery for 19 years and then the state auditors office gives him the depth of insights to advise the four Roman Catholic bishops in Massachusetts on public policy?  Seems like he is actually much more qualified and well-suited to be General Counsel of the Archdiocese, but that job is taken already by Beirne Lovely.

Anyway, this Associated Press report in the Boston Herald quoted him essentially as saying that despite his entire career spent working on Beacon Hill, he does not really know much about the  Catholic Church’s influence, or lack thereof, on lawmakers these days:

Massachusetts is a heavily Catholic state whose lawmakers have shown a consistent willingness to defy the church on issues such as abortion and gay marriage…He rejected the notion that the church has a diminished voice among lawmakers, but he added, “The best way I can answer that is by saying, ’I’ll find out.'”

Since this role is charged with lobbying legislators to impact public policy consistent with positions of the Catholic Church, it is particularly striking how nothing is said in the announcement about him having successfully advocated for anything. Hopefully, he has more expertise and for some reason, they just forgot to include it in the press release amidst all of the language they recycle from every other press release about how the person is a “gifted blah,” “a dedicated blah blah,” and “an experienced blah blah blah.”

The Herald quoted Driscoll as saying that gambling will be a big issue from the start of his new job, since lawmakers are considering legislation that would legalize casinos and slot machines in Massachusetts, a move the church opposes.  His new role lobbying against gambling should be interesting after he spent 19 years as the general counsel responsible for defending the lottery.

We assumed for MCC to spend all this time with an “extensive search process” and come up with Mr. Driscoll as the public voice of the four Massachusetts bishops, there had to be more about him and his qualifications that was just not in the press release.   So, we did what most people would do–we just checked the Boston Globe.  Anybody can do this, and you all probably have already seen these clips where James F. Driscoll was in the news. By the way, we did not pick-and-choose–these are basically all of the news items with his name mentioned:

  • August 3, 1993: Winchendon man taking his bid for lottery prize to state panel: “After disputing his allegations for weeks, the Massachusetts Lottery Commission has agreed to hear an appeal by a Winchendon man who contends he lost a lottery ticket that was found by a 8-year-old girl and turned in for a $10,000 prize. In an Aug. 4 letter, a lawyer for the commission, James F. Driscoll, rejected Dudley P. Haney’s claim that he lost a pair of Twin Spin tickets at a Winchendon video store July 19.”
  • April 30, 2003:  “O’Brien, Cahill Said to be Immersed in Feud: “They shared the same Democratic Party ticket last fall, but now former state treasurer Shannon O’Brien and current Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill are in an apparent grudge match that is turning increasingly ugly: He has fired former O’Brien aides in recent weeks and her allies are charging that Cahill is trashing her handling of the office….The tension has become more acute over the last several weeks when each side believed the other was planting negative stories in the Boston newspapers. O’Brien allies are convinced that that’s what triggered Cahill to fire O’Brien supporters in the office. One was the general counsel of the state Lottery, James Driscoll. O’Brien had kept him from past regimes, but removed him from union protection and gave him a raise.”
  • October 20, 2005:  Treasury Officials Say Lawyer Got $78K: State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill’s office made a $78,000 payment to the top lawyer in the Lottery Commission in 2003 as part of a confidential settlement shortly after Cahill took office, Treasury officials with knowledge of the deal said yesterday.The settlement with former lottery general counsel James F. Driscoll appears to contradict comments made by Cahill to the Globe on Tuesday, when he said, “To the best of my knowledge, there are no severance packages at all” involved with a series of seven confidentiality agreements that his office has executed since he became treasurer…The Driscoll settlement was the first of the confidential agreements struck by Cahill, who has insisted that such deals are necessary to protect proprietary information in the Treasury as well as the privacy rights of employees departing under less-than-ideal circumstances.Treasury officials yesterday insisted that the $78,000 payout was the result of settlement discussions with Driscoll, who was threatening to sue because he had signed a lucrative contract with the administration of former treasurer Shannon P. O’Brien on May 13, 1999. That contract called for him to receive two years’ pay, up to three years of vacation pay, and pay for the remainder of the calendar year if he were fired without cause.At the time of his ouster, Driscoll was making $105,000 annually, which means he may have been entitled to more than $300,000 under the terms of his contract.The sources in the Treasury yesterday said Cahill offered Driscoll nothing after asking him to resign. The demand prompted Driscoll’s Boston lawyer, Thomas Kiley, to draft a breach-of- contract suit, which he threatened to file but never did.In the end, Driscoll received $78,000 before federal taxes, the Treasury sources said.O’Brien, the former Democratic candidate for governor in 2002, said last night that she executed the earlier contract with Driscoll to remove him from a conflict of interest; he was a member of a union that he would negotiate with on behalf of management.  “We might have spent as much money being sued by Jim to save his union protection…”

(NOTE: Last time BCI checked, Massachusetts was an employee-at-will state. That means employers in Massachusetts, or in any other employee-at-will state, can fire any employee at any time for any reason — or even for no reason at all. An employer can terminate any employee, with or without notice).

So, readers, this is what we know about James Driscoll, the new executive director of the Mass Catholic Conference.  We feel badly if the press release did him an injustice by skipping a lot of his important accomplishments to help citizens of the commonwealth during his career in state government.  And for the sake of faithful Catholics, we hope and pray this “gifted public servant” from the South Shore brings a lot more to this position than the press release credits him with.


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