Separation of Church and State? Parish Healthcare “Forum” Suggests Otherwise

“Under the Doctors’ Microscope” — this was the tagline for the September 20 Forum on Healthcare Reform at Ascension Parish in Oak Park, Illinois. When I first learned from an Ascension parishioner (Kathleen Masters) that this event was being planned, I was keen to help promote a forum on such a critical topic. However, when I read though the initial flier (in early September), I was stunned to read that the co-sponsorship included the following: Organizing for America (Barack Obama’s grassroots advocacy group); and the Democratic Party of Oak Park. Since the flier clearly indicated that the forum would take place at Ascension’s parish hall, I initially assumed there had been a mistake with the listing of the political co-sponsorship: I also assumed, rather naively, that the “mistake” would get corrected. What ensued over the subsequent two weeks was a bizarre round of communications: myself to the Archdiocesan Respect Life Office (to confirm the formal church policy on issue advocacy on church property); then to Ms. Masters, who relayed the critical information to Ascension’s pastor, Father Larry McNally. The initial response from the pastor was that there had indeed been a mistake on the flier and that it would certainly be corrected. “We want the event to be nonpartisan,” he stated. Everyone hoped that the issue would be quietly resolved within the parish. However, the subsequent version of the flier (one week prior to the event) still included the political co-sponsorship. Not until the Friday evening prior to the event (barely two days before the forum) did I receive a “sanitized” version of the flier (omitting the political co-sponsorship). I later learned that the Democratic Party of Oak Park had paid for nearly 1,000 fliers (clearly stating the political co-sponsorship) that were widely distributed throughout Oak Park in the weeks prior to the event.