The wrong choice

By 
  • February 9, 2011
The Monsignor Feeney Foundation of London, Ont., is one of those unsung organizations that operates in relative obscurity doing good work on behalf of the Catholic community. Its web site says the foundation has raised $4 million since 1983 for a long list of mostly educational causes.

So it’s a shame that, for most of us, our introduction to this worthy organization comes after its directors took a significant misstep and then declined to acknowledge their error, let alone offer to fix it.

At issue is contracting Stephen Lewis to headline a fund-raising event — “An evening with Stephen Lewis!” — at which Lewis, according to organizers, was to speak about poverty, children and education.

Lewis has a long history of mocking the Pope, bashing the Church and advocating for causes, particularly abortion, that contravene Catholic social and moral teaching. He has a tendency to punctuate his disdain with insults and distortion. For example, when the Pope suggested that a spiritual awakening was necessary to curtail HIV/AIDS, Lewis jeered the Pope as “living on the moon” and said the pontiff’s comments were “irresponsible, damaging and . . . inviting death.”

So of course Lewis is an unsuitable headliner for a Catholic event. That’s especially so for a Catholic education foundation that, in addition to raising money for youth programs, should be about setting a positive example. Lewis may be sincere in his efforts to reduce pain and poverty in the world — and there is no harm in acknowledging that — but his anti-Church approach makes him ill-suited for a Catholic pedestal. That seems obvious. Yet organizers don’t seem to get it.

Stung by a rebuke from London Bishop Ronald Fabbro, who called the Lewis invitation “imprudent,” and by criticism from other quarters, the foundation defended its invitation to Lewis. It issued a statement that said it disagrees with some of Lewis’ views but believes he should be heard because he is an expert on health, poverty and education. “Christians should be open to learning from him on that level,” the foundation said on its web site.

No one disputes that Lewis is a serious humanitarian, experienced administrator and fine orator. But that’s hardly the point. Not only has Lewis repeatedly ridiculed the Pope and derided Church teaching on the most fundamental questions of life, he has become an international flagbearer of the anti-Church cause. When the media seeks a negative comment on the Pope, they call Lewis confident he won’t disappoint. He can no more distance himself from that persona than a zebra can whitewash its stripes and call itself a horse.

The Monsignor Feeney Foundation can be commended for almost three decades of achievement. But  knighting Stephen Lewis to raise money has blemished the reputation of an otherwise fine Catholic organization.

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