By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
WYNCOTE – Bishop McDevitt High School’s imaginative Jubilee Series of lectures honoring the school’s 50th anniversary came to a conclusion April 29 with a thought-provoking presentation by former Ambassador to the Vatican Raymond Flynn.
Flynn, a three-term mayor of Boston and ambassador to the Holy See from 1993 to 1997, during the Clinton administration, chose to focus his talk mostly on Pope John Paul II, whom he first met in 1969 when the future pontiff was a young and still relatively obscure cardinal from Poland.
Flynn himself was the son of a Boston dockworker, who, although Irish, grew up in a Polish enclave of that city. An excellent athlete, he was an All-American basketball player at Providence College, and drafted by the then infant Philadelphia 76ers – although he never played for the team.
Fresh out of the military and considering a run for the state house, Flynn was introduced to Cardinal Wojtyla when he celebrated Mass at Flynn’s parish, Our Lady of Czestochowa.
The sports-minded future pope and the basketball star immediately hit it off and over the years their paths crossed, especially when Flynn was Ambassador to the Holy See. He has subsequently been the principal author of a biography of John Paul II as well as a novel based on the papacy.
Flynn said his political views were guided by the social teaching of the Church, especially the writings of Pope Leo XIII. Although outspokenly pro-life he backed pro-choice Bill Clinton in his successful 1992 election bid for the presidency, and afterwards, resigned as mayor of Boston to accept the ambassadorship.
While his own views on several issues differ from the majority opinion of the Democratic Party, Flynn, a political realist, said if you are running for office in Boston, New York, Philadelphia or Chicago you have to run as a Democrat. “If I ran in Boston as a Republican I would have probably gotten 12 votes,” he said.
Keeping one’s values in a political party where the official line differs “is a challenge, but you can do it,” he said.
Flynn also told the assembly it was the duty of everyone to get involved. It’s not enough for the Pope or bishops to make a statement. Everyone should be calling their legislators or newspapers when a moral issue is at stake or anti-Catholicism flares up. “We have to start telling people our story,” he said.
During the question period, Flynn denounced the April decision by Georgetown University to cover religious symbols in an auditorium at the request of the White House during a visit by President Barack Obama.
He also commended the decision by Mary Ann Glendon, ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush, to decline to accept Notre Dame University’s prestigious Laetare Medal at a commencement ceremony where President Obama would be given an honorary degree despite his opposition to the Church on the abortion issue.
“I would not have accepted the award either,” he said afterward. He explained that while he and Clinton were on opposite sides on the abortion issue, he only accepted the post of ambassador with the proviso that he would not be asked to compromise his own values, and Clinton respected that.
Flynn insists it is still possible for a pro-life Catholic to run for office as a Democrat and be elected. “People will vote for you if they believe you are telling them what you believe, not just what they want to hear,” he said.
“It was an exciting evening. He was a wonderful speaker and had an important message for our young people,” said Salvatore J. DiNenna, McDevitt’s president. “I’m glad he challenged them to do the right thing.”
The Jubilee Series was organized by David Horn, chair of McDevitt’s English department and moderator of the school’s World Affairs Club. “This was an opportunity not only for the students to hear this, but for the parents and the whole community,” he said.
Other speakers in the series included Cardinal John P. Foley, grandmaster of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, and a former editor of The Catholic Standard & Times; Jesuit Father William J. Byron, a former president of the Catholic University of America; and Tracy Davidson, a Channel 10 news anchor.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.