The following email was sent to Cal Catholic on October 23 by the pastor of St. Mary’s church in Stockton, Father Dean McFalls. We reprint the email and its seven attachments copied into the text of the story here.

Editors of Cal-Catholic,

Since you apparently are concerned (and have decided to be watch-dogs) for orthodoxy in California, please take a step further and read my response to your inclusion of the Stockton Record article of Oct. 2 regarding the mass at which Eliseo Medina was present Oct. 3rd. Your obvious commitment to all that is Catholic will be all the more evident when you take the time to ask Bishop Blaire for a clarification of his position on the SEIU.  As St. Ignatius of Antioch reminded us so often, our unity as Catholics demonstrates itself in our ability to honor the ecclesial form of governance which Jesus himself left us, before he was crucified as a radical and a provocative reformer, a friend of tax-collecters and sinners, in short, a scandal.

Not all bishops will be pleasing or acceptable to you or to your readers.  But the least you can do is engage them in dialogue rather than presume to hold them in judgment.  You are, after all, claiming to be Catholic.  And being Catholic means more than just declaring ourselves to be pro-life.

We have Catholics in our midst who consider themselves more Catholic than the Pope, which, as a convert, I find hard to understand.  Also, being a 501 (c) 3 involves, you know, not alligning yourselves publicly with any political party.  But even a cursory reading of your material makes your Republican persuasion very obvious.  Has your rejection of all that is Democrat led you to allign yourselves politically with the Republican party?  Have you consulted the Bishops or their documents about this?

St. Mary of the Assumption Parish

www.saintmarystockton.com / 203 E. Washington Street, Stockton, CA 95202

Office: (209) 948-0661 / Fax: (209) 948-0673 / Emergency: (209) 922-7000

An Open Letter to the Publishers and Readers of Cal-Catholic

Dear Friends at Cal-Catholic,

I have followed with interest and concern the series of commentaries following your publishing October 18th of the October 2nd, 2012 article in the Stockton Record (page A-3) regarding the “Faithful Citizenship” Mass being held here at St. Mary of the Assumption of Stockton, with Eliseo Medina in attendance.  Since I am pastor of St. Mary’s, which has become the focus of attention and the occasion for renewed criticism of my Bishop, Stephen E. Blaire, I think it only fair that you publish my response, and make it available to all those who have been scandalized by the appearance of collaboration between our parish and the SEIU.  This would be truly Catholic.

Once your commentators have read my comments, I look forward to reading their responses.  But if you truly want to be fair, and “Catholic” in your desire to promote communion rather than more unnecessary division in the Church Jesus founded, I also request you publish or make accessible my attachments.

I realize that there’s a lot of material here, but not nearly so much as the responses generated nationally to the Record article which you chose, without first contacting us in the Stockton Diocese, to allow to be posted.  And since I have lost a lot of valuable time in answering phone calls generated by a campaign to convince me of the dangers of the SEIU, I think the time of your commentators invested in reading my seven attachments would be well-spent.

These are the attachments:  First, this introductory letter formatted for printing.  Second, an email I sent asking people of good will to stop flooding me with calls.  Third, an editorial piece I wrote to the Record stating my position, as a Catholic and a priest, on engagement in the political scene.  Fourth, a detailed explanation of how everything unfolded here and my position not only on Mi Familia Vota but also on Eliseo.  Fifth, the public statement I made on the occasion of Eliseo’s arrival in Stockton this past July, where Mi Familia Vota kicked off its campaign, and at which I had been requested to present the opening prayer, an official welcome of Mi Familia Vota to Stockton, and later a blessing of their door-to-door campaign for voter registration (you will notice in my comments that I hardly mentioned Eliseo Medina at all, since I did not know enough about him to do so in confidence; instead, I focused my comments on the legacy of Cesar Estrada Chavez).  Sixth, a message, copied verbatim for you, that was posted on our fence the day we had voter registration at all our masses.  Seventh, an appeal for letters-to-the editor I wrote to my callers and protesters when the Record re-opened wounds by casting me as a defender of the SEIU and of the Democratic Party, which is far from the truth.

You will notice that the person who posted the message against illegal voter registration doesn’t even speak or write English correctly, which makes his or her protest particularly ludicrous.  If you read the comments made on the Cal-Catholic website after the Oct. 2nd Record article, you will find a general antipathy for labor unions, for Latinos, and for anything Democratic.  Those of you who are authentically Catholic should have objected to this.  Although the Democratic Party now supports critical issues not in conformity with Catholic moral teaching, this does not mean that our vote should automatically be Republican.  There are many Republican politicians who have also, in some way, betrayed trust and/or violated key dimensions of Catholic moral teaching.

Regarding unions, our late Holy Father John Paul II (who may have been too progressive for some of your readers) allied himself publicly with the largest labor union in Poland, while millions of Catholics of all ethnic groups have benefitted enormously from organized labor throughout past two-hundred years.

And as for Latinos, well, frankly, those who are citizens have as much right to vote as anyone else.   Without them, many of our Catholic churches across the Southwest United States would be empty.  So your commentators have not demonstrated themselves on the whole to be thoroughly Catholic, even if they are united against same-sex marriages, abortion, euthanasia, and Obama-care.

What they don’t want is to politically empower people who might disagree with their political platform.  But, like it or not, we live in a nation of immigrants. And until the rise of Indian gambling casinos, the most alienated and isolated ethnic group in our country were ironically the first ones here: the ones we call “Native Americans”, to whom our fathers have built so many museums, whom our Christian forefathers systematically dispossessed of their lands, defrauded of their rights, lied in their treaties, and, in far too many cases, massacred.

But now I am upsetting people.  Just wanted to make clear to you all that I am also pro-life: even pro-Native American life and pro-Latino life and pro-life even for a person whose parents belong to the Democrat or even, God forbid, the Socialist Parties.  So, now that I have your attention, please read the seven attachments.  You might even ask my Bishop to tell you what is his position.

But, by the way, in case you’re wondering, I’m no supporter of the SEIU, nor of its platforms on Abortion, Access to Contraception, Same-Sex Unions, nor the elements of Obama-Care which limit or undermine the constitutional freedom of religious institutions to honor their fundamental teachings and to self-determine in matters of faith and moral.  I never agreed to a “sponsorship” on the part of the SEIU for our “Faithful Citizenship” Mass, nor did I even submit any publicity to any organization to advertise the Mass, since in fact I was so busy with parish life that I completely forgot that one of our organizers had requested we mark the return of the “Mi Familia Vota” volunteers with a ceremony emphasizing the importance of Catholics and political engagement.

St. Mary of the Assumption Parish

www.saintmarystockton.com / 203 E. Washington Street, Stockton, CA 95202

Office: (209) 948-0661 / Fax: (209) 948-0673 / Emergency: (209) 922-7000

Request for a Calming of the Phone Campaign of Concerned Catholics

Many of you who are upset and disturbed about the Record announcement last Tuesday (Oct. 2nd), regarding the Mass for Faithful Citizenship on Wednesday.  Enclosed are three responses that I have written due to the outcry.  One is longer, one is shorter, and the third is an op-ed which I have asked the Record to publish tomorrow, for the sake of damage control for the problems they, not me, generated.

Let me share with you several fundamental problems I have had with the response of some of you to this issue:  First, you seem to have assumed that the Record gave an accurate representation of what was going to happen and who would be present and sponsoring; Second, you assumed that I was in agreement with the way the event was being presented.  Third, most if not all of you seem to accept that Mi Familia Vota is simply a front for the SEIU, and that it has been guilty of massive systematic fraud or at least of pushing the Democrat Party.  Fourth, some of you seem to think that Eliseo Vasquez Medina is a thug, or a demon, or demon possessed, or at very least an agent of the devil.   Fifth, some among you think that by flooding me or the Bishop’s office or the Conference of Bishops with calls or emails you will make your point better than simply asking me what happened and making a clear argument.

Sixth, you galvanize a huge base of protesters without even investigating whether this is necessary.  Seventh, if there are any registered Democrats among your ranks, you have given them a very clear message that they are not welcome in our Church.  Eighth, you may well have launched an unnecessary campaign which will go viral on the internet and will cause more harm to our Church than benefit.  Ninth, you are taking up a lot of my time, which I honestly need to carry out my pastoral work.  In fact, due to all the drama, I have not been able to organize our Pro-Life Fatima Mass and Blessed Sacrament Procession which is taking place tomorrow morning, Saturday, October 13th, and leads us to the courts and City Hall to pray for our community, and also I have been delayed in blessing a person who is passing away in Hospice and visiting someone in the Mental Health center.  So my response to all of you is that you remember who you are as Catholics and try to build up the Body of Christ.  When someone called me on Tuesday, I thanked her for her comments, and immediately called the Record for a correction and began researching more regarding the SEIU.  I contacted Eliseo and those working with him in order to discuss the issues and to tell them that he would not be able to speak in the church after mass.

There you have it.  No need for more panic, more calls, letters to the Bishop, letters to the Editor, internet campaigns, and the like.  Continue witnessing for our Catholic values, and pray for God’s will to be fulfilled in our country.  And remember, when the social fabric unravels and Catholics no longer practice their faith, not even the right candidates — though they certainly help — can save them.  Only Jesus can.  That’s why we’re beginning the Year of Faith and doing the New Evangelization.  Now, I need to get on with my ministry.  God bless you all.        Fr. Dean, Pastor.

 

Faithful Citizenship and a Catholic’s Engagement with Politics

Opinion Submitted to Record Editors by Fr. Dean McFalls, Oct. 5th, 2012

On Wednesday evening, we of St. Mary’s Church celebrated a mass dedicated to Faithful Citizenship.  This is a nation-wide effort of the Catholic Church to encourage and challenge our people to engage in the political process, not in a partisan way or candidate-based campaign, but rather by putting flesh and feet and hands on our values in the public arena.  For all Christians, Christ’s calling is to be “in the world, but not of the world”.  This means we commit ourselves to transforming our communities according to Gospel principals.  In order for us to succeed, we have to enter the messy world of politics.  We cannot and should never equate our faith tradition with any particular party — that would be and has been our downfall — but take a stand we must.  When we go public as values-based people, someone will always object.  Jesus himself promised that we would suffer some form of persecution.  This comes with the territory.

I experienced a measure of this negativity due to the misplacement of an announcement about our Wednesday event on page A-3 of Tuesday’s Record.  It appeared that we were supporting the Democrat Party and that we were allowing a controversial labor union to co-sponsor the event.  This was never our intention.    However, we were honoring the work of a particular non-partisan, volunteer-based organization which helped us to register Latino citizens a month ago.  Their service to our church was generous, and no one was pressured or influenced to affiliate with any particular party.  We also welcomed a courageous man who once had worked with Cesar Chavez.

I don’t agree with everything that Eliseo Medina stands for, but I respect him for having helped launch Mi Familia Vota.  Yes, I have now researched the ties between “MFV” and the SEIU, and am concerned.  But I have been much more concerned about the drama which has now become part of my daily fare.

The phone calls began with legitimate concerns.  Now, I see the venom.  So I would suggest that as we approach these most vital of elections, we all take a step back and remember that there are good and intelligent people on both (or various) sides of any argument about social policy.  What is needed is mutual respect and informed dialogue.  Our faith traditions can help us with that.  But this community, and this country, will not benefit by a deepening of the rift cause by partisan politics, special-interest infighting, and the sense of moral superiority that condemns people of a different persuasion to the fires of hell.

St. Mary of the Assumption Parish

www.saintmarystockton.com / 203 E. Washington Street, Stockton, CA 95202

Office: (209) 948-0661 / Fax: (209) 948-0673 / Emergency: (209) 922-7000

 

Catholics and Political Engagement: A Position Statement (Fr. Dean McFalls)

I have recently been involved in controversy due to the mistaken appearance that St. Mary’s Church is promoting the Democrat Party.  This unfortunate accident by a local paper has led not only to a backlash but also to an opportunity to clarify:

In the first place, those who incline toward more traditional values must under-stand this critical point: being a strong, practicing, and obedient Roman Catholic does not necessarily mandate that one register or publicly declare himself or herself as a Republican.  I myself am not a Democrat, but I cannot in good conscience publicly declare myself as Republican, either.  I will vote according to my Catholic faith and my informed moral conscience, but neither candidate (and running-mate) and neither party fulfills all that is in conformity with our values, nor do either of these entirely contradict the values for which we are willing to stand, and declare ourselves, and hopefully even die.  It’s not just that our tax-exempt status forbids us to back parties and candidates openly; it’s that our Church and the wisdom of experience does not allow that, either.  Many conservative Catholics are embracing the Republican party in a manner that is not well-reflected.  It bears repeating that, while President Bush was eloquent and courageous in his spoken defense of the unborn and of Terry Shiavo, he also launched an ill-advised war in Iraq, ignoring the pleas of the Pope and our Bishops and of some of his best advisors, only later to admit that many of the pretexts for which we entered the war were false.  We participate in the political process, but we as Catholics, as people of faith, always stand in review and in critique of the political world, since it is thoroughly fraught with compromises, special interests, occasional scandals, and yes, on both sides, corruption.

Secondly, those who were angry about the semblance of a sell-out at St. Mary’s Church of Stockton to the SEIU and the Democrat Party, ought to be consistent.  There are non-profits in Stockton which, without any apologies and in broad daylight, back Republican candidates, registering people as Republicans, even pressuring their employees to do the same.  I invite all of those concerned about the integrity of our 501(c)3’s to be more inclusive in making sure everyone abides by the law, as well as of their organization’s governing protocols and values.

Thirdly, Eliseo Medina is not the only person in leadership of an organization which is politically affiliated and yet simultaneously founding or heading a 501(c)3 voter registration campaign.  This is not an illegal activity, so long as those registering voters do not pressure them or try influencing them to affiliate with a particular party or candidate.  I had to repeat many times to one of our callers today that, when the “Mi Familia Vota” volunteers came to register people from our parish, no one was pressured to affiliate with the Democratic Party.  If they did so, it will be because they believe their families and communities will be better served by Democratic candidates.  I cannot deny them their right to believe.

Let’s face the facts: Many of our immigrant families have not found real and concrete support from the Republican Party, and many of the cutbacks favored by Republicans have hit hard at our more vulnerable populations, among which many are immigrants.  It so happens that in south Stockton, the vast majority of our parishioners are first- or second-generation immigrants.  Without these, the five southern Catholic churches would nearly be empty — that is, sold or closed down.  If the lived experience of our immigrant populations has taught them they will fare better under a Democratic administration, they have a right to that opinion.  I certainly do more than my share of preaching about the “non-negotiables” and Catholic moral teaching.  I make real-life references to political leaders who contradict our values in blatant ways that create a clear threat to the vulnerable and to our faith.  But I can’t tell anyone to vote, for example Republican.  Nor should I assume that I am enlightened and that they are ignorant.

Finally, yes, no doubt with so many young volunteers, a certain percentage of the registration forms will be found invalid.  Does this indicate a conspiracy of registration fraud and an attempt to flood the electoral process with illicit votes?  I don’t think so.  No one can maintain an absolute control over a complex process.

Politics is always messy.  There is no end to individuals trying to use credible institutions in society to gain a following and persuade to their point of view.  But we Catholics do not have the option of burying our heads in the sand, nor of hiding in the bushes and hoping the storm will soon blow over.  Jesus sends us out today, just as He did 2,000 years ago, to transform the world.  We cannot do this if we run from the world of politics to take refuge in an isolated piety or some fantasy of a utopian society.  As an Anglican Priest in England told us thirty years ago in London, when publicly criticized for his leadership in the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the Kitchen.”  But the kitchen is the world, and Jesus put us here.  For the sake of our children and the most vulnerable, let’s stay in the kitchen, let’s fight the good fight, let’s get our hands dirty, let’s put flesh on our values.  And let’s keep God in the center.

Fr. Dean McFalls, St. Mary of the Assumption, 203 E. Washington St. Stockton, CA. 95202.  Email: [email protected],   209-922-7000,  Fax 209-948-0673

 

Candidate’s Bilingual Forum: Congress 9th District, Mayor’s Office, City Council Sunday, October 21st, 2:30pm to 5:30, in the Gymnasium of St. Mary’s Church.

(Notice Posted on St. Mary’s Fence as We Conducted Voter Registration)

ONLY citizens can vote!

SOLO ciudadanos pueden votar!

If you are NOT a citizen, it is a crime!

Si NO es usted un ciudano es un crimen!

(In the center of the page, there are more warnings, as well as phone numbers to contact in order to denounce violators.  These are numbers connected to government agencies overseeing registration and election activities.

Then, at the lower third of the page, appear these words:)

REPORT!  REPORTELO!

Inform them who said you was allowed to vote and who they represent.

Informar a ellos quenle dijo que usted Puede votar y cual organización ellos representan.

(in fact, we made it clear that registration is only for citizens, and that no party affiliation would be or could be recom-mended or pushed.  Our non-documented people would have been afraid to endanger themselves by registering.

But what was strange was the really lousy English).

St. Mary of the Assumption Parish

www.saintmarystockton.com / 203 E. Washington Street, Stockton, CA 95202

Office: (209) 948-0661 / Fax: (209) 948-0673 / Emergency: (209) 922-7000

The Record Deliberately Provokes More Controversy between Catholics

Dear Friends, please contact the Record editors by phone, fax and email immediately to hold them accountable for deliberately provoking more division and controversy between area Catholics in the Saturday morning, October 13 front-page article “Religious Groups’ Profiles Growing”.  What began Tuesday as an irresponsible imbedding of an article announcing our “Faithful Citizenship” Mass Wednesday night (so that we appeared to be in support of the Democratic Party and in league with the SEIU) now looks to be a deliberate strategy to fan the fires that the Record helped to ignite.

I sent the Record editors my version of the story Friday afternoon to set the record straight.  They claimed they could not run it until all the other letters to the editor ahead of mine would have been considered.  It did not trouble them that their mistake was costing us hours of damage control and leading to serious misunderstanding.  When I talked to Kevin Parrish last night, he told me that his article might make things worse.  Since we have had a relationship based on trust previously, I didn’t take him so seriously.

This morning, I was shocked and angered to find that Mr. Parrish repeated mention of a supposed “link” between our service and a controversial labor union, one which does not represent Catholic values and therefore cannot be honored or partnered with in the setting of a Catholic religious service. That link had never existed, except insofar as the union’s Secretary General is one of the founders of the Mi Familia Vota, and was going to be present at the Mass.  We clarified this distinction repeatedly following the Tuesday announcement, and after I had researched more into the union’s politics.

By repeating mention of a supposed link to this union and claiming not to have space for my op-ed, the Record has driven the wedge deeper between area Catholics and has misrepresented my position.  Had I known that the SEIU had taken positions so contrary to our Church’s teachings, and had I known that their communications to the press alleged sponsorship on behalf of the union for our Wednesday event, I would never have allowed it to be organized in the first place, in order to avoid causing unnecessary harm.

Please contact the Record immediately to register your opinion.  This is a chance to stand up for our unity.  Thank You!   Fr. Dean McFalls, Pastor Website: Record.net.com. Fax: 209-547-8186, Tel. 943-6568.     Fr. Dean.

 

Faithful Citizenship & Latino Engagement: a Personal Testimony   (Fr. Dean McFalls)

As a Caucasian American born into the middle class and raised in Seattle, I always considered citizenship, voting, and making a political difference as a foregone conclusion.  It never dawned on me that huge sectors of American society might feel themselves isolated, counted-out, or systematically unwelcome in the process of self-determination and of shaping the future of this great democratic nation. Much less did I imagine that so many might choose to hide behind walls of silence, convinced that they can do nothing to create a better environment for their children.

I was five years old when my mother took me by the hand and marched me to the neighborhood polling station.  There, she cast her vote for John F. Kennedy.  Three years later, I stared in shock at our third-grade classroom TV monitor, watching live coverage of my hero’s assassination. But that tragedy didn’t kill our faith in the hard-earned American institution called the electoral process.  Yet five years later, soon after winning the California primary as Democratic Presidential Candidate, Robert Kennedy would, like his brother, be gunned down.  Now I was thirteen, and with the Vietnam War underway and the murder of Martin Luther King, I began to lose hope that anything could redeem my country.  I became very deeply cynical.

Another three years passed.  Desiring to do something positive besides study hard, play four sports and volunteer at church, I spent a month in Eastern Washington.

John and Robert Kennedy had been deeply inspired by a quiet Hispanic of humble origins who’d been organizing farm workers in the heart of California.  I heard about this Mexican-American: how his family had been cheated out of their home in Yuma, how they struggled to get by through poorly paid field labor, how he dropped out of school after eighth grade to help his family survive, how he joined the Navy to serve his country and get ahead in life, but instead endured two of the worst years of his already difficult life, how he suffered countless humiliations and set-backs to mobilize workers around the principal of their common human dignity.

Over forty years ago, then, I was re-inspired by Mexican migrant farm workers and the example of Cesar Estrada Chavez to re-invest myself in making of my nation a land of the free and a home of the brave, in which the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness would be accorded to all God’s children, not only to those of the privileged classes, or of superior economic status, or political connectivity.  I returned back to Seattle to join the boycotts and to advocate for the United Farm Workers.  Two years later, I’d register as a conscientious objector to a war that had lost its way.   At 18 years, I would begin to vote my conscience.

Thirty years ago, I walked across America from sea to shining sea with a group of citizens concerned about the nuclear and bio-chemical arms race.  We began at the Trident Submarine Base and ended in D.C. during the dedication of the Vietnam War Memorial.  There, we prayed and fasted three days while the American Catholic Bishops held their annual conference.  The most important task they had, then, was to compose a faith-based response to the threat of nuclear annihilation.

Today, other compelling issues demand our attention and our faith-based response.

When a national pollster called me Tuesday afternoon, I stopped in my tracks to try answering her endless questions.  Though irritated by the interruption, I appreciated the opportunity to prepare myself for November’s elections.  At one point, the caller listed a dozen or more critical challenges facing the people of California.

“Which of these issues,” she inquired, “Do you consider the most urgent?”  “All of them,” I wanted to say.  But I thought long and hard.  What would you, my friends, consider the most important issues we face today?  What are you going to do to make your voice, your position, known?  Are you committed to make a difference?

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, who would have joined us today if he available, recently issued a pastoral letter concerning faithful citizenship.  “As Catholics,” he wrote, “we are taught that part of being faithful is participating in political life, including voting.  In every election, we are challenged to consider the moral dimensions of extremely important policy and budget issues.  This year is certainly no exception.  In this election, in addition to determining who will lead our nation for the next four years, Californians will decide the fate of eleven propositions including whether to repeal the use of the death penalty (Proposition 34).  Proposition 25 would tighten laws against human trafficking and sex slavery, and Proposition 30 will determine whether we will increase state revenues to better serve vulnerable populations such as children, families, and the elderly.   All of these decisions are of crucial importance to the people of our state and Nation.” Our bishop continues:

“The responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience… Participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election.” It involves, as religious leaders everywhere remind us, a way of life engaging us with the most crucial issues of our day, at all times and on every conceivable level.  It means incarnating for today the values of the Gospel.

As an American citizen who knew little of Latinos until his third-grade teacher brought enchiladas to class, I wish, on behalf of Bishop Blaire, our religious leaders and the people of faith in our beloved but troubled city, to thank all of you who are now fulfilling Cesar Chavez’s dream of faithful political engagement: ¡Si, se Puede!