On November 8, Massachusetts voters passed a state ballot measure to legalize marijuana despite the Archdiocese of Boston’s last-minute effort to fund the anti-marijuana Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts. The archdiocese had donated $850,000 to the campaign on October 28, in addition to sending anti-ballot materials to parishes and schools.
According to the Boston Globe, the archdiocese’s donation was a 50 percent increase over what the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts had already collected. The church’s contribution was the largest single donation aside from a $1 million contribution from Dorchester native Sheldon Adelson, a casino magnate and conservative political donor.
Over the past few years, the Archdiocese of Boston has merged parishes, closed schools, and sold the old archbishops’ residence in Brighton. The archdiocese also lost $20.5 million in operating income between 2014 and 2015, according to The Atlantic’s website. The money for the anti-marijuana campaign came from a “discretionary” fund and not from parish collection plates or other programs, archdiocese spokesman Terrence Donilon said in a statement. “It’s a recognition that, if passed, the law would have significantly detrimental impacts on our parishes, our ministries,” Donilon said.
In mid-October, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley met with 40 interfaith leaders, including priests from Orthodox, Episcopal, and Armenian Catholic congregations, to discuss strategies to defeat the ballot. “To me, this is greed trumping common sense and also undermining the common good,” O’Malley said in an interview with the Boston Globe. “It will change the culture of this state if this legislation is passed.”
O’Malley initially said that the archdiocese would spend a small amount on anti-ballot measures but “the more he thought about this and prayed about this, he thought this was the right thing to do because it directly impacts the people we’re trying to help,” Donilon said.
Also known as Question 4, the marijuana legalization ballot won 53.3 to 46.7 percent. Question 4 will take effect on December 15 and will create a commission to license marijuana retailers, implement a state sales tax on marijuana, and legalize the possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana in public.
In a statement, the archdiocese wrote that it anticipated “significantly increased demands on many of the Archdiocese’s social service and assistance programs, due to the documented effects of widespread marijuana use,” and promised to “continue to as best possible provide for the needs of the people we serve.”
Pope Francis and Cardinal O’Malley have spoken out against drug use in the past. According to a Vatican diplomat, Pope Francis has said that “attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called recreational drugs are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effect.”
Father Richard McGowan, a Jesuit priest who studies drug and tobacco legalization at Boston College, said in an interview with The Atlantic that “the argument here would be that if you’re using money to buy marijuana to get high, instead of using the money for other purposes, then that’s wrong…. The big thing theologically for the Church is that no matter what gifts you have, they should be for the greater glory of God.”