'At long last, have you left no sense of decency?'

Sixty-two years ago next Thursday, Joseph Nye Welch, chief counsel for the U.S. Army listened to Senator Joseph McCarthy besmirch the reputation of a young associate, Fred Fisher, accusing him of having been affiliated briefly with an organization in law school, the Lawyers Guild, tainted with communist associations. In one of the literally pivotal moments in U.S. history, Welch stood up to the cruel and reckless accusations of McCarthy. Before that exchange, McCarthy had conducted his ugly witch hunts with virtually no one willing to stand up to him. After that exchange, McCarthy’s reputation plummeted. The curtain had been pulled back from the wizard and McCarthy was exposed as no patriot but as a vicious, vindictive man, beset by personal demons and acute paranoia.

Here is the video of that key moment:

By speaking the truth, Welch banished the fear and the country pivoted from coddling McCarthy to condemning him.

I bring Welch’s famous and unsordid intervention up this morning because yesterday LifeSiteNews published a story about yet another "report" from the Lepanto Institute, charging two employees of Catholic organizations, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services, with supporting gay rights in their social media usage. I shall not link to the story nor shall I mention the names of the two employees: They have been victimized too much already. I will denounce both the "report" at Lepanto and their hand-in-glove relationship with LifeSiteNews for perpetrating this witch hunt.

This is not the first time this duo has struck. Earlier this year, the same groups hounded Tony Spence, the longtime editor-in-chief at Catholic News Service out of his job on similar grounds. And, last year, they outed a staffer at Catholic Relief Services who, so far from being a "gay activist" as they charged, was not even out to his family when the story broke. He, too, was let go.

Celebration, NCR's sister publication, will publish a new reflection each day during Advent. Learn more here

I do not know what will happen to the two latest victims of these attacks, but I do know what should happen. The leadership of the USCCB and of CRS should publicly condemn these attacks and let the employees in question know that their jobs are secure. Otherwise, the witch hunts will continue. Being a bystander or a collaborator is, or should be, a crime too, not just being the principal perpetrator.  

There are some in the leadership of either organization who are sympathetic with Lepanto and LifeSiteNews. Every year, at the bishops’ conference meeting in November, Michael Hichborn and one of his colleagues from Lepanto sit in the two large armchairs at the foot of the escalator down which the bishops ride from the ballroom where the plenary meetings are held to the ballroom downstairs where the lunch is served. Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, and Bishop Robert Finn, the former bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, are the three bishops whom I have witnessed stop and speak with the duo from Lepanto. There may be others. I have never seen Archbishop Kurtz, the president of the USCCB, nor Dr. Carolyn Woo, the CEO of CRS, cavorting with these vicious and horrible people.

But, the rest of the bench needs to decide if they will take a stand against these McCarthyite tactics or not. The bishops did not really stand up to the attacks (See here, here and here) launched against the Catholic Campaign for Human Development: They half-caved and half-resisted. (Note to the incoming nuncio: Any bishop who refused to contribute to the national CCHD after the Jansenistic attacks on CCHD should not be on any terna for promotion.) Now, the bishops need to ask themselves if they wish to be a part of these witch hunts or not.

Even if some bishops are sympathetic with the idea that promoting gay rights in one’s private time is an offense worthy of terminating employment, the bishops should at least recognize that they cannot tolerate these attacks and also make the claim that their opposition to gay rights is not bigoted. Whatever your thoughts on gay marriage or gay rights, no one can justify the kind of social and cultural climate that demanded gay people be closeted, and these outings are precisely an attempt to recreate that climate. What is more, the issue of religious liberty has moved on from the fight over contraception insurance to the fight over gay rights. If you really want to lose that fight, then fire these two employees and send the signal that you are willing to do the bidding of the Lepanto Institute and LifeSiteNews.   

We all remember McCarthy’s evil witch hunts, but we tend to forget how many otherwise outstanding Americans declined to challenge McCarthy until Mr. Welsh stood up to do so. On October 3, 1952, Dwight Eisenhower was preparing a speech he was to deliver in Wisconsin, McCarthy’s home state. McCarthy, along with Sen. William Jenner, had accused George C. Marshall of communist leanings. Marshall had been Chief of Staff of the Army during World War II, subsequently Secretary of State and of Defense. He had been responsible for promoting Eisenhower ahead of other generals to lead the invasions of North Africa, Sicily and Normandy. The speech Eisenhower was planning to deliver included a defense of Marshall’s patriotism but, at the advice of his political team, and given that they were in McCarthy’s home state, Ike removed the tribute. This broke, almost irrevocably, his once amiable relationship with Harry Truman. When Truman’s campaign train stopped in Hartford, Connecticut, he said of Eisenhower, "He has compromised every principle of personal loyalty by abetting the scurrilous big-lie attack on General George C. Marshall."

Eisenhower’s unwillingness to defend Marshall, his coddling of McCarthy, cost him his friendship with Truman, but it did not cost him the election. He had been the Supreme Allied Commander and hero of World War II in Europe, and it would take more than this one moral lapse to ruin his image, still less his reputation for leadership. But that dark day in October 1952 remains an indelible stain on an otherwise outstanding life of public service. Whether Ike did the politically necessary thing, he did the morally corrupt thing, and the leadership of the USCCB and CRS both know enough moral theology to know that they should not do the morally corrupt thing, especially when it is also a politically stupid thing. Archbishop Kurtz and Dr. Woo need to step up to the plate and confront this witch hunt. Both Archbishop Kurtz and Dr. Woo are rightly held in high esteem, but they did not liberate Europe, and failure to act will cost them much of that esteem in which they are held. They need to have a Joseph Welch moment now and if they fail to do so, their colleagues need to disassociate themselves from complicity in these McCarthyite tactics. The indecency of Lepanto and LifeSiteNews is there for all to see. They are willing to destroy other people’s lives. There is no concern for human dignity in these outings. Will the bishops and their organizations be complicit in these indecencies or not?

"Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide," as the hymn goes. This is such a moment.

[Michael Sean Winters is a Visiting Fellow at Catholic University's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.]


Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here

Advertisement