Mass. bishops prohibit signature drives on Church property

BRAINTREE -- In a joint letter issued last week, the bishops of Massachusetts issued a new policy banning future legislative signature drives on Church property.

"We hereby direct that what has commonly been referred to as 'signature drives' to enact or repeal a law or amend the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts not take place on Church property," the new policy reads.

The new policy was detailed in a statement issued June 1 by the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC), the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in the Commonwealth, and was signed by the bishops of the state's four dioceses: Boston Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, Worcester Bishop Robert J. McManus, Springfield Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski and Fall River Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha.

MCC executive director Jim Driscoll said signatures drives are typically held soon after Labor Day in September, so issuing the policy now will give groups and individuals "two or three months' notice" to find a different venue to gather signatures.

The bishops note that previously the decision to allow individuals or groups to collect signatures on Church property was left up to pastors, although, they said, "Many pastors expressed a hope that we, the Bishops, would give them guidance on this issue."

While they express their belief in the "democratic process in this great Commonwealth," the "overwhelming feedback from parishioners over the past several years is that they do not like to be approached prior to or at the conclusion of Mass or other church activities for their signatures on a petition drive."

Signature drives may still take place on public property, such as sidewalks, adjacent to Church property, even if it they are not allowed on the actually property itself.

"Nothing in this policy should be construed to discourage priests, pastors or other Church officials from speaking out passionately and appropriately on issues consistent with Church teaching," the bishops wrote.