Unlike many progressive reformers in the United States, though, O’Malley sees marijuana as a “dangerous drug that causes people to have problems with memory [and] ... reasoning.” He describes pot as a gateway drug to heroin and cocaine, and has argued that if Question 4 passes, Boston could “become a mecca, for people coming here as they do to Holland, Amsterdam, or … Colorado, looking for drugs.” His suspicion of marijuana marks his distinctively Catholic approach to reforming communities: He believes legalization would be utterly destructive to communities in need, rather than their salvation.
The Church has long stood against drug legalization. Pope Francis has specifically argued 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,” according to a Vatican diplomat. While early 20th-century American Catholics largely opposed a prohibition on alcohol, clergy have widely defended the ban on marijuana in recent years.
But there’s a big difference between opposing a ballot measure and flooding the opposition with cash—$850,000 is a huge chunk of money, especially for an archdiocese that has closed parishes, shuttered schools, and dismantled the palatial archbishops’ residence due to financial strain over the last decade and a half. Financially, things still aren’t great: The archdiocese lost $20.5 million in operating income between 2014 and 2015. And it has spent significant money on legal fees related to sex-abuse allegations in recent years—it came to new settlement agreements with seven alleged victims as recently as March.
In an email, the archdiocesan spokesman Terry Donilon wrote that the money came from a “central ministry” fund, not from donation baskets or funds that would normally go to parishes. The donation “reflects the fact that the archdiocese holds this matter as among the highest priorities,” he wrote. He listed off its social services, including food pantries, health clinics, counseling programs, addiction treatment, housing assistance, and support for immigrants. “If Question 4 is approved,” he wrote, “all of these programs and the people we serve will be negatively impacted.” He said the archdiocese is particularly concerned about how the ballot measure will affect young people, including the 40,000 students who attend Catholic schools in the Boston area, even though the measure only allows recreational marijuana use for people over 21.
The Church seems to see legal marijuana as a foundational threat to its social services—and theologically suspect. “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,” said Father Richard McGowan, a Jesuit priest who studies drug and tobacco legalization at Boston College. “Remember: The big thing theologically for the Church is that no matter what gifts you have, they should be for the greater glory of God.”