Category: Archive

Massachusetts legislator under fire for Irish-Catholic remarks

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jim Smith

BOSTON — The Republican minority leader of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, Francis Marini, is demanding that Rep. Ellen Story, a Democrat from Amherst, apologize to the people of Massachusetts in a full formal session of the House of Representatives because of remarks she made to a health-policy group last month about mental-health funding.

In her Dec. 18 remarks to the group of 75 people, including legislators and state officials, Story said that advocates for the mentally ill face "an additional barrier in Massachusetts because of the predominance of Irish Catholics who are in authority-making positions."

Her comments, which were initially reported in the Boston Globe on Jan. 12, sparked a public outcry and an apology from Story, who is Episcopalian.

"I’m sorry for anyone I offended with my comments," Story said in a brief Jan. 12 press release. "I abhor prejudice in any form and I made a generalization I should not have made."

In a subsequent discussion with reporters, Story said that she had come to believe that Irish Catholics view mental illness more as a failure of willpower than as a disease, thus resulting in underfunding for mental-health programs.

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Joseph Doolin, the Irish-Catholic president of Catholic Charities, which serves thousands of mentally ill clients throughout the state, told the Echo Friday that he was bewildered by Story’s remarks.

"Most ethnic stereotypes have some kernel of truth to them, but this one really boggles the mind," he said. "The only tinge of validity I can give to her remarks is that there still is some shame and stigma attached to the mentally ill, but that has historically cut across most religions and ethnic groups."

Doolin said that the Catholic church has been at the forefront of aggressively destigmatizing the mentally ill.

"We have clinics and shelters throughout the state helping this increasing segment of our homeless population," he said. "To have bizarre views such as hers is one thing, but to express them at a health conference is another."

Doolin said that he has extended an invitation to Story to accompany him on a tour throughout the state of clinics and shelters for the mentally ill run by Catholic Charities. He said that she has not responded to his offer.

C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, said last week that Story’s remarks "prove the old maxim that prejudice is a mixture of malice and ignorance."

Representative Marini, an Italian American, told the Echo Friday that he will push for a censure resolution if Story does not agree to apologize to the full House.

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