Friday, November 13, 2009

D.C. Council Calls Archdiocese's Bluff

The wonderful Pam’s House Blend has posted a number of responses from Washington, D.C. Council members to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington D.C.’s threat to stop taking District contract money for its Catholic Charities organization if the D.C. Council passes a proposed marriage equality law.

Tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care could be affected if the Archdiocese goes through with its threat. The bill that church officials are upset about is up for a vote before the D.C. Council next month. It states that religious organizations would not be required to perform or make space available for same-sex weddings, but they would have to obey city laws prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians. It’s been reported that Church officials are fearful that they could be forced to extend employee benefits and open adoption services to same-sex couples. Accordingly, they’ve stated that would have no choice but to abandon their contracts with the city.

Notice it’s the Archdiocese and not Catholic Charities issuing this outrageous ultimatum. I know people who work in Catholic Charities - both here in the Twin Cities and in Washington, D.C. - and there is no way they would allow politics to come between the services they provide and the people in need whom they serve. Clearly it’s a different matter for members of the church’s clerical caste - removed as so many of them are from the realities of life, be these realities concerned with gay people or the plight of the poor.

Following is how members of Washington, D.C. Council have responded to the Archdiocese’s threat.

In separate interviews Wednesday, council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) referred to the church as “somewhat childish.” Another council member, David A. Catania (I-At Large), said he would rather end the city’s relationship with the church than give in to its demands. “They don’t represent, in my mind, an indispensable component of our social services infrastructure,” said Catania, the sponsor of the same-sex marriage bill and the chairman of the Health Committee.

Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chairman of the judiciary committee, said the council “will not legislate based on threats.” “The problem with the individual exemption is anybody could discriminate based on their assertion of religious principle,” Mendelson said. “There were many people back in the 1950s and ’60s, during the civil rights era, that said separation of the races was ordained by God.”

Catania, who said he has been the biggest supporter of Catholic Charities on the council, said he is baffled by the church’s stance. From 2006 through 2008, Catania said, Catholic Charities received about $8.2 million in city contracts, as well as several hundred thousand dollars’ worth this year through his committee. “If they find living under our laws so oppressive that they can no longer take city resources, the city will have to find an alternative partner to step in to fill the shoes,” Catania said. He also said Catholic Charities was involved in only six of the 102 city-sponsored adoptions last year.

Cheh said she hopes the Catholic Church will reconsider its stance. “Are they really going to harm people because they have a philosophical disagreement with us on one issue?” Cheh asked. “I hope, in the silver light of day, when this passes, because it will pass, they will not really act on this threat.”

Meanwhile, Peter Rosenstein of the Campaign for All D.C. Families accused the church of trying to “blackmail the city.” “The issue here is they are using public funds, and to allow people to discriminate with public money is unacceptable,” Rosenstein said.

It’s a view shared by others. Blogger Michael B. Hamer, for instance, writes: “If the Church wants to accept public money, it needs to obey the civil non-discrimination laws. Otherwise, the Church is free to stop accepting public money if it wants to discriminate. The Church does NOT get to have its cake and eat it too.”

Janet Shan writes at Black Political Thought: “Sorry, but the Catholic Church is trying to erode the city’s long-standing laws protecting gay men and lesbians from discrimination. This amounts to nothing more than strong-arming by the church. If I were a council member waiting to cast a vote, I would vote to end the relationship with the church than let them dictate what the city needs to do. It’s all about money for the church, not principle. Why hold the social services for the homeless hostage just because you can’t accept the reality that gays and lesbians deserve rights too?”

Michael A. Jones notes at “I guess the Catholic Church’s commitment to the poor is only skin deep. For the Catholic Church to threaten the lives of homeless people and others who depend on church social services just to gain political points on the issue of gay marriage is sad, sorry, and a sign that no religious institution in the country is willing to stand in the way of civil rights for gays and lesbians more than the Catholic Church.”

The Rev. Dennis W. Wiley, co-chair of Clergy United for Marriage Equality and the pastor of Covenant Baptist Church, is quoted in the New York Times as saying: “The Catholic Church hierarchy is at a crossroads. They must decide whether they are in the charity business for charity’s sake, or if imposing their will on the D.C. City Council and the citizens of the district is their primary interest.”

“Jake,” meanwhile, left a comment on the Joe My God blog, stating: “I’m surprised it’s taken [Catholic officials] so long to announce that their hatred for gay people is so pathologically all-consuming that they’re willing to punish the poor and the homeless over it.”

Pam’s House Blend also shares the following which I find interesting:

Anti-equality zealots are fond of lying that Catholic Charities in Massachusetts were forced to abandon adoption services after the advent of marriage equality in that state. The truth is that Catholic Charities choose to abandon adoption services, for which they received state money, rather than abide by the state anti-discrimination law to which that state money bound them.

Amusingly, Catholic Charities actually had a history of adopting out kids to gay parents, but the church hierarchy apparently decided to shut down the entire operation for dramatic effect rather than continue with business as usual: placing needy children with adoptive parents regardless of sexual orientation. The Church chose to cease their mission and withdraw even further from normal society, and as far as I can tell life still goes happily on without them in Massachusetts.

I can’t image that the citizens of D.C. – including the Catholic citizens – are in the the least bit impressed by the tantrum of Roman Catholic church officials. If these officials are not interested in trying to find common ground and resolving this problem through genuine dialogue, but are instead insistent on simply issuing ultimatums as if it were still the Middle Ages, then let them go I say.

I’m sure there are plenty of other social service agencies willing and able to pick up the D.C. council contracts. And Catholics who wish to help the poor and needy can do so by funding, supporting and/or volunteering with a host of other groups – religious or non-religious. I’m sure the vast majority of these groups would never consider using the poor in the same scandalous way that the Washington, D.C. Archdiocese is doing. And if they were to do so, let them go too.

Humanity has progressed too far with regards to basic fairness, equality, and compassion to be held back by the likes of those stunted individuals calling the shots and making the threats in such crudely self-serving places as the chancery of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Catholic Church Gives D.C. Ultimatum
- Tim Craig and Michelle Boorstein (Washington Post, November 12, 2009).
New Turn in Debate Over Law on Marriage - Ian Urbina (New York Times, November 12, 2009).
Catholic Charities, Gays, and D.C.’s Poor - Thomas J. Reese, SJ (Washington Post, November 13, 2009).
Exclusionary Politics or Care for the Poor?: Reflections on the Eroded Moral Authority of the U.S. Catholic Bishops - William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, November 12, 2009).
Why Is It Only Some Government Programs Are Subject to the Political Effects of Abortion and Sexual Politics? - Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, November 13, 2009).
Compare and Contrast - Eduardo Peñalver (Commonweal, November 13, 2009).
Two Catholic Bishops, Conscience, and the Common Good
- Paula Ruddy (Progressive Catholic Voice, June 14, 2009).


TheraP said...

This is extortion by the church! These kinds of acts should be prosecuted! Or tax-free status revoked!

I think we need to engage lawyers in the pursuit of how the Vatican's (yes, it's ultimately the Vatican, isn't it) strong-arm tactics are akin to what gangsters do in the pursuit of their aims!

We need something like an RCC ACLU - or whatever it would be called. Because this is becoming a kind of subversive activity in the name of religion. Subverting separation of church and state. And threatening harm to the "least among us" - those who are closest to the Heart of Jesus.

I'm glad to see so much blogging on this kind of thug-type behavior on the part of people who are ordained to be "servants".

Sometimes, it is so hard to trust the parable of the wheat and the weeds. So hard to be the salt. The leaven. Clearly the Heart of the Church is alive and well - but not among those who, like Uriah Heep bow and scrape to the pope, while robbing and raping - and hiding the culprits!

As one line in the Psalms prays: With a spirit of fervor sustain us.

We will need every ounce of spiritual grace and strength in this furnace which reminds me of the book of Daniel.

I did a tiny blog on this yesterday on a political site:

Michael J. Bayly said...

Thanks for the link, TheraP.

I too am glad that so many people are concerned and outraged by the tactics of the hierarchy. Hopefully some action can and will be taken, and something good will come out of it all - including for the wider church.



Dan said...

"extortion", "strong-arm tactics", "subversive activity", "thug-type behavior"?

For refusing to act against one's own conscience? This is ridiculous hyperbole, TheraP! Catholic Charities, along with the teaching of the Catholic Church, believes it is morally wrong to support same-sex marriage in society. If the city requires contract holders who agree with Catholic Charities to abide by laws that violate their own consciences, then the people at Catholic Charities are surely within their rights to refuse the money. How is this "childish" or somehow "blackmail"?

Further, can you explain to me how Catholic charities is "subverting the separation of church and state"? Is it establishing a state religion? Is it interfering with the free practice of another religion? Is it forcing anybody to join their religion? Absolutely not. The people at Catholic Charities are simply acting in accord with their consciences as they seek to help the poor and disadvantaged. You are somehow equating "separation of church and state" with "don't act upon your moral beliefs if they are in some way related to religion." Again, ridiculous.

And Michael, you have quoted favorably theologian Christine Firer Hinze's definition of conscience as "an absolute subjective guide: one must always follow it, and external authorities may not force a person to violate it." (link) Are you now critical of those who follow their conscience when it disagrees with yours?

William D. Lindsey said...

"Catholic Charities, along with the teaching of the Catholic Church, believes it is mos morally wrong to support same-sex marriage in society."

Are you certain you're correct with that statement, Dan? My recollection is that a significant number of the Catholic board members of Catholic Charities in Boston resigned a few years ago when the archdiocese tried this same anti-gay political game with Catholic Charities there.

Polls show a higher percentage of U.S. Catholics supporting gay marriage than is the case in most churches.

We are the church.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Dan,

I think if you were to ask the good folks who actually work in Catholic Charities about this, they wouldn't have an issue with the non-discrimination laws of D.C. It's not Catholic Charities calling the shots here, but the Archdiocese.

Not all Catholics believe it is "morally wrong to support same-sex marriage in society" - especially, I would argue, those who work "on the ground" and "in the trenches" with real human beings and their daily concerns - some of which are to do with their LGBT loved ones.

The conscience of these folks tells them that they can support the civil rights of LGBT people and keep serving the poor through their work with, for example, Catholic Charities.

Why can't the hierarchy respect these people's conscience and not violate it by insisting they be part of this outrageous ultimatum of theirs?

I think one way around this problem is for Catholics Charities to become its own non-profit organization separate from the hierarchy. Folks who work there could then keep their jobs, continue serving the poor, and be true to their conscience. The hierarchy would become that much more isolated and, hopefully, be compelled to evolve.

Finally, I have no problem with people following their conscience when it disagrees with mine. I just don't think it's either very Christian or adult-like to throw tantrums and make threats when it becomes clear that following your conscience is going to make life difficult. It is this type of behavior that I'm critiquing in this post.



Mareczku said...

This is just so sad to me. Why does the Church have to fight anti-discrimination laws? It is shameful. I was in a discussion on another site and I got called a sodomite by one poster. Another poster said that they need a new Inquisition to get rid of the sodomites. How many bishops actually use the term gay? Many refuse to use this term and use sodomite instead. Or else the NARTH inspired "same sex attracted." I know that I am venting here but I am sick of the hypocricy of some of our bishops. Where is Christ here?

crystal said...

Good post. Interesting to see what the D.C. Council members had to say - I'm glad they aren't going to back down. I did see in a post at the Episcopal Cafe that a TEC bishop had responded to this and said the Episcopal Church would be happy to help if the Catholic Church bows out.

kevin57 said...

For your own mental hygiene, I would suggest not visiting, and certainly not posting, on such hate-filled sites. Such hatred cannot be changed with dialogue. That will require a big dose of grace and witness. I don't think many bishops use the term, sodomite, but same sex attracted, yes.

Mareczku said...

You may be right Kevin. Here is the latest shot. "Mark, call me Tomas de Torquemada, "Defender of the Faith." Yes it's time for a wholesale Inquisition on how the Church has become a haven for fey priests." This is another person who is back the first guy. I still didn't get an answer on what other groups should be targeted by the new Inquisition.