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 GayRights.Change.org: “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).