Asking the Right Questions in D.C.

Written by Joel on November 20th, 2009

Headlines read that the archdiocese of Washington will end charitable support in the District of Columbia unless the same-sex marriage bill is voted down on December 1. This is an extreme misunderstanding of the situation. I encourage everyone to read the archbishop’s op-ed piece in the Washington Post which clarifies his position.

For clarification, Catholic Charities will not stop services in the district. However, if this bill passes in its present form they will have far less resources with which to accomplish their work because D.C. will refuse to extend contracts to the diocese. The denial of service will come from the district, not the other way around. This is because the district requires groups which receive grant money to certify that they comply with city laws – something the diocese will be unable to affirm because there is no religious exemption in the bill. For example, in order to receive city dollars, Catholic Charities would be required to offer adoption services to same-sex couples, a move which is against the church’s deeply held convictions.

Homosexuality is not the issue here, it is only the context. This law could be about any other issue which is at odds with the church and the same problems would surface. For example a bill which required all hospitals to perform abortions, or a bill that required all schools to distribute condoms to students – without religious exemptions.

Or to be completely ludicrous, imagine a bill which required every citizen to bow down and pray to a golden statue of Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th president of the United States. The city would tell churches “If you cannot comply with this law then we will not give you money for charity work.” What is the church to do? Compromise on its convictions and pray to that obscure golden leader? Or remain true to its deeply held convictions, turn their back on the golden idol, and lose a large portion of financial support for charities? This is the tight spot that the Archdiocese of Washington faces. There are many who would say “Good rittance, the church shouldn’t be getting government money anyway.” And that is the primary issue here.

Asking the right questions. Again, it is not a question about homosexuality; it is a question of church and state cooperation. Let’s ask the right questions in this particular context.

  • How should the church and state cooperate on social issues such as serving the poor?
  • What issues arise when money is involved in church/state cooperation?
  • What happens when church and state have contradictory beliefs? Who trumps whom?
  • What provisions should the state make to the church in order to allow it to maintain its convictions?
  • Has the cooperation between D.C. and Catholic Charities been a good thing up to this point?
  • Should there be a limit to religious exemptions to discrimination?
  • When (if ever) should the church compromise on its convictions in order to serve the poor?
  • To what extent should the state be able to force the church’s actions?

The Archdiocese of Washington is not blackmailing the city or throwing a tantrum to get their way. They are saying “I can see we disagree on this issue and that’s fine; we still want to partner with the city to help the poor. But, where is the respect for the church’s beliefs and our right to disagree?”

Please leave a comment if you can answer any of these questions, if you have a different opinion, or have anything to add to the discussion.


5 Comments so far ↓

  1. Adrian says:

    I’m going to have to disagree Joel. It is the Archbishop who has been misrepresenting facts and causing confusion.

    The Bill will not require charities getting money and support from the city to endorse gay marriages or accept the idea in any way, in fact it will not REQUIRE anything. It only says that organizations who request support through public funds will have to accept the LEGALITY of all marriages in the city.

    For example, if your charity wants to ask for tax payer money to help in a housing assistance project for struggling families, you aren’t allowed to deny assistance to anyone based on the fact that you don’t recognize their legal relationship as legitimate. You don’t have to tell them their lifestyle is ok, you don’t have to let them have a ceremony in your church, you can even tell the people who come to your church that they are godless perverts who are destroying the very fabric of society and will burn in hell for eternity, but at the end of the day you still have to include them in your tax payer funded program or else you can’t have the money THAT YOU ASKED FOR.

    The issue here absolutely is homosexuality. I’m fairly certain that the Catholic church also does not think kindly of contraception or pre-marital sex, but they aren’t asking to be able to screen out women who are on the pill from their government funded programs. If you’re a poor single mother of 3 kids who goes on the pill so she doesn’t have any more, in the eyes of the Catholic church you’re a baby-killing fornicator, which to me seems like it should be a lot worse than a pervert in the eyes of the Catholic church (after all, you can still be a priest if you’re a pervert, you can’t be one if you’re an unwed whore mother, or even a woman at all!).

    Archbishop Wuerl simply seems to think that the church should be able to tell the DC City Council what to do. If I were a Catholic living in the district, I think I would be ashamed of the way in which my leadership was trying to put power and influence in relatively trivial matters of sexual morality over what should be the Church’s primary goal (Helping the poor).
    The hypocrisy and audacity of Wuerl’s comments should be an embarrassment to Catholics.

    Archbishop Wuerl needs to stop living in the middle ages and realize being a church leader doesn’t give him the right to try to dictate policy to elected officials.

  2. Derek says:

    My only comment is in reference to Adrian’s bigoted diatribe. It is true the last acceptable prejudice in western society is anti-Catholicism.

    I agree with the Church.

    I agree with Abp Wuerl.

  3. Adrian says:

    I’ll agree that my previous post was a diatribe, although I don’t know if I’d accept it being called bigoted, I’d have gone with vitriolic. Although your next comment about how you think anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice in western society proves that one’s definition of bigotry and prejudice can be a bit subjective so I guess I can deal with it.
    The rest of your comments don’t seem to be designed to illicit any sort of intelligent response.

    Update: I heard an interview with a member of the city council this evening and I have some facts to share!
    According to him (sorry I forgot his name, he’s an at large council member and an independent) the city council tried to reach out to the archdiocese to work together on finding language for the bill that would be acceptable to the church, they were turned down.
    He also put the adoption issue into context by explaining that last year in the district there were 102 adoptions through publicly subsidized organizations, 6 of which were through the Catholic church, so if the church feels uncomfortable specifically about the adoption issue it actually wont be that big of a hole to fill and is not a big deal. Interestingly he also mentioned that the Archdiocese’s publicly subsidized adoption programs are already in violation of the law because they discriminate based on religion (you have to have been a member of a christian church for at least two years if you want the Catholic church to use some of your tax dollars to help you adopt a child)the only reason that this hasn’t been an issue until now is that no one has bothered to sue the church yet.

    The bottom line is; The church is allowed to refuse to marry gay people, and they are allowed to refuse to give them adoptive services(as long as it is not a program that receives public money, a private adoption service can discriminate for practically any reason), but they aren’t allowed to refuse spousal support benefits to employees who have homosexual marriages IF they give spousal benefits to other types of marriages of people in the same employment position. So what exactly is supposed to be the issue besides the fact that the Archdiocese is trying by whatever means it can come up with to stop gay people from getting married in the district altogether? If anyone has a serious explanation of why I’m mistaken about this I really would like to read it.

    I’ve also got another question. In their work which involves asking for tax dollars to help out, why is the stipulation that gay marriages not be discriminated against the only issue? I’m not an expert, but I’m fairly certain that gay marriage is only one of the types of marriage that the Catholic church doesn’t recognize as legitimate. Aren’t remarriages also not considered valid by the Church? Why hasn’t the Archdiocese been making a stink about having to pay spousal benefits to their divorced and remarried employees? What’s the difference? I mean besides homophobia of course.

    • Joel says:

      You do point out some interesting inconsistencies. That the church does not seem to have difficulty paying spousal benefits for other marriages it views as problematic. Examples being re-marriage (without annulment); and those in which children are impossible. But, to give the church the benefit of the doubt these cases are difficult to identify whereas homosexual marriages are obvious. The issue in this particular debate would force the hand of the Catholic Church to affirm the validity of these marriages by extending benefits to them.

      I have read of another compromise which the church may entertain, and has been successful at Catholic universities and other diocese. That is creating language which extends benefits to “domiciled adults.” It would be like extending benefits to a dependent parent. Thus the church would be able to extend the employee benefits without compromising its stance on the validity of these marriages. This would be a way for everyone to “save face.”

      I would like to issue a word of caution when it comes to this particular debate – it is inappropriate to use the label homophobia for churches which find difficulty with homosexuality on moral/theological grounds. There is nothing they fear nor hatred toward a particular people group, it is a theological stance. And the Catholic stance, as expressed in the Catechism has a much more open view towards homosexuality than many other denominations. For example the Catholic Church affirms the dignity of homosexual persons and declares they they can be good Christians enjoying full participation in the life and ministry of the church; however they are expected to live a chaste life. Sexual orientation appears to be irrelevant in the Catechism. This is in stark contrast to fundamentalist denominations to which I would affix the homophobic label – those churches which have “scared straight” programs, teach that homosexuality is a choice, and that the orientation in and of itself is sinful; but as I just stated this is NOT the stance of the Catholic Church.

      Would it be beneficial to explore & debate the various Christian responses to homosexuality, in a separate post or another medium? This is something I am still not completely decided upon.

  4. Adrian says:

    I posited homophobia only as an explanation for the inconsistency in the church refusing to pay spousal support to illegitimate marriages. Your explanation that leading an actively homosexual lifestyle is simply a more visible sin than being an adulterer make sense though.

    I’m still interested in the fundamental issue in this case. That being, as far as I’m concerned, that this is just an attempt by the Archdiocese to underhandedly have more than it’s fair share in matters of state. Wuerl’s argument just doesn’t hold water.

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