DC RCs see end to charity;
TEC bishop responds

UPDATED: additional commentary by Diana Butler Bass and Tobias Haller and others – see below:

The Washington Post reports,

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn’t change a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.


The Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington issued this response today:

The Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Church have significant theological differences on the issue of same-sex relationships, so perhaps it is not surprising that the social service organizations affiliated with the two Churches have reached different conclusions regarding the effect of the legislation to legalize same-sex marriage currently under consideration in the District of Columbia.

Our partners in ministry have expressed no reservations about the legislation. Episcopalians understand that none of us has the right to violate the human rights of another individual. That’s the law of the District of Columbia. More important, it’s at the core of the Gospel. I hope that the least among us will not be victimized by the struggle over this legislation, and I pray that people of faith will come forward to provide food and shelter if the need arises.

The Catholic Archdiocese in its press release (see below) is careful to say “the committee’s narrowing of the religious exemption language will cause the government to discontinue our long partnership with them.”

What do you think: Is that an ultimatum? Or is their logic Orwellian?

A plainer statement would be: We could not in good conscience adapt our practices to meet the requirements if this bill were to become law; that would result in an end to our partnership with the District.

Diana Butler Bass comments here:

That’s right. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington is holding poor people hostage in order to keep gay and lesbian persons from getting married. They are willing to trade the indigent for getting their theological way.

Tobias Haller writes here:

The idea that employee benefits required by law represent the “promotion” of anything other than simple justice is ludicrous. Employees are, as the church teaches, all sinners in one way or another, and paying them a fair wage with benefits need not be seen as the promotion of their sins, whatever they may be.

Adam Bink at Open Left also comments here

So the Catholic Church announced it is blackmailing the DC Council over marriage equality, at the expense of the poor and kids without homes. Oh, well, heaven forbid (pun intended) they should have to obey city laws.

Extracts from the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington press release of November 11:

The committee rejected concerns raised in testimony by the ACLU, the Archdiocese of Washington, the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington and a group of nationally-recognized legal scholars, including Robin Fretwell Wilson, professor at Washington & Lee University Law School. In calling for broader religious liberty protections in the bill, the experts cited well established United States Supreme Court case law under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a federal law that applies to the District of Columbia.

“It is our concern that the committee’s narrowing of the religious exemption language will cause the government to discontinue our long partnership with them and open up the agency to litigation and the use of resources to defend our religious beliefs rather than serve the poor,” said Edward Orzechowski, president/CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. Catholic Charities serves 68,000 people in the city each year. The city’s 40 Catholic parishes operate another 93 social service programs to provide crucial services.

Category : The Lead

Comment Policy
Our comment policy requires that you use your real name and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted

34 Comments
  1. David C. Wacaster+

    The RC statement is nothing but more mean-spirited bile from an institution that has lost its moral compass completely. Such a shame that this action comes as no surprise whatsoever.

  2. Peter Pearson

    Frankly I think it’s a shameless power play with the poor used as pawns.

    By the way, remember that Donald Weurl and Bob Duncan are old friends. Surprised?

  3. paigeb

    I read the following assessment of this threat at Shakesville:

    Just so we’re all on the same page, the Catholic Church doesn’t want to extend partner benefits to same-sex married couples, because they view homosexuality as a sin. The Catholic Church also believes that all of its employees are sinners, by virtue of its doctrine viewing all humans as sinners. But they’re not arguing that they shouldn’t be compelled to extend benefits to those sinners, nor would they argue that providing healthcare coverage to people whose bad health habits they regard as sinful (gluttony! sloth! lust!) is a tacit endorsement of those sins. It’s a special argument reserved especially just for the very special case of gay people and their specialized sin.

    It’s bad enough that the Roman Catholic Church would pour massive amounts of cash into the Maine referendum that stripped same-sex couples of the right to marry, while closing parishes because it can no longer afford them (thanks in part to the pedophilia scandal).

    But for the RCC to threaten to starve homeless people to continue its war against the “very special sin” of homosexuality really takes my breath away.

    Just what exactly is the “Good News” they are offering? And how/where do they intend to offer it when they would rather close up shop than see tax-paying American citizens have equal rights under the law?

    Paige Baker

  4. Gregory

    Jesus Christ told us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, house the homeless, care for the sick and visit the jailed — unconditionally, without any qualifiers as to who receives that charity. He also said that when we don’t do those things to those in need, we’re not doing it to him either, so we won’t inherit his kingdom. Does the Roman Catholic establishment realize what peril it has put itself in, according to the gospel, by brandishing charity (and withholding it) as a blatant power ploy?

    Divorce is also considered a sin according to Roman Catholic teaching. But divorce is also legal in Washington DC. So why hasn’t the Roman Catholic establishment shut down its charities and ended its social action partnership with government over divorce and having to deal with divorcees, either as employees or clients?

    Thank heavens for Jesus Christ, who welcomed sinners and dined with them, and shared his table with tax collectors and harlots, despite the raised eyebrows and character assassination of the “religious right” of his day.

    Gergory Orloff

  5. tgflux

    cause the government to discontinue our long partnership with them [the RC Archdiocese]

    Nothing but that passive-aggressive *BS*.

    JC Fisher

  6. tobias haller

    This tired and manipulative ploy is sickening. The leadership of the Roman Church continues to show itself to be morally and ethically disordered. Objectively disordered, at that, for it is one thing just to be unethical or immoral, but for a church to be so, as in this case, is at odds with their “object.”

  7. Michael Russell

    This is public blackmail, the DC government should respond by withdrawing all financial aid processed through Catholic Charities.I am sure many protestant organizations can be found to step up to the plate.

    By the way, the Romans took this same tact with the country of Brazil a few years ago when it was at the cutting edge of supporting gay rights at the United Nations. This practice derives from the threats them made in medieval times to free populations of their allegiance to the monarch unless the monarch towed the Roman line

    They add the crime of blackmail now to their “megisterium’s” other moral crimes.

    Shame on them.

  8. Peter Pearson

    HEY! What if the Episcopal Church offered to step in with Episcopal Social Services to fill the gap???? We’d probably just hire the folks the RC’s let go and make a huge statement about how serious we are about these issues.

  9. LA Episcopal priest

    Why the anti-Catholicism on this site? Can’t folks accept that the Catholic Church has a moral theology and that it intends to obey it? The Catholic Church has been caring for “the least of these” for a long time– however imperfectly–and to a greater degree than any other body. Whatever aid the government gives the Church or Catholic Charities to aid in their help to the sick, the poor, the orphan, the widow, the imprisoned, it is only a part of the cost. C’mon, do you think our tiny Church can take on the burden that the Catholic Church has shouldered? If so, let’s get on with it. If not, how about taking a break from the latter day Knownothing anti-Catholicism?

    BTW, isn’t this blog an official organ of the Episcopal Church? How does this further ecumenical relations?

    Fr. Bill Ledbetter in LA

  10. It isn’t helpful, or fair, to equate criticism of specific actions of particular Catholics with anti-Catholicism. And the question about why an Episcopal Church site would give space to a statement by an Episcopal bishop isn’t worth answering.

  11. LA Episcopal priest

    Mr. Naughton,

    Can you read the comments below and not see the anti-Catholicism?

    “magisterium’s other moral crimes”

    “The leadership of the Roman Church continues to show itself to be morally and ethically disordered.”

    “The RC statement is nothing but more mean-spirited bile from an institution that has lost its moral compass completely. ”

    Those aren’t the words of Bishop Chane, they are comments of others that express animus — to put it mildly– toward the Catholic Church.

    Fr. Bill Ledbetter

  12. I don’t think these comments constitute anti-Catholicism. The Church is rightly subject to the same scrutiny as any institution that functions in the public sphere. No more smearing other commenters, please. If you would like to disagree with them, disagree with them, but no more name calling.

  13. Anthony Willard

    1. The Archdiocese’s excuse is disingenuous. The Archdiocese should speak with more authenticity.

    2. The majority of comments on this post remind me of comments by members of other Anglican churches on conservative blogs criticizing “specific actions of particular” Episcopalians in TEC.

    3. The Catholic statement can legitimately be called a threat, but it is also a warning in a political debate of political consequences. As is Bishop Chane’s statement. No statement at all followed by drastic action would be worse.

    4. President Bush’s attempt to shift government responsibility for social welfare to churches has resulted in a perceived civic mandate for certain churches to provide specific social welfare programs. Hence the commenters’ outrage at the Catholics’ shirking their civic duties by not cooperating with the District government’s social policy.

    5. I hope, though I am not so naive as to be assured, that DC’s contributions to discontinued Catholic Charities programs will be awarded to other bidders with different moral theologies; and that money saved by Catholic Charities in the process will be directed to other social needs ethically more acceptable to them.

  14. David da Silva Cornell

    From the WaPo article: “Fearful that they could be forced, among other things, to extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples, church officials said they would have no choice but to abandon their contracts with the city.”

    And yet, do they also recoil this way from extending employee benefits to opposite-sex couples where one or both of the spouses are divorced-and-remarried? Such unions too violate Roman Catholic teaching, which considers them fake “marriages” by adulterers – a topic Jesus actually addressed outright, unlike same-sex marriages.

    Yet for many years, the RC Church has recognized the *civil* and *legal* validity of such marriages, and extended benefits to *legal* spouses in such marriages, even while denying their sacramental validity. Why can’t they just be consistent and adopt the very same approach toward same-sex marriages? (That’s a rhetorical question; the answer is “Homophobia.” Divorced-and-remarried “adulterers” are given a pass that The Gays don’t get.)

  15. crystal watson

    There are Catholics, like me, who find this situation disturbing too. I don’t see the comments as anti-Catholic.

  16. Peter Pearson

    Having a moral standard is fine, even laudable. To use service to the poor as a pawn in the play for getting one’s way is morally wrong regardless of who does it. I am a former RC and not an angry one either. The folks who raised me and formed me are sometimes WRONG. To point that out and to acknowledge disappointment is not a malicious thing, it’s actually quite healthy, especiall considering that we do the same thing when it’s the Episcopal church making the bad moves.

  17. Colin Tooze

    Did anyone bother to read the statement from the Archdiocese? They don’t threaten to do anything. On the contrary, they clearly state that their concern is that the DC government will cause them to discontinue the partnership. In testimony before the city council hearing, they and other bodies point to the threat of litigation and an ensuing shutdown of services by Catholic Charities. As an Episcopalian, it bothers me greatly that Bishop Chane appears to be taking the thinly-sourced Washington Post story at face value. The WP took a subjective interpretation of the Archdiocese’s statement in the least charitable light possible, and then reported it as fact.

  18. You can dispute the Post’s interpretation, although I don’t, but the story was not thinly sourced. I am working from memory here, but I seem to remember quotes from at least two diocesan officials and the head of Catholic Charities.

  19. John B. Chilton

    Colin,

    Did you read Bishop Chane’s statement? Or do you want to put the least charitable interpretation on it?

    We linked to the Catholic Archdiocese’s press release in the post above and quoted what I believe is the bottom line: “the religious exemption language will cause the government to discontinue our long partnership with them.”

    What does that mean to you?

  20. Colin Tooze

    Jim, that’s a fair point. Re-reading the story, I see that it did contain quotes from an Archdiocesan spokesperson. No one from Catholic Charities was quoted, but it’s possible that they deferred to the Archdiocese for a statement.

    I think the story would have been improved, though, if it had set the purported “threat” in the context of 1) the text of the legislation and 2) the concerns articulated by other groups during the public hearing. As the Archdiocese pointed out this week, the ACLU and the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington raised concerns over the law’s narrow religious exemption in late October– even before the Council narrowed the exemption further.

    I don’t recall any outrage being directed at the ACLU or the ICMW for their analysis.

    And Michael Russell, the concern the Archdiocese raised is that the law, as written, would create an opportunity for the City Council to do precisely what you advocate: withdraw public funds from Catholic Charities. How is this “blackmail,” exactly?

  21. tobias haller

    Fr Ledbetter, it is not “anti-catholic” to offer criticism of specific actions, nor even of general tendencies towards disorder and lack of consistency in the application of moral principles. No one is above criticism (unless you ascribe to the doctrine that ‘the pope is judged by no one.’)

    Colin, I did read the Archdiocesan piece, and it is clear that the only reason the DC government would “cause” a disruption of service provision would be due to a refusal on the part of the Archdiocesan charitable entities to abide by the law. This is an interesting nuance in moral theology, addressed to some extent by Paul in Romans (‘before the law there is no sin’ as he unpacks it) and it is true that driving fast only becomes a crime when and where the state imposes a speed limit. But it is part of the disordered thinking in the Archdiocese that puts the “blame” for their considered refusal to obey a law at the feet of the state that enacts it. A speed limit does not “cause” someone to speed.

    The failure to take responsibility for ones actions is normally a sign of disordered thinking.

  22. Jill Forrest

    If the shoe were on the other foot…if perhaps Planned Parenthood was required to stop providing abortions and/or “choice” counselling in order to get government funds for providing “women’s reproductive health services” – would the hue and cry be the same? Would it be considered “blackmail” if they stated that they would not provide any services if such a requirement was in place? Since when is it morally depraved to act upon one’s principles?

    By the way, I didn’t see that the Archdiocese was declaring that it would stop the work of all charities in DC – just government funded ones. Get real folks.

  23. I don’t really follow the Planned Parenthood analogy. But I question whether Catholic principles require the action that the Archdiocese is taking. It is my understanding that other dioceses faced this situation and handled it differently. Additionally, unless I am missing something, the principle seems to be invoked somewhat selectively. The Catholic Church doesn’t recognize the validity of remarriage without the death of the previous spouse or an annulment. But I am not aware that the archdiocese has protested having to extend health care benefits to such couples in its employ.

  24. Jill, I think your analogy to Planned Parenthood fails. In fact, in places where the law restricts the provision of certain services, PP complies — they don’t totally close up shop, unless the state prevents them from providing any services at all.

    The issue here is both the failure of the Archdiocese to take responsibility for their own actions, in making it appear that they have no choice to “use their resources to defend their religious beliefs rather than serve the poor.” There is no causal relationship between being required to pay health benefits to a same-sex partner of an employee — how does that violate any “religious principle” at all — any more, as others have pointed out, providing for such a benefit for someone whose spouse is a divorcee?

    If they were simply forthright and said they oppose the legislation on the grounds that they don’t believe same-sex couples should marry, they would be on firm ground. But bringing in the burden their opposition to what might become law on their social service enterprise is clearly more than a simple statement of fact — especially since it need not be so: the draft of the law clearly grants religious protection in religious settings.

  25. Jill Forrest

    Point taken Mr. Naughton, but perhaps they are drawing a line in the sand – they will go so far and no farther. Every organization has their boundaries, and perhaps this is the Archdiocese’s boundary. I don’t believe that this constitutes moral depravity.

    Mr. Haller, I believe that St. Paul was talking about God’s Law, not the law of man in Romans 5.

  26. tobias haller

    Yes, Ms. Forrest, that is the law in question. The issue is that even God’s law does not “cause” sin (as Paul acknowledges that there was sin before the law). The same applies to human law, though, which was my point. The speed limit does not cause people to drive fast — it identifies their violations when they do.

    Furthermore, I don’t see any mention of “depravity” until you introduce that language. I was very specific in speaking of “disorder” and in the technical sense of being out of keeping with the overarching goals of the church.

  27. crystal watson

    There’s a discussion about this at dotCommonweal too, if you’d like to see some Catholic opinions …

    Compare and Contrast

  28. Jill Forrest

    Mr. Haller, I don’t want to argue semantics. My point is that the RC church believes that they are following God’s law, and that the (proposed)law of the land is in conflict with their understanding of God’s law. I don’t believe that they are being anything but consistent with their view that the proposed law will require them to acknowledge and even encourage relationships that they believe are not in keeping with God’s law. If they “practice what they preach”, they will certainly be subject to lawsuits and fines if they continue to accept a partnership with the local government. If the government wants a relationship with the church, then they must know that this particular law jeopardizes that relationship. How is this hard to understand, and how is it disordered?

    The disorder would be that they change the standards of the church to fit the law of the land.

    “Just go ahead and sprinkle some incense in front of the altar of the Emperor, and everything will be fine – after all, it’s the law.”

  29. Ms. Forrest, to grant the point you are makeing, I would want to see the standard invoked being applied in a consistent way. It isn’t. Same-sex marriage is being treated as a graver sin than marriage outside the Church or remarriage after divorce without annulment. I am not aware of any doctrinal grounds for this distinction. Hence, I don’t think institutional conscience is necessarily what is at stake here.

  30. David Allen |dah • veed|

    Jill Forrest, the point that others have made directly to you in more than one comment and you continue to ignore is the Archdiocese’s buffet approach to their own moral theology.

    Take the very statement that you made @ November 13, 2009 3:45 PM and substitute the example of (re)marriage of the divorced for same sex marriage and you should be able to see the point. The Archdiocese drew no such line in the sand when they became required by law to not discriminate by provide equal benefits for their employees who were divorced and remarried. They did not threaten to end their contracts for social services then.

    Nope. No issues with sprinkling a little incense to the Emperor when the issue was just those living in a little adulterous sin. But we shant do it for this gay thing. Eh, eh, eh, much more icky. No. No. No. We will not do it for them. Line in the sand time.

  31. Jill Forrest

    As I said, perhaps that is their “line in the sand” – opposite-sex relationships can be condoned, but same-sex relationships cannot. I’m not saying that this is the best way to apply your standards, but I imagine that trying to change the Roman church’s stance on same-sex relationships is akin to emptying the ocean with a teaspoon.

  32. tobias haller

    Dear Ms. Forest, I’m afraid semantics (meaning) is not something that can be ignored if one is going to discuss ethics.

    For example, a commonplace of Roman Catholic ethics (the so-called Principle of Double Effect) could obviate any concern in this case if it were to be employed: if the intent is simply to provide employee benefits neutrally to all empolyees (as the civil law requires) and alleged “support” for gay marriage is incidental, it becomes a non-issue.

    The failure of the Archdiocese to make consistent use of this principle, which is long enshrined in official Roman Catholic teaching, is precisely what I mean by a disorder in thinking and application. It has nothing to do with the RC Church having to “support gay marriage.” Or sprinkling incense to Caesar.

    As you yourself said, Get real.

    Moreover, the fair treatment of employees is, as a biblical and ethical principle, at least as foundational as the Roman Catholic reading of sexual morality. This inconsistency lies at the heart of the present disorder, only exacerbated by the not-so-subtle threat to drop out of social service provision.

  33. John B. Chilton

    The Washington Post today has more:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/12/AR2009111210789_pf.html

    QUOTE/

    Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, countered that the city is “the one giving the ultimatum.”

    Catholic Charities in Boston halted its adoption programs with the city because Massachusetts requires that agencies not discriminate against same-sex couples as potential parents.

    At issue is $18 million to $20 million in city funds for 20 to 25 programs run by Catholic Charities, said Edward J. Orzechowski, the charity’s president and chief executive officer.

    Some Catholics also expressed their frustration with the Church. “It’s totally embarrassing,” said Kathy Boylan, a member of the peace movement Catholic Worker. The dispute sparked debate at Catholic University. “That’s incredibly unfortunate” that services are threatened, said Erin Kilroy, a senior at Catholic who heads the College Democrats. “It’s sad to see that the Church would cut off benefits to everyone because we don’t want to give them to you and you.” But Alexandra Smith, who heads the College Republicans, said, “The Church, like any other private institution, has the right to operate freely and in a manner that is in accordance with its principles.”

    Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl was not available to comment Thursday.

    /UNQUOTE

  34. Anthony Willard

    Maybe it’s time for some other denomination to be assigned the responsibility for providing the social services to the District of Columbia. I am not sure why the RCC has to do it all the time. It might be better if the recipients had a chance to be introduced to some other religion. I also can’t for the life of me figure out what law you all think the Catholics have broken. If they have failed to comply with their contracts, however, they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Also, they have been attempting to interfere with government activities, which may indicate their tax status should be revoked. The problem with that is that it would limit contributions to Catholic Charities which would reduce their ability to provide the District’s social services.

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *