Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Debate About Catholic Moral Conscience And Gay Marriage In DC.

Archbishop Donald Wuerl gets prepared to sock it too those DC city commissioners--and it's no laughing matter.

Here's an op ed debate from the Washington Post concerning the Archdiocese's threat to with hold services from Catholic Charities over DC's pending gay marriage law. The first piece, by Archbishop Wuerl, lays out the Church's position. The second piece, by Mark Levine, rebuts Archbishop Wuerl.

D.C.'s same-sex marriage bill: Finding the balance
By Donald W. Wuerl Washington Post,

One year ago, I stood with city leaders on a hill in Northeast as we broke ground for affordable housing in the District. When the St. Martin’s Apartments are completed, nearly 200 low-income families and individuals will get a fresh start on life in a wonderful example of the type of effective public-private partnerships the residents of our nation’s capital need.

St. Martin’s is being developed by Catholic Charities, on land owned by the Catholic Church and with funding sources that include the District of Columbia.

Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Washington are committed to continuing to serve the people of the District as we have for many decades. That includes partnerships such as St. Martin’s. Unfortunately, the D.C. Council is considering legislation that could end these kinds of partnerships.

It doesn’t need to be that way. While we do not agree with the council on redefining marriage, we recognize that it is firmly committed to opening marriage to homosexual couples. We are asking that new language be developed that more fairly balances different interests — those of the city to redefine marriage and those of faith groups so that they can continue to provide services without compromising their deeply held religious teachings and beliefs. The archdiocese is not alone in this request. Other groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington and nationally recognized legal scholars all called for stronger protections for religious freedom in their testimony on the bill. (This only applies to some deeply held religious beliefs.)

For the archdiocese and Catholic Charities, two core tenets of our faith are at the heart of our concerns: our understanding of the nature of marriage and our commitment to expressing Christ’s love through service to others. Under the legislative language before the D.C. Council, the archdiocese would be forced to choose between these two principles. The archdiocese has long made clear that all people have equal dignity, regardless of sexual orientation. But marriage is reserved for husband and wife because of its essential connection with the creation of children. (Jesus put service to others above marital adultery. He had no such conflicts.)

The proposed legislation offers little protection for religious beliefs, including no protections for individuals, as is required under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Under the bill, religious organizations would be exempt from participating in ceremonies or from teaching about same-sex marriage in religion classes and retreats in accord with their faith beliefs, but they would be required to recognize and promote same-sex marriage everywhere else, including in employment policies, and adoption and foster-care policies, against their beliefs. (Again, this only applies to one Catholic teaching on marriage.)

So what does this mean?

The archdiocese and Catholic Charities are committed to continuing to provide services in the District. Despite the headlines, there has been no threat or ultimatum to end services, just a simple recognition that the new requirements by the city for religious organizations to recognize same-sex marriages in their policies could restrict our ability to provide the same level of services as we do now. This is so because the District requires Catholic Charities to certify its compliance with city laws when applying for contracts and grants. This includes contracts for homeless services, mental health services, foster care and more. Since Catholic Charities cannot comply with city mandates to recognize and promote same-sex marriages, the city would withhold contracts and licenses. (Only with the gay issue has the Church felt compelled to take this 'simple recognition'.

Each year, 68,000 people in the District rely on Catholic Charities for shelter, nutrition, medical and legal care, job training, immigration assistance, and more. This assistance is offered to whoever needs it, regardless of race, religion, gender, nationality or sexual orientation. Many of the programs are offered in partnership with the city, which turns to Catholic Charities and other ministries when it cannot provide social services on its own. Catholic Charities has a proven track record of high-quality service, supported through caring, qualified staff, thousands of dedicated volunteers and millions of dollars in financial support from parishioners all over the region. This legislation won’t end Catholic Charities’ services, but it would reduce unnecessarily the resources available for outreach.

We recognize that the council is likely to legalize same-sex marriage. It is the hope of the archdiocese and Catholic Charities that council members will work with us to find a way to better balance interests so religious organizations that have served this city well for many decades may continue to provide services without compromising the tenets of their faith. (Total hypocrisy. See below.)


A publicly funded charity should serve the public
By Mark Levine Washington Post

The Catholic Church’s complaint rings hollow. No charity should take millions of dollars from taxpayers and then treat as second-class citizens the very taxpayers who fund it. Gay men and lesbians pay taxes, too.

Catholic Charities argues it should not provide benefits to the secular married spouses of its employees who are married in violation of Catholic doctrine. But it has done so for decades without complaint. Because federal law requires nondiscrimination with taxpayer funds on the basis of religion, Catholic Charities already provides benefits to Jewish, Muslim and atheist spouses, as well as those Roman Catholics who have divorced and remarried in severe violation of Catholic doctrine. Are the marriages of gay people somehow less “Catholic” than those of thrice-remarried ex-Catholic atheists? Or a married ex-Catholic priest? Is the Catholic Church “promoting” these un-Catholic marriages when its publicly funded charity provides spousal benefits to all its legally married employees? I think not. Otherwise, why does it do it?

Just as federal law protects taxpayers against religious discrimination with federal funds, D.C. law forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation with District funds. If Catholic Charities is refusing to allow gay and lesbian citizens to participate in its publicly funded adoption programs (as the Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl seems to be suggesting), then it is already in violation of District law. That’s neither “equal dignity” nor “equality under the law.” In fact, why promote adoption at all if, as the archbishop suggests, the only purpose of marriage is the “essential connection with the creation of children”? Why then does the Catholic Church currently marry and promote adoption to infertile heterosexual couples?

A simple compromise would protect the archdiocese from being “forced to choose” between serving the public and upholding the tenets of its faith. Catholic Charities could allow each of its employees to designate one individual (spouse or non-spouse) whom the employee chooses to receive benefits and therefore not discriminate on the basis of marital status, sex or sexual orientation. Such a policy would make clear that the church is not sanctioning or approving of anyone’s marriage. If the church truly cared more about sheltering the homeless or feeding the hungry than punishing gay people, it could easily do this, with less harm to its religious principles than its current policy of providing benefits to non-Catholic spouses. (It would certainly be less hypocritical.)
Or it could get off the public dole. What it cannot do is take public funds and then refuse to serve the public. No taxpayer should be asked to finance his or her own discrimination.
Would the church support taxes going to a charity that refused to provide certain services to Catholics and discriminated against its Catholic employees?

The writer is counsel for the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club.


I keep promoting Archbishop Wuerl to Cardinal undoubtedly because I have firmly come to the conclusion that promotion in the Church is now tagged to officially and loudly bashing gays and banning abortion. The pronouncements from our bishops, at least for me, seem more like cover letters for promotions than pastoral concern. The position of the Archdiocese of DC is purely hypocritical as Mark Stein points out. It's so hypocritical I really don't see how anyone can accept it unless they truly do believe gay marriage is somehow more vile than heterosexual serial monogamy. The authentic teachings of the Church do not allow one to come to that conclusion, or they shouldn't. So why draw such a heavy line in the sand with regards to gay marriage as opposed to divorce and remarriage? It's certainly neither reasonable, nor logical, which seems to make it pathological.

Mark Levine's suggestion for the Archdiocese about designating any person a beneficiary is used by many corporations and some states to comply with anti discrimination laws. For a lot of people it's a great choice to have, especially if they are the primary care takers for another family member who is not their spouse or child. Any solution that allows for more choice is a good solution. This would be a good solution and it is entirely in the hands of the Archdiocese. It solves all the hypocrisy. If Wuerl should choose not to use this kind of solution then this is not about spiritual principles and a desire to serve the poor, it is about forcing a discriminatory moral stance on the American tax payer. It is about legislating Catholic sexual morality in secular law.

That seems to be Benedict's big issue, and apparently this is how one gets promotion with in the Church. Benedict seems to have a hang up or two in this sexual morality area. Catholics no longer hear much about Jesus the human. Almost everything this papacy is doing is moving Catholicism in the direction of an understanding of Jesus as a divine asexual. In denying Jesus's humanity a religious believer can also allow themselves to deny their own humanity and better yet, someone else's humanity. Denial is not a healthy way to deal with one's human tendencies. Archbishop Wuerl may turn out to be the cardinal example of this phenomenon.


  1. A few clarifications on either side of this debate:
    --The church does not say marriage is only for procreation of children; the statement generally made to priests is that it's for the "procreation and education" of children.
    --Wuerl is not considered a staunch conservative; he went against the recent "moto proprio," which gave priests the right to say mass in latin without clearing it with their bishop and said that won't happen in his diocese. He also weighed in against those who said Catholic politicians who vote in favor of abortion rights should be unequivocally denied communion. These are admirable stances in a church where the right wing has claimed ascendancy.
    --The Archdiocese of DC does grant benefits to divorced people who didn't get annulments, so they are really picking and choosing where they're going to apply morality in the public square. Why? Well, I think you're correct: it's political. When any statute or ruling furthering marriage equality for gay men and lesbians comes up in any district, the eyes of the right home in on that place and wait to see if and how the bishop will respond. And if they aren't satisfied with the bishop's response they yell and scream and stomp their feet and make a lot of trouble. And, of course, there's always some bigot in Rome to support them. So, if the bishop doesn't weigh in on their side, he's up shit's creek, as my sainted mother used to say. It's a lousy situation. I think Wuerl is trying to be at least closer to our side if you read between the lines in his statement. Read it again: he does not come off with the distain that bishop malone displayed in Maine. The unfortunate thing is that he felt pressured to make this statement at all. We can pray that he'll take the reins in his diocese and resolve this and taking some of Levine's suggestions might be at least "part" of that. The church is a mess right now. Oh, if only JP I had lived...

  2. Matt, it's funny to me how you and I can get on the same wave length sometimes. I did think at first that Wuerl was looking for a legitimate compromise and was contemplating writing along those lines. That is until I read the Manhattan Manifesto and saw that Wuerl had signed this piece of blatant hypocritical bigotry. Any leeway I might have been considering giving Wuerl was squashed flat. He's been bought out.

  3. "typo" - first paragraph:

    Says "hold" services.

    Should be "withhold" I'm guessing.

  4. "two core tenets" of our faith:

    2. Expressing Christ's love. OK!!!

    1. Nature of Marriage. Who knew?

    Honestly, a core tenet? When did that happen?

  5. I know and I do agree, Colleen. He did sign the manifesto. But I don't think he'd ever write or word something like that. Since the eyes of the meanies are on DC right now, they are looking to see that the most prominent priest/minister in DC does certain things--like signing that statement. You know what? In the end, it's a meaningless statement. More headline-grabbing propaganda with very little basis in fact. It's another shot in the culture wars from a small group of people who want to say God is on their side. Give Wuerl a wider berth. I doubt he's happy about this malarkey at all. Say a prayer to JP I. I know I am.

  6. I don't get it.

    The New Testament Gospels are replete with "miracle stories" of people being healed. As far as I can tell, none, none, of those healed was handed a questionaire requesting a detailed precis of their relationships with anyone, or their "sexual orientation", or anything else.
    The only criterion was "faith". And that is something that cannot ever be reduced to some bureaucratic demand.

  7. Thomas Aquinas (whom I personally refuse to consider a 'saint') is the basis for the long held position of many clerics & religious that the ONLY God-approved sex was that explicitly between a man & a woman, ONLY for the purpose of procreation (not for pleasure, even in the context of marriage), and only if done in the 'missionary position'!

    Now it is true that the prime function of sex (as a creation of God) is for procreation - yet it is also for the mutual pleasure & affection of the participants. The use of sex outside of marriage is purely 'recreation' is called Hedonism. This is an obvious misuse of what the manufacturer's intentions......thus where ANY consideration of 'morality; enters the picture.

    Of itself, homosexual acts have NO specifically religious context. Christ said not one word about it. He said tons about marital infidelity & divorce - all conveniently ignored by diocesan annullment tribunals...for $$$:)

    That this very un-Christian blather is coming from a prelate known to his intimates as "Donna' classic irony:)

    When Jesus fed the multitudes, he did not ask for ID, proof of income, or verify their "qualifications to eat" so-called "Catholic Charities" do.

    He did not question their faith in Him (many obviously were non-believers). Nor the state of their souls, the amount of coin in their purses, their sexuality much less their sexual morality.

    He fed them as a pure expression of the Father's love.

  8. Typo correction:

    "The (mis)use of sex outside the context of marriage for purely recreational purposes is called 'Hedonism'.

    The key to this lies in an honest evaluation of what is 'misuse' (i.e. sex as purely recreational). Not mere unmarried status or gender.

  9. I wonder if Wuerl's statement is not only about following Pope Benedict's diktat about enshrining Catholic teaching into secular law, but also about protecting the clerical closet?

  10. Anonymous:

    "Thomas the basis for the long held position of many clerics & religious that the ONLY God-approved sex was that explicitly between a man & a woman, ONLY for the purpose of procreation..."

    Actually, this not true. The view that sex is "only for the purpose of procreation" was held by many (if not most) patristic writers, including Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Gregory Nazianzus, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and others -- long before Aquinas showed up.

    On this point they were influenced more by Stoic philosophy than scripture, which does not support such a position.

    Aquinas, actually, was more liberal on this point than some patristic thinkers, like Augustine, who held that sex was sinful unless procreation was specifically intended by the couple. If I recall correctly, Aquinas allowed that procreation did not have to be specifically intended.

  11. The manifesto isn't totally meaningless because it gives more fuel the fires of the right, which in turn, if you are correct, Wuerl allowed himself to be forced in to supporting at a time when he's calling for compromise.

    Matt, this steeple jacking campaign being foisted on mainstream churches by the IRD has nothing to do with faith or Jesus. It has everything to do with political control for a subset of wealthy reactionary Christianity.

    They are betting the farm that most American Christians would rather piss all over their faith in Jesus than support gays or understand the pro choice position.
    They are soley interested in destroying the moral voice of social justice in this country.

    Wait until the immigration debate gets under way. Or reread Flinn's and Naumann's statement on health care. I bet they didn't write that either, but I bet they got a nice donation from somewhere for promulgating it.

    Right now all of the political battles are between exercising traditional Catholic social justice vs sexual purity codes. Social justice is losing.

    How does this reflect the teachings of Jesus? It doesn't. It divides to conquer social justice concerns. In essence it's a betrayal of the teachings in the New Testament. It's Judas ascendant.

  12. As if this weren't enough, Legionary supporter Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, RI has banned Rep. Patrick Kennedy from taking communion for what Tobin sees as Kennedy's insufficient support for anti-abortion measures. I fear the reactionaries are getting the upper hand here.

  13. Bishop Tobin is too, too much. Enough!

    It's time for enligtened Catholics to start cutting the bishops money off. I would not support local parishes anymore. No more support for Catholic Relief Services and other such collections.

    For now, I would direct money to religious orders of women who have labored day in and day out for the causes of the poor and justice

  14. Now the target of our favorite reactionary forces is the Campaign for Human Development, again it's a campaign being foisted on the Church by the same right wing shills who signed the Manhattan Manifesto.

  15. Where the hell is the moral conscience of a country and a Catholic Church leadership that lets thousands of nuclear weapons be built in the last 40 years in the US and continues to ignore this and pump billions into the military budget!!!???

    Led by ignorance it seems to me. Enough is enough. The human race is doomed under the current leadership of the RCC.

  16. You may want to download and read a document that "Jake" has a link for (it's a pdf file you download). I think it might be up your alley:

    It's called: Globalizing the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches and Homophobia

    I think so much of what is happening right now is way larger than we even suspect. (Jake's blog will give you an overview) I also suspect it fits with my recent blog at TPM, which, by the way, I updated yesterday when I realize the connection with Leo Strauss's thinking - which the neocons made such use of. Evil is afoot!

  17. "Maybe Rowan Williams should call the next ecumenical council. The results could be highly beneficial for a lot of disaffected Christians."

    Col, This is one great idea. It brought me great pleasure this evening from my funny bone back to your ever-fertile mind.

  18. TheraP - I agree - evil is afoot. Scary to read about these splits in the Churches over hating people and due to their obstinate ignorance, literal and pathological readings of scriptures, but they believe they are "holy." That's scary. It's an arrogance afoot. They are just repeating the history of the last century.

    These groups do not want or desire peace either.

  19. Prickliest Pear:

    My point in re Aquinas was the attitude, of which his words are the typical 'backup', has come down to us in the mode I described.

    Note: I was not a philosophy major, so I am greateful for factual correction!

    But the point still stands as I stated it. You will find that dreck in conservative/trad forums, blogs & writings. It is being taught in seminaries. The historical development much less the truth of the concepts employed is not the point.

    It is power itself which is the point. And in defense of absolute power, deference & blind obedience.....any lies will do the trick:)