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Immigrant Day Laborers Lose, Culture Wars Win

July 17, 2014, 1:09 pm | Posted by

A Portland group that advocates for immigrant day laborers has been disqualified for a grant from the U.S. Catholic bishops’ national anti-poverty campaign over its affiliation with a national organization that endorses cvil marriage for gays and lesbians.

The Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project, which has received church funding since 1994, will no longer be eligible for a $75,000 grant from the bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) because the advocacy group will not agree to the bishops’ request that it cut ties with the nation’s preeminent Hispanic civil rights organization, the National Council of La Raza.

NCLR, which primarily focuses on immigration reform, economic justice and a host of issues supported by Catholic bishops, also holds a policy position in support of marriage equality. As you might expect, the largely Hispanic men that Voz serves each day are not crusaders on the front-lines of LGBT rights or deep-pocketed liberal donors invited to glitzy galas at the Human Rights Campaign. We’re talking about poor immigrants, many of them undocumented, who are struggling to find jobs that put food on the table, get decent health care for their kids and learn English. As Voz director Romeo Sosa told the Associated Press: “Marriage equality is not the focus of our work. We focus on immigrant rights.”

As a tiny non-profit, Voz survives on a shoestring budget — the CCHD grant would have amounted to a healthy chunk of its total budget — so they find invaluable technical support and other resources from more established national organizations like NCLR. But even this kind of relationship is viewed as morally unacceptable by some in the hierarchy because of the specter of same-sex marriage.

Talk about a classic lose-lose. Bishops will not win any points here in their efforts to oppose a demographic tsunami that has made support for marriage equality a mainstream view even among many in the pews, and an organization that puts Catholic social teaching into practice by empowering immigrants will have fewer resources. Day laborers should not be collateral damage in our tiresome culture wars.

At a time when Pope Francis says he prefers a church that it is “bruised, hurting and dirty” because its out “in the streets,” this seems like a page from an old playbook that wasn’t working so well for Catholic bishops.

Let’s be clear. Many bishops deserve enormous credit for standing up to an increasingly aggressive network of conservative activists who relentlessly attack CCHD, which has long been a key funder of community organizing that addresses the root causes of poverty and structural injustice. Just last month, the U.S. bishops’ anti-poverty campaign approved grants  totaling over $14 million to support more than 200 organizations doing this essential work.

But it would be a major step backward if CCHD withdraws from the kind of bridge-building coalition work that research says leads to the most effective outcomes for low-income communities. I wrote about these trends last summer in a report endorsed by several former CCHD executive directors and retired bishops. This would be a loss for both the image of church and, even more importantly, low-income communities Catholic institutions have a proud history of serving so well.

“Catholic identity is far broader than opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage,” Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Fiorenza, a past president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told me at the time. “Catholic identity is a commitment to living the Gospel as Jesus proclaimed it, and this must include a commitment to those in poverty.”

In an interview today, Dylan Corbett, the Mission Identity Outreach Manager at the U.S. bishops’ CCHD office in Washington, told me the church remains committed to building coalitions and finding common ground.

“We are not pulling back,” he said. “Our commitment to collaboration is not diminished. The money is flowing out the door.” Corbett emphasized that Voz, CCHD staff in Washington and the Portland diocese had many conversations. “We wanted to work through this and we never shut the door. We are troubled by what happened. We are deeply committed to immigrant rights.”

But he said Voz recognized that their affiliation with the National Council of La Raza would disqualify the day laborer group from the potential grant because of CCHD’s contractual guidelines. NCLR’s public policy position on marriage equality, he said,”does not square with Catholic teachings.”

“We respect Voz’s thoughtful decision to make a public commitment to La Raza and the values of La Raza,” Corbett said.

 

John Gehring is Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, and a former assistant director for media relations at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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Baptizing corporations

July 1, 2014, 2:19 pm | Posted by

While the long-term consequences of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby are unclear, it was no victory for religious liberty as the concept has been understood for hundreds of years. Rather, the decision was another radical expansion of corporate power by the Roberts court, and a permission slip for CEOs to use religion as a pretext to refuse coverage of birth control.

The implications are vast. Even though the ruling applies specifically to “closely held” corporations rather than publicly traded ones, 90 percent of American businesses are classified as closely held.

These corporations don’t have souls. They are legal entities created by humankind, not living beings created in the image of God. Endowing these artificial institutions with the same religious freedom that you and I have is both theologically troubling and legally dangerous. While the ruling itself addressed only contraception coverage and explicitly was not applied to related issues such as vaccination coverage and LGBT discrimination, it could set a legal and cultural precedent for assertion of a corporation’s “religious” right to discriminate or to deny coverage of crucial healthcare services.

The Hobby Lobby decision is also a threat to the health of women workers, and a blow to pro-life and pro-choice Americans who share a common-ground commitment to reducing abortion. I’ve read well-reasoned analysis predicting that the ruling will not jeopardize access to contraception, but there is no guarantee of that outcome. In fact, shortly after the ruling was announced, a federal court of appeals granted an injunction against the contraception-coverage mandate for a television network. Keep in mind that the IUD contraception methods Hobby Lobby specifically objected to are the most effective means to prevent unintended pregnancy, have been shown to significantly reduce the abortion rate, and can be prohibitively expensive for working women. As unintended pregnancies increase, so do abortions.

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This Lent, a deeper hunger for justice

March 6, 2014, 3:48 pm | Posted by

For me, Lent is always a powerful time of reflection and prayer on self-sacrifice. Those who strive to build the beloved Community bring new life out of the ashes of sin and brokenness.

Last winter the “Fast for Families” movement put immigration reform back on Congress’ agenda. This month faith, immigration and labor leaders launched “Fast for Families Across America, a seven week bus tour that will visit 75 Congressional districts to help change the hearts and minds of members of Congress who continue to oppose long overdue immigration reform. Twenty-eight Catholic college and university presidents who fasted on Ash Wednesday reflected: “As we begin this sacred season and remember Christ’s journey of suffering the desert wilderness we pray for immigrants who hunger and thirst for justice.” You can sign up to join the fast here.

Fighting for family wages

Yesterday as I stood with faith leaders and U.S Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) to call for raising the minimum wage, I met a mom who reminded me of the sacrifices mothers and families are making in an economy that fails to honor their work with living wages. The prophet Isaiah said, “My chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands,” yet today millions of workers cannot enjoy the fruit of their labor by seeing their families thrive.

A bold rebuke in Arizona

Last week evangelical leaders issued a statement boldly calling on their own communities to oppose legislation like Arizona’s SB 1062, which would have discriminated against gay people in the name of religious freedom. Their statementsaid in part: “We believe that the current position that many Evangelical leaders are taking on issues of discrimination toward the gay community directly contradict that posture of radical love and grace that Jesus so powerfully embodied in his life and teachings.” As other states consider similar bills, they will have to contend with strong opposition across the religious spectrum.

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In memory of Thomas P. Melady

January 7, 2014, 1:09 pm | Posted by

Former Vatican Ambassador Thomas P. Melady died yesterday at the age of 86. His passing is a significant loss for the Catholic community in Washington and anyone who cares about public service. Tom was a true gentleman who believed in civility, building bridges across ideological divides and finding common ground with Catholic progressives like myself. A moderate Republican from Connecticut, he served his country and the Catholic Church by carrying himself with a gentle dignity that is all too rare in a city of strutting partisan peacocks.

While almost 50 years separated us, Tom became a friend because of our love for the Catholic Church and the conviction that serving the common good means a lot more than whether you voted for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. At times the politics of the Catholic Church can feel even more polarized and nasty than the battles waged on cable news and Capitol Hill, but Tom never let labels or blind partisanship stop him from reaching out to progressives. He even joked with me a few times that he was willing to take heat from his friends on the right for his eagerness to make common cause with more liberal Catholics.

Tom was a man of integrity and clear moral vision. He spoke up as a pro-life Catholic who opposed abortion but also called the scourge of gun violence a sanctity-of-life issue. While some conservatives and a vocal minority of bishops argue pro-choice Catholic elected officials should be denied Holy Communion, Tom rejected turning a sacrament into a political bludgeon. He joined other Christian leaders to denounce Uganda’s shameful efforts to dehumanize gays and lesbians. He spoke out for comprehensive immigration reform. He challenged the powerful and all of us not to forget the growing ranks of the poor and hungry. Tom knew that politics could be a noble calling, not simply a blood sport for the self-serving and ambitious.

I will miss his stories over lunch at The Army-Navy Club and his impromptu phone calls to talk about politics or the Church. Our country will miss his spirit of service.

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Catholic Bishops Rev Up Political Machine to Fight the Gays

September 26, 2012, 11:59 am | Posted by

Archbishop John Myers of Newark just told Catholics in his diocese who support same-sex marriage that they should “refrain from receiving Holy Communion” and calls “a proper backing of marriage” a fundamental issue for Catholic voters heading into the election. Catholics in Minnesota will receive a letter this week from the state’s bishops encouraging them to donate money for television ads asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The new archbishop of San Francisco has said gays and lesbians who are in a sexual relationship of any kind should not receive Communion. In Omaha, the archbishop is encouraging priests to preach against the city’s recently passed sexual orientation anti-discrimination ordinance. Meanwhile, the Seattle archbishop, who is overseeing the Vatican crackdown on Catholic nuns while he lobbies for an anti-gay marriage ballot initiative, cheerily warns that “human society would be harmed beyond repair” by same-sex marriage. Well, at least he is keeping things in perspective. Apocalyptic musings would be so unhelpful.

At a time when one in five children live in poverty and Catholic Republicans like Paul Ryan want to eviscerate effective government programs that help the most vulnerable this is the hill Catholic bishops want to die on? The Newark case, where the archbishop is telling Catholics who even support LGBT equality not to receive Communion, is particularly scary. I missed that section of Catholic social teaching where bishops are deputized as “thought police” free to patrol our conscience and public squares for what Catholics might believe about and do for our sons, friends and neighbors who are gay. A minority of zealous bishops, encouraged by Catholic right activists who deem themselves holier than the pope, are in danger of dragging a religious tradition known for its proud social justice witness and intellectual rigor into the reactionary arms of the Religious Right. Fifty years after the opening of the Second Vatican Council, which encouraged the church to engage the modern world with dialogue and a hopeful posture, the flame of pastoral Catholicism is in danger of being snuffed out by a grim fundamentalism that is characterized by fear of what Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington recently described as “the new and virulent secularism.”

Catholic bishops have been unpersuasive in convincing even most Catholics that church teaching on homosexuality makes sense. Nearly three-quarters of Catholics support same-sex marriage or civil unions, and enough Catholics have gay friends and family members to roll their eyes at the church’s insistence that any homosexual relations are “intrinsically disordered,” as the Catholic Catechism teaches. A research study released in March that asked lapsed Catholics in the diocese of Trenton, NJ why they left found that the church’s unwelcoming attitude toward gays and lesbians played a role. Harvard professor Robert Putnam and Notre Dame political science professor David Campbell found compelling evidence in their meticulously researched book, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, that a growing percentage of Americans – particularly twentysomethings – now identify their religious affiliation as “none” in part because of Christian leaders’ aggressive political lobbying against same-sex marriage. Here’s Putnam and Campbell writing in the Los Angeles Times in 2010.

Very few of these new “nones” actually call themselves atheists, and many have rather conventional beliefs about God and theology. But they have been alienated from organized religion by its increasingly conservative politics…Just as this generation moved to the left on most social issues — above all, homosexuality — many prominent religious leaders moved to the right, using the issue of same-sex marriage to mobilize electoral support for conservative Republicans. In the short run, this tactic worked to increase GOP turnout, but the subsequent backlash undermined sympathy for religion among many young moderates and progressives.

The church’s preoccupation with homosexuality and gay marriage also seems to be misplaced energy given that Catholic marriages are plummeting. Mark Gray, a prominent researcher at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, presented the facts in an article for Our Sunday Visitor last summer. Gray writes: “The number of marriages celebrated in the Church has fallen from 415,487 in 1972 to 168,400 in 2010 — a decrease of nearly 60 percent — while the U.S. Catholic population has increased by almost 17 million.”

Bishops have enough housecleaning of their own to do when it comes to strengthening Catholic marriages and rebuilding trust in the face of clergy abuse scandals. They should drop the culture war politics.

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