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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This weekend, all Catholic parishes in the diocese of Spokane, Washington read a letter from Bishop Blase Cupich about the state’s current debate on Referendum 74, a ballot initiative that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the state.
While Bishop Cupich notes that the Catholic Church’s official position urges voters to reject the initiative, he urges parishioners to view the debate in the broader context of the experiences of their LGBT neighbors.
First, Cupich acknowledges the history of discrimination and oppression that motivates many supporters of the law:
Proponents of the redefinition of marriage are often motivated by compassion for those who have shown courage in refusing to live in the fear of being rejected for their sexual orientation. It is a compassion that is very personal, for those who have suffered and continue to suffer are close and beloved friends and family members. It is also a compassion forged in reaction to tragic national stories of violence against homosexuals, of verbal attacks that demean their human dignity, and of suicides by teens who have struggled with their sexual identity or have been bullied because of it.
Then, urging that the debate be conducted with respect and civility, he issues a stern warning to those who would do otherwise:
I also want to be very clear that in stating our position the Catholic Church has no tolerance for the misuse of this moment to incite hostility towards homosexual persons or promote an agenda that is hateful and disrespectful of their human dignity.
Bishop Cupich demonstrated a similar sensibility earlier this year when he ignored a right-wing campaign to block Archbishop Desmond Tutu from speaking at the commencement ceremonies of Spokane’s Gonzaga University in part because of Tutu’s views on LGBT issues.
It’s a shame that comments such as these are so rare from Catholic bishops. While same-sex marriage is still a hotly contested issue among people of faith, there should be no controversy about Bishop Cupich’s basic acknowledgment that all people deserve respect and dignity and that this issue should not be used to incite bigotry and intolerance.
H/T Michael Sean Winters
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The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has been receiving renewed attention in Washington this week with the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee holding a hearing Tuesday to discuss the proposed legislation to prohibit discrimination against LGBT Americans at work.
Opposing the bill, Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX) appeared on Tony Perkins’s radio show to describe the legislation as “part of this administration’s ongoing war on religion.” (Perkins is president of the Family Research Council which has been named a hate group for its persistent use of false information to attack LGBT people).
Unfortunately for Gohmert, actual religious groups disagree with his assesment; coordinated by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, over 35 of them released a letter this week decrying workplace discrimination against LGBT employees and publicly endorsing ENDA:
Many of our sacred texts speak to the importance and sacred nature of work – an opportunity to be co-creators with God – and demand in the strongest possible terms the protection of all workers as a matter of justice. Our faith leaders and congregations grapple with the difficulties of lost jobs every day, particularly in these difficult economic times. It is indefensible that, while sharing every American’s concerns about the health of our economy, LGBT workers must also fear job security because of prejudice.
At the same time, as religious denominations and faith groups, we deeply value our guarantee to the freedoms of faith and conscience under the First Amendment. ENDA broadly exempts from its scope any religious organization, thereby ensuring that religious institutions will not be compelled to violate the religious precepts on which they are founded, whether or not we may agree with those precepts. In so doing, ENDA respects the protections for religious institutions afforded by the First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 while ensuring that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are protected from baseless discrimination in the workplace.
As the letter notes, ENDA includes broad exemptions for religious organizations. Unfortunately, religious conservatives are still unsatisfied, now demanding that any exemptions apply to any individual who objects to the law for moral reasons.
This, of course, is the same standard that has been demanded by the Catholic Bishops in the contraception regulation debate (affectionately known as the “Taco Bell exemption“) and codified in the dangerously broad Blunt amendment that failed in Congress this spring.
As with that problematic legislation, instituting such a standard in the case of ENDA would essentially nullify the entire point of the legislation, giving hostile employers a broad latitude to ignore the law so long as they cited moral justification for their decisions.
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Former Colorado governor (and Catholic) Bill Ritter Jr. weighs in at the Denver Post on the recent controversy of a small Colorado non-profit that works with immigrants potentially losing its funding from the USCCB’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development because of its membership in a statewide coalition of groups that has taken positions on some LGBT issues.
These are hard times. One in six Americans now live below the official poverty level and more than 46 million of our fellow citizens — almost half of them children — rely on food stamps to make ends meet. Some members of Congress want to slash safety nets for children, the elderly and the sick. Catholic bishops and other Catholic leaders have correctly described themost recent GOP budget proposal as morally indefensible.
With some in Washington determined to play politics with the lives of the poor, it is more important than ever that we keep politics out of the church’s commitment to the most vulnerable. Do we really want more children going to bed hungry, or an immigrant mother denied prenatal care simply because the organization providing the care is associated with another organization that does not meet a conservative litmus test? This makes no sense and undercuts the effectiveness of organizations doing critical work helping struggling families.
It seems to me to be a drastic departure from how we American Catholics try to practice our faith.
Read the whole thing here.
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A recent front page story in the New York Times calls attention to a troubling trend I’ve frequently noted – how a mobilized Catholic right targets social justice organizations and religious progressives to advance a narrow ideological agenda.
In this latest case, the victim is a small nonprofit organization in rural southwestern Colorado that helps poor Hispanic immigrants with basic needs. The group, Compañeros, was recently told by the Diocese of Pueblo that its financing from the U.S. Catholic bishops’ national anti-poverty campaign was in danger because it’s also a member of an immigration advocacy umbrella group which opposes discrimination against LGBT immigrants and supports same-sex civil unions.
The Times reports:
The Catholic Campaign, which doles out $8 million annually to about 250 groups nationwide, has been under increasing pressure from conservative Catholic groups to ensure that it is not unwittingly aiding organizations that run afoul of church positions on issues like birth control and marriage… Since 2010, nine groups from across the country have lost financing from the campaign because of conflicts with Catholic principles, according to the campaign’s director, Ralph McCloud.
Compañeros was told that unless it withdrew from the coalition, Ms. Mosher said, the group would lose money it got each year. “I was shocked that our money was all of a sudden in jeopardy, and confused about why,” Ms. Mosher said. “We have no reason to believe that we are in any way going against Catholic teachings. If they are willing to defund our program based on an affiliation, it sends a clear message of divisiveness.” Debate over the church’s vaunted antipoverty campaign, which was begun by the bishops’ conference in 1970, has taken a more contentious turn in recent years. Conservative Catholics, with the help of search engines and other Web sites, have become more aggressive in tracking the activities of groups that receive funds from the campaign, while some groups have found themselves forced to defend their work.
The news that Compañeros faces potential defunding comes just a month after the Sacramento Bee reported that the city’s Catholic diocese will no longer fund programs at Francis House, a nonprofit agency that serves the homeless, because its executive director (who is not Catholic) has expressed support for abortion rights and gay marriage. In recent years, conservative Catholic activists who fancy themselves defenders of orthodoxy have even gone after Catholic bishops and prominent staffers at the U.S. bishops’ conference.
Bryan Cones, managing editor of U.S. Catholic magazine, correctly warns that the Catholic Church also risks undercutting vital interfaith efforts to address poverty by putting rigid purity tests before service to the poor.
With so many mainline and even evangelical Christians having discerned different responses to disputed moral questions such as abortion and same-sex marriage, how could any Catholic organization possibly partner in joint projects of Christian service? It is one thing to insist on strict adherence in the public sphere to Catholic teaching for one’s own employees, but to impose it on others as a condition of partnership is a step too far. The Diocese of Sacramento’s decision is a poor one, pure and simple, reflecting the narrowest possible approach to Catholic engagement with the world around us. It is a choice that places ideology over service to those most in need, and it diminishes the church’s moral standing as an advocate for and servant to Jesus’ most vulnerable brothers and sisters.
Catholic progressives are mobilizing in response. Catholics United has launched a new campaign – With Charity for All – that is collecting donations to help offset the potential loss of funding to Compañeros.
We’ve reached a sad place if the Catholic Church’s historic commitment to social justice and the common good is jeopardized by culture war politics and guilt-by-association tactics at a time of growing income inequality and staggering poverty.
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