Okay, so we’ve already looked at some other coverage of DC’s new law permitting same-sex marriage. A few readers sent an early version of the following story, which has been improved with an update later in the day. It’s about how the former chief operating officer of DC Catholic Charities vehemently disagrees with Archbishop Donald Wuerl’s decision to cancel new spousal benefits for employees of Catholic Charities. The move was made so that the church could comply with both DC law and church doctrine. We discussed previous coverage here and here.
The story is about the criticism from Tim Sawina, the former executive of the agency, so it naturally revolves around what he said and his perspective.
[B]y eliminating such benefits, Sawina said, Catholic Charities is driving current employees to look for jobs elsewhere, handicapping the group’s recruitment efforts and losing the respect of the D.C. community.
“Some, including the archbishop, have argued that by providing health care to a gay or lesbian spouse we are somehow legitimizing gay marriage,” said Sawina, a former priest. “Providing health care to a gay or lesbian partner — a basic human right, according to Church teaching — is an end in itself and no more legitimizes that marriage than giving communion to a divorced person legitimizes divorce, or giving food or shelter to an alcoholic legitimizes alcoholism.”
I think this is a great quote to include. It’s specific and pointed and intriguing. And, I figured, not an accurate portrayal of the Church’s position. I mean, I’m not entirely sure since the criticism is written in a somewhat confusing manner. For one thing, the issue isn’t provision of health care but, rather, a health care benefits package. And while the church does teach that health care is a fundamental right, I don’t think that means the church believes that Catholic Charities must provide health care insurance to an ailing sibling or live-in lover of an employee.
Further, I assume the church considers the administration of the sacrament to people (including those who have obtained civil divorces) to be a wholly different matter than how one of its charities handles employee benefits. And the fact that the church won’t commune Catholics who have obtained a civil divorce and remarried doesn’t really support Sawina’s position. I mean, my understanding of the Catholic Church’s teaching is that they basically don’t recognize civil divorce and consider it almost like a separation — the church considers the marriage still valid and only withholds communion if you caused the divorce and are publicly unrepentant about it, or you remarried or some other problem arises. And as for the help offered to alcoholics in need, I don’t know — I’d love to hear what Wuerl or other Catholics who support his decision have to say. So what do they say? We’ll look at how the Post described the Archdiocese’s response to Sawina’s objections in a second. But I was really curious when I read the story so I put a Twitter APB out at 11:00 last night and wrassled up a couple of Catholics who indeed had quick responses to Sawina’s letter. Here’s a tiny bit from one GetReligion reader:
The right to health care is basic, but the means by which that right is secured must be a matter of practical ethical reasoning. This means there is no one-size-fits-all method, and the provision of health care cannot violate other moral basics.
From my Catholic standpoint, affirming homosexual relationships would undermine sexual morality and cause scandal and confusion among the faithful — all of which are unjust acts.
There’s more, but I only quote to show that there are specific responses to explain Wuerl’s reasoning.
So how did the Post describe the archdiocese’s doctrinal views?
The archdiocese responded to Sawina’s letter Thursday, calling it an inaccurate portrayal of the Church’s position and saying that his appeal to the organization’s board of directors would have no effect, because the board can’t overturn the archbishop’s decision.
Yeah. Um. Thank you, reporters, for telling us that the archdiocese disagrees with the letter. That’s something we could have figured out on our own, probably. But what we could use some help with is learning a bit about why they view this as an inaccurate portrayal of the Church’s position. I threw out some ideas above but I’m not Catholic and I could be all wet. But there are tens of millions of Catholics in the country. Many live here in this archdiocese. And many of them can explain the church’s position or otherwise respond to Sawina. There’s really just no excuse for not including a rebuttal from . . . anyone.
Instead we get a lot of political discussion instead of answering basic questions. It’s a highly negative piece about the Catholic Church. For instance, chunks of Sawina’s letter are quoted where he complains that staff will be looking to leave. And I was thinking about how it would be interesting to hear from the archdiocese about whether they consider the needs of those they help or the needs of the staff to be more important when making a decision about whether to continue attempting to operate in the District. Or how they make decisions.
I’m going to be a bit dramatic here but just to make a point. The narrative on this story could be framed as one where the Catholic Church is doing everything in its power to be able to continue serving the poor here in DC against an oppressive government crackdown on religious freedom — even changing its benefits structure so that it won’t be in violation of church teaching. Instead, it’s basically framed as a choice that the Archbishop decided to make so as to mess with gays. The power to frame a story is huge and largely unseen by readers.
Finally, let’s look at this section:
One employee provided by Catholic Charities this week agreed to be named. Michelle Mendez, staff attorney for immigrant legal services, also described dismay about the spousal benefit reduction but said she remained committed to the organization’s work and mission.
Here’s what she actually said. I’m getting this from the previous day’s story:
“I disagree with it on a personal level,” she said. “I think it’s unfortunate to cut off benefits and worry about the effect it may have on employees’ families. But on a public level, I understand how hard the decision was and where the organization is coming from.”
As a Catholic believer, she said the church needs to keep to its tenets. But as an employee who might marry sometime and need health insurance for a spouse, she wishes the option were still there. “But at the end of the day, the reason we work at a place like this is to make a difference,” she said. “As long as we can continue doing that, that’s what’s most important.”
With all of this in mind, let’s look at how the story ends:
[Spokeswoman Susan] Gibbs said that the archdiocese is not surprised that workers expressed discouragement but blamed it in part on media coverage of the issue.
“Part of the problem is that they’re coming in hearing this stuff every day — not all of it accurate — about the organization they work at,” she said. “It’s been a tough few months for all of us. It was a hard decision but one that allows us to continue the important work we’re doing.”
I’ve got to say that Gibbs has a point.