Yo editors: Can the state pay Catholics to help immigrants?

As usual, there was a stack of Baltimore Sun newspapers waiting for me at the end of last week when I returned from a consulting trip to a campus in Iowa. One of the papers contained a very timely and newsworthy story.

My goal here is to argue that — just possibly — this story was even more newsworthy than the Sun editors thought that it was. More on that in a minute.

The immigrant children crisis is one of the hottest stories in America right now and justifiably so. As it turned out, there was a totally logical local angle here in Baltimore, one that ended up on A1:

Here is the top of the story:

Catholic Charities wants to care for about 50 children from Central America at a campus in Baltimore County, seeking a role in the immigration crisis even though the consideration of other sites in Maryland has met with fierce local opposition.

The organization plans to apply to federal officials to house the children at St. Vincent’s Villa, a residential facility on Dulaney Valley Road, Catholic Charities head William J. McCarthy Jr. confirmed. … McCarthy said housing the children would amount to his organization doing its job.

“Our role and our mission is to meet the needs of these children,” he said. “This is obviously the result of things beyond my control — policies and political posturing that has left these children as victims.”

And more:

The Catholic Charities proposal would be on a much smaller scale than government proposals that would have placed hundreds of minors in an unused Social Security office in Baltimore or at the army center in Carroll County. … Catholic Charities developed the plan in response to a request from a federal agency that was looking for ways to house immigrant children before the crisis rose to the top of the national political agenda this summer. …

And the Board of Child Care of the United Methodist Church has already received grant money to house immigrant children at a home in Woodlawn. The organization is caring for about two dozen children there.

It seems to me that the implication is that Catholic Charities is doing this service as a partner with the federal agency. Are tax dollars involved, similar to the grant to the United Methodists? I am not sure.

Why do I raise that financial question?

Well, because of an interesting hole in a New York Times story about that executive order that President Barack Obama is supposed to sign today. You know the story.

President Obama plans to sign an executive order on Monday that protects gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees from discrimination by companies that do federal government work, fulfilling a promise to a crucial Democratic constituency, White House officials said. …But the directive will not exempt religious groups, as many of them had sought.

See the connection to the Baltimore story about the immigrant children? The government is seeking help from agencies tied to a church that defends centuries of teachings on marriage and sex, a faith with a catechism that is explicit on the sinful, fallen nature of homosexual behavior (as opposed to mere orientation)?

Thus, can the government work with a church of this kind when it comes time to house immigrants? Even if tax dollars are not involved, doesn’t this cooperation in a time of crisis imply some kind of moral acceptance by the government of the dangerous doctrines taught by this ancient faith?

This will be worth a follow-up report in the Sun, methinks, and in other newsrooms that are covering similar local stories linked to the crisis on the border.

Meanwhile, concerning the interesting hole in the Times report. Read the following carefully:

Religious groups that have contracts with the federal government already have a limited exemption from existing anti-bias rules, based on a 2002 executive order by President George W. Bush. That directive allows them to factor their religious beliefs in their employment decisions.

The directive will not change under the new rule. Michael Wear, who led the religious outreach during Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign and had joined calls for a religious exemption, said he was “encouraged” by that move.

Well, that is also in keeping with that 9-0 U.S. Supreme Court decision establishing — amazing that the question was even raised — that religious groups can hire and fire according to their own doctrines.

But read on.

But some groups wanted Mr. Obama to go further to protect religious groups in carving out an exception. One example of such protections would allow a Catholic charity that believes sex outside heterosexual marriage is a sin to keep its government financing if it declined to hire a gay man.

Not all religious groups called for an exception.

So religious groups are allowed to base employment decisions on doctrine, unless the doctrines have to do with sexuality? Or does this simply mean that their decisions to follow their own doctrines will eliminate them from receiving government funds (in contrast with religious ministries with doctrines acceptable to the entangled state)? Journalists will need to ask about that.

But wait, there will be another complication that journalists must probe. What if doctrinally defined Catholic ministries (and those of other faiths with ancient doctrines on marriage and sex) have hired celibate gay and lesbian employees who agree — publicly or privately — with these church doctrines?

Continuing: To meet the terms of the executive order, would gay Catholics working with ministries need to provide some kind of proof that they are sexually active, in order for their employers to be eligible for state funds? Would these employees have to show proof that they are violating the teachings of their faith in order to prevent government officials from rejecting their ministries?

In other words, Sun editors, would gay Catholic Charities employees need to be able to prove that they are having sex — thus violating the doctrines of their church — in order for a ministry to continue receiving funds with which to house and feed needy immigrant children?

Journalists will need to ask about that.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.


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