Archdiocese of DC Makes Strange Threat

by Jesse Galef

The poor Vatican

The Catholic Church tries to foster a reputation for their good works with the poor (unless of course the poor want to use condoms, the naughty boys). Given their desired public image, I was rather surprised to read that they’re threatening to stop providing care unless they’re allowed to discriminate against homosexuals:

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn’t change a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.

Under the bill, headed for a D.C. Council vote next month, religious organizations would not be required to perform or make space available for same-sex weddings. But they would have to obey city laws prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

Yeah, that just screams “charity” and “compassion” to me.

When I worked at the Secular Coalition for America, we did a lot of lobbying on the Faith-Based Initiatives. It was our position that, at the least, any organization receiving federal money should abide by the reasonable secular federal anti-discrimination laws.

And Catholic Charities – the 501(c)3 nonprofit arm of the Church – IS receiving federal dollars. Millions of federal dollars. Do they expect that money to come completely without any conditions?  It is not a fundamental right to receive $8.2 million in federal contracts.

Council member David Catania has the right idea, saying “If they find living under our laws so oppressive that they can no longer take city resources, the city will have to find an alternative partner to step in to fill the shoes.”

I think my friend Rob Boston at Americans United for Separation of Church and State put it best on the AU blog:

Let me get this straight: The church is saying, “Unless you bow to our demands, we’ll stop taking your money”?

Church leaders really need to come up with some better threats.

Decisions, decisions…

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About Jesse Galef

Jesse is a career atheist, and is currently Communications Director for the Secular Student Alliance. Before that, he worked for the Secular Coalition for America and the American Humanist Association. He also blogs about science, philosophy, and rationality at Measure of Doubt with his sister Julia.
(The views expressed are not representing the Secular Student Alliance or any other organization.)

  • Felix

    This could become a huge opportunity for non-faith-based initiatives to step into that niche. In my country, the large denominations get the first option, before the state asks any other groups if they want to step in. Charity initiatives such as this one would be federally financed at about 90%, the church carrying 10%, spending a minor portion of the faith tax the state collects on their behalf, keeping the rest. Basically, not even counting the propagandistic value for increasing donations and keeping the uninformed or gullible paying their church tax, every charity the churches start or take over means profit.
    I guess that even without the existence of a thing such as church tax, US initiatives can turn a nice buck if they advertise their activity cleverly.
    A non-faith-based initiative could well demonstrate how to accomplish the same work without all the costly, underhanded or blatant proselytizing. This would end up costing the community – counting each and every person’s money – significantly less.
    Most importantly, the Church is volunteering to blow the core argument for faith-based privileges off the table. In fact, in discussions it appears that this is the main thrust of arguments advocating the Churches’s relevance to modern society. Thanks, man-in-dress-wearing-funny-hat. I really hope you follow through.

    • Gringa

      Good point. If they lose over this threat, they are losing their connection to the public – the poor people who come in and fill their pews. I think they have more to lose than DC does. There are plenty of non-profit organizations in DC that would step in.

  • the_original_xy

    do what we say or we don’t want your money.

    for some reason that sounds pretty consistent with everything else the Church says.

  • Francesc

    When I first read the news, I thought catholic church was spending his own money with this social service programs. But of course, the state pays a part of the money. it would be interesting to know the cost of the programs that the archdiocese run and the amount of money they receive.
    Felix, “would be federally financed at about 90%, the church carrying 10%”, do you have any references for this or is it just a guess?

    • Jer

      There’s a $10 million dollar figure given in the article.

      But the article is somewhat poorly written. “Catholic Charities” is a separate organization from the archdiocese of Washington DC. I know a lot of folks who give money to “Catholic Charities” who wouldn’t even think of giving money to the Catholic Church. It’s a non-profit that does really good work with the poor within the US and externally and has always had as one of its mandates a separation of proselytizing from doing good work.

      If the Church decides to torpedo the good name of Catholic Charities over same-sex marriage, it will be another bold move in their slide to irrelevance that has been going on for the last few centuries.

      This pisses me off more than it really should. Being born and raised Catholic in the 70s and 80s I was actually brought up with a strong streak that putting social justice first and foremost was the Church’s mission. The idea that these clowns would hold the needy of DC hostage to their bigotry goes against just about everything I was ever taught as I was growing up. It’s insane. And the fact that another charity will be glad to swoop in and pick up the slack means it’s a pretty empty threat too (from the article it sounds like the council members are perfectly willing to say “don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out” to the bishop – AS THEY SHOULD).

      What a way to start the day.

    • Felix

      These are the figures for Germany, as researched over a long time by Carsten Frerk who has published a book on it. The Church never refuted or challenged his numbers. Still, believers would rather not listen and of course try to shift the focus of the discussion away every time someone brings the fatcs to the table. I have done some research myself, and just looking at the numbers the Church must release to public access (via the federal budget tables) I can confirm that they receive huge amounts of money here (double figures of millions being the bottom end).
      In the US the numbers would probably be somewhat different, depending on where they get their money from.

  • WarbVIII

    Well,I wish I could say I am surprised by any of this..but I am not. Since the start of Bush’s push for ” faith based” programs getting federal monies it has been on a slope tilted down and away from seperation of church and state, that has not stopped nor been in any noticable way(pardon my spelling I know I spell poorly) changed or retracted once the office changed hands. In my humble opinion it is one of Obama’s major failings as president,although it is keeping a campaign promise. The longer he is in the Oval office the more he reminds me of Carter, insomuch as he seems to bend over almost backward to court certain factions that this nation would be better served by being unsupported by overt backing from the White House, other factions he has treated this way would include in no particular order, bankers,wall street, republican moderates(hell all of that party at this point), most christian denominations(i.e. his lack of movement on gay rights and tacit approval of new anti-abortion laws/language in health care reform), insurance companies,drug makers , and last but not least the rich of the nation.

    He talks a great game,and says the middle class and the poor are whom he will help,yet so far the smae folk made rich during the Bush era are the ones recieving most if not all aid from what has accomplished so far…kind of like if FDR had said what he said in his first two terms but actually followed Hoovers policies instead of instituting the New Deal etc. We needed an FDR,and I still have hope perhaps Obama can become one…yet so far he makes Clinton(Bill) look like a liberal,which overall he was not. The nation needs some one to swing the pedulum back to the left,or at least somewhere far left of what is now considered the center.

  • Anthony D Jacques

    I think churches that support or initiate any kind of political action are becoming just another lobby and should not only receive no federal funds, they should lose their tax exempt status.

  • Sunny Day

    “Let me get this straight: The church is saying, “Unless you bow to our demands, we’ll stop taking your money”?”

    They probably just dont realize that the rest of the world is not a bigoted and misogynistic as them.

    • Elemenope

      No kidding. I’m seeing another manifestation of this play out in all its ridiculous glory here in Rhode Island. There was/is a kerfuffle because Rep. Kennedy said he would support the health care bill but not the heavily pushed anti-Abortion amendment which is unfortunately currently attached to the health care bill. The local bishop went berserk, and since Kennedy is Catholic, it got personal. To his credit, Kennedy told the diocese to buzz off.

      It is sort of shocking that the church would care more about its position on abortion than actually helping millions of…um, actual people by making sure they don’t suffer and/or die of easily diagnosed and treated diseases. No, shocking is not the right word.

      Despicable. That’s the right word.

      • Custador

        There’s an anti-abortion amendment on the bill?! Oh. Their. God. They should enact a law banning spurious amendments to bills, except it would probably have an amendment tagged to it declaring GWB the new messiah.

        • Gringa

          It has to do with gov’t healthcare funding going to pay for abortions. I think some people think that it will be abused. But I say that if they are getting proper healthcare, that should include prescriptions for birth control, which many people can’t affort without insurance.

  • Gringa

    If all of the workers for Catholic Charities lose their jobs over this, won’t they just join one of the new groups elected to take over the tasks?? That’s how contracting works in my field.

  • reformedfred

    I’m all for churches losing tax exemption- at the minimum I think they should pay property taxes. Where I live there is a Taj-Majal size Christian Fellowship on every other block, consuming acres of pristine properties, and meanwhile, our county is so broke that our libraries are closing, our animal shelters have been shut down, and these snots can’t even “render unto Caesar”one thin dime. I feel a need to start a grass-roots effort where churches whose building size/property size exceeds a certain limit should pay property tax. Howard Dean “Rah!” inserted here.

  • Vaia

    What I find ridiculously hypocritical is that the Bible tells them that they’re *supposed to* provide services to people – Feed the hungry, heal the sick, shelter the homeless, etc, etc.

    Catholic Charities (in this area anyway) doesn’t ask you whether you’re gay. They don’t ask you whether you’re Christian even. They’re not supposed to care. They’re supposed to be doing God’s Work.

    It’s this kind of hypocritical thinking that turned me away from the church at a very young age. I simply cant see what difference it makes.

    Maybe they should allow the churches their discriminatory conduct – as long as they pay their taxes…

    Put that on the table and see how many church groups shut their collective pie holes.

    • awindbynight

      Vaia – I’m not sure you understand the situation – the Church isn’t denying *care* to gay people – it’s denying *health insurance* to the legal partners of its employees.

      If the District legalizes gay marriage, then the District cannot legally contract its social services out to the Church, because the Church practices illegal discrimination in its providing-health-insurance practices.

      • Vaia

        What I read from the Washington Post was talking about health care, adoptions, homeless shelters and the like. Social Services. Not health insurance. The only mention of employee benefits was a passing comment that it might be one of the things it had to also extend.

        My point was it shouldn’t matter either way. As a church, they should be doing this “out of the goodness of their hearts” and not be throwing out ultimatums. They are doing this because of the provision that they would be required to offer care to gay couples and using their scare tactics to say that if the law were to pass, they would be required to preform marriage ceremonies as well. I understand that they’re not threatening to refuse treatment to gays alone, but basically the law will state that they aren’t allowed to refuse gays so they’re going to refuse everyone. That’s ridiculously hypocritical from the standpoint of the book they profess to follow, regardless of how they interpret any section of it about gays.

        • awindbynight

          As a church, they should be doing this “out of the goodness of their hearts” and not be throwing out ultimatums.

          I’m with you 100% on this. If they actually cared about taking care of people more than they cared about money, they would care for all people equally AND they would do so even without the existing government infrastructure for caregiving.

          Checking: Looks like it’s a little bit of both.

          “Meanwhile, the City Council for the District of Columbia has decided to enact legislation forbidding discrimination against those in gay marriages. This legislation would not force churches to perform gay marriages or to change their moral doctrines, but it would require any organization with a contract with the District to provide medical benefits to a gay partner just like it provides them to the heterosexual partner in a marriage. It would also require adoption agencies to sponsor children to gay couples if the agency is under contract with the city.”

          So, if the Church continues its contract with the District (to provide social services), it would be REQUIRED to provide health insurance to the partners of its employees.

          But it would ALSO be required to provide its services (e.g. adoption) to gay couples.

          (I still don’t think they ever denied things like “food” to gay PEOPLE. I think they only denied “couples-only” things to gay COUPLES. Remember, the Church doesn’t hate homosexuals – it only hates homosexuals who actually act on their so-called “sinful” desires.)

          Quote from .

          The worst thing, for me, is this quote: “But in the meantime, can the Catholic Church give health care benefits to gay partners of its employees? The archdiocese says it cannot because gay marriage is against its teachings. However, remarrying after a divorce is also against Catholic teaching, yet the church gives health care benefits to divorced and remarried couples.”

          The hypocrisy in that fact is staggering. But then, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

  • libhomo

    I hope the Roman Catholic Church does pull out from public services in DC, especially those involving children. It will keep a lot of DC children from being molested by priests.

  • VidLord

    The catholic church would give up feeding 10 million homeless for a year, if it meant they could kill a single gay rights bill.

  • Jabster

    If I remember correctly we had almost exactly the same threats in the UK two years ago but the reality is that the vast majority of agencies just cut their ties with the Catholic Church and carried on as before except they now comply with our new laws. Of course we still had to put up with the emotiality blackmail from the likes of stupid hat wearer in chief Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor but in the end everything has turned out just fine.

  • WarbVIII

    Jabster that won’t happen fact the reality is if the majority of aid agencies cut ties with any christian church they would lose most if not all contributions from the public, there are by current count 10% or less of the US population that actually admit to being atheist or agnostic, and the largest growing section of populatuion in the USA just happens to be evangelical christians. Sad ain’t it?

  • PaulJ

    I’m not surprised the Catholic Church are threatening this — it’s exactly what they did in Britain a while ago. New UK law made discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal, but many Catholic adoption agencies demanded exemption to discriminate against same-sex couples wanting to adopt. Or else they would shut up shop and deny their service to everybody.