Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Under fire in the District

Back in November, I wrote about the dilemma the Archdiocese of Washington was facing, with the District of Columbia attempting to strong-arm the Church into accepting the redefinition of marriage (and the spousal benefits that would go along with it). The District's policy applies to any entity with any sort of contractual relationship with the local government. The religious exemption provided in the DC law is so limited as to not even apply.
Today the Supreme Court upheld the DC law, which was not submitted to voters, but enacted by the City Council.
There were basically two avenues that appeared to be open, each one leaving the local Church open to accusations of injustice or duplicity:
  • Reduce the social services the Archdiocese carries out with government contracts (even the suggestion was enough to provoke righteously indignant reproaches that the Church was abandoning the needy over a trifling matter of doctrine--or, to put it even more despicably, "dogma") (
  • Redefine spousal benefits so that they could be assigned to a person of the employee's choosing (pretending that in the case of same-sex unions, that wouldn't be a spousal benefit)
Well, the Archdiocese found a tertium quid. Having already (this week) pulled out of foster care services, the Archdiocese is coming under fire for closing off the possibility of spousal benefits to any new employees, across the board. This approach neatly avoids cutting back on services (needed now more than ever), and it doesn't play word games that wink about same-sex households. What it does, unfortunately (but not unjustly) is reduce the possibilities of insurance and other important benefits for families according to the social teachings of the Church.
As I wrote in November, "The Archdiocese of Washington is not a social service organization; it is a Church that expresses its identity in a vibrant way through its many social ministries. But that identity is a complete package: the 'Catholic' in 'Catholic Charities' means something!"
Critics of the Archdiocese claim that this means that the Church's opposition to gay marriage is stronger than its concern for the needy. It seems to me the other way around: the District of Columbia's intransigence (disallowing appropriate religious exemptions) reveals what DC politicians think about the District's weakest citizens.


Vincent said...

Doctrine is never a trifling matter and dogma is not a dirty word. These concepts help us understand what the organization values and what it is all about. The DC city government both does and should have different values than the Catholic Church. The Church should tread very carefully with respect to engaging in any government contracts as it opens itself to this kind of a conflict.

The separation of Church and State is designed to protect the Church, not the State. I have heard many people advocating that we tear down the wall between Church and State over the past few years, and the very idea that a government within the US would offer a contract for social services to any church is a direct affront to the very concept of the separation between Church & State. This idea that we could somehow tear down that wall between Church & State without harming the Church betrays a naivete and ignorance of the way actual people behave in actual congress with one another. When the state contracts with a church to provide social services, the church, and not the state, is at risk. Any church that is willing to render unto Caesar that which is the Lord's risks, at a minimum, the uncomfortable position that the Washington Archdiocese finds itself in today.

In short, we should expect that any overlap between Church and State will end with harm to the Church. I, for one, would advocate an end to all government contracts with churches - and even an end to the tax exemption that churches receive today. It may seem radical, but it is, long term, the best and only way to protect churches.

With respect to the issue that the DC city council passing an ordinance without a direct vote from the Washington citizenry, I cannot follow your logic. Are you advocating that we should abandon Republicanism in favor of direct democracy? That is huge! It would fundamentally change our very system of government in the United States and require a new constitution to realize. Or is this a different argument that I simply do not understand?

Sr Anne said...

Thanks for your thoughtful input.
Re: the issue of a vote, I think in this case it is significant, because the issue is the redefinition of marriage, the fundamental building block of society, and in place after place the American people have demonstrated an unwillingness to redefine society in such a radical way. It hardly seems possible that in City Council elections any of the voters seriously considered the possibility that city officials would take that kind of action upon themselves. (It doesn't fit into the usual role description of a city council member!) So is this the proper functioning of a local government, or abuse of office?

Anonymous said...

This seems to have helpful information about the issue:|

Vincent said...

Still not following you... are you advocating that we abandon republican government in the face of contentious issues where the public has yet to reach a consensus? Clearly there is not a wide public consensus on the issue of gay marriage, and yet the government still has a job to do and must take actions and make decisions. I thought that the whole point of republicanism is to allow the government to continue to function and act even in the face of contention. That allowing government to become gridlocked in the face of some single issue was the position to be avoided even in the event that the occasional representative might make a decision at odds with his or her constituency.

Sr Anne said...

I mean redefining marriage, something which has immense ramifications even in terms of interpreting the existing laws, is not in the purview of a city council.