Michael Hamar

Catholic Bishops' Lie About Threats to Religious Freedom

Filed By Michael Hamar | December 29, 2011 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: anti-gay churches, Catholic charities, Catholic church, gay adoption, Illinois, lies and liars, Roman Catholic Church, sexual abuse by priests

I was raised Catholic (altar boy, Knight of Columbus, the whole works) so I know all about the Roman Catholic Church - especially when it comes to the hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy of the bishops and Church hierarchy. Now, the New York Times has a story on the nation's Roman Catholic bishops' deliberate, misleading lies that depict the furtherance of gay rights as a threat to the Catholic Church's religious freedom.

It quickly becomes apparent that what the bishops are really outraged about is the erosion of the special rights too long granted to Catholic organizations to line up like fat sows at the trough of government money - to the tune of $2.9 billion in 2010 - and then have an unfettered hand to freely discriminate against some of the very citizens whose taxes have been given by the government to the very same bigoted Catholic institutions.

Let's be clear, requiring institutions that receive taxpayer derived government funds to abide by non-discrimination laws in no manner restricts the religious freedom of the recipients. No one is forcing them to accept government funds and every institution has the option to say no to the funds and enjoy unrestricted exercise of their religious-based bigotry.

The bottom line is that bishops and Catholic institutions want to have their cake and eat it too and the government and the courts need to firmly say no to the bishops' petulant tantrums. Better yet, the media needs to expose the bishop's lies for what they are: lies.

In addition, they need to make sure voters are educated on the amount of taxpayer money being sucked up by Catholic organizations. The public needs to understand that taxpayers are propping up the Catholic Church's institutions even as the Church continues to stonewall and protect sexual predators within the ranks of the clergy.

Here in Virginia, the theocratic regime of Bob McDonnell and Ken Cuccinelli allowed Catholic Charities and other religious organizations to have these special rights and receive state funds even as they are allowed to discriminate based on religion, sexual orientation and even political belief. Frankly, this situation is outrageous and unconstitutional - not that the spineless Supreme Court of Virginia would have the integrity to strike down McDonnell/Cuccinelli policies.

Fortunately, as the Times story notes some states such as Illinois are finally saying no to Catholic institutions and withdrawing juicy funding contracts.

It is the bishops and the church that threaten religious freedom, not gay rights or gay marriage.

Catholic Charities in Illinois has served for more than 40 years as a major link in the state's social service network for poor and neglected children. But now most of the Catholic Charities affiliates in Illinois are closing down rather than comply with a new requirement that says they can no longer receive state money if they turn away same-sex couples as potential foster care and adoptive parents.

For the nation's Roman Catholic bishops, the outcome is a prime example of what they see as an escalating campaign by the government to trample on their religious freedom while expanding the rights of gay people. The idea that religious Americans are now the victims of government-backed persecution is now a frequent theme not just for Catholic bishops, but also for Republican presidential candidates and conservative evangelicals.

The Illinois experience indicates that the bishops face formidable opponents who also claim to have justice and the Constitution on their side. They include not only gay rights advocates, but also many religious believers and churches that support gay equality (some Catholic legislators among them). They frame the issue as a matter of civil rights, saying that Catholic Charities was using taxpayer money to discriminate against same-sex couples.
Catholic Charities affiliates received a total of nearly $2.9 billion a year from the government in 2010, about 62 percent of its annual revenue of $4.67 billion. Only 3 percent came from churches in the diocese (the rest came from in-kind contributions, investments, program fees and community donations). In Illinois, Catholic Charities in five of the six state dioceses had grown dependent on foster care contracts, receiving 60 percent to 92 percent of their revenues from the state, according to affidavits by the charities' directors.

Taking a completely different tack was the agency affiliated with the conservative Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod, which like the Catholic Church does not sanction same-sex relationships. Gene Svebakken, president and chief executive of the agency, Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois, visited all seven pastoral conferences in his state and explained that the best option was to compromise and continue caring for the children.

The work will be carried on, but the Catholic Church's seminal, historic connection with it has been severed, noted Mr. Marlowe, the spokesman for the state's child welfare agency. "The child welfare system that Catholic Charities helped build," he said "is now strong enough to survive their departure."

Illinois has gotten it right so far. Again, the rule is easy: accept government funds and you must abide by applicable non-discrimination statutes. If you want to be bigots and discriminate, simply don't ask for government funds. It's really so very simple - unless one is seeking special rights. As for the bishops and Catholic Charities, the sooner they cease to be partially government funded the better.

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