Archbishop Wuerl’s Op-Ed in today’s Washington Post

D.C.’s same-sex marriage bill: Finding the right balance

By [Archbishop] Donald W. Wuerl


One year ago, I stood with city leaders on a hill in Northeast as we broke ground for affordable housing in the District. When the St. Martin’s Apartments are completed, nearly 200 low-income families and individuals will get a fresh start on life in a wonderful example of the type of effective public-private partnerships the residents of our nation’s capital need.

 St. Martin’s is being developed by Catholic Charities, on land owned by the Catholic Church and with funding sources that include the District of Columbia.

 Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Washington are committed to continuing to serve the people of the District as we have for many decades. That includes partnerships such as St. Martin’s. Unfortunately, the D.C. Council is considering legislation that could end these kinds of partnerships.

It doesn’t need to be that way. While we do not agree with the council on redefining marriage, we recognize that it is firmly committed to opening marriage to homosexual couples. We are asking that new language be developed that more fairly balances different interests — those of the city to redefine marriage and those of faith groups so that they can continue to provide services without compromising their deeply held religious teachings and beliefs. The Archdiocese is not alone in this request. Other groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington and nationally recognized legal scholars all called for stronger protections for religious freedom in their testimony on the bill.

 For the Archdiocese and Catholic Charities, two core tenets of our faith are at the heart of our concerns: our understanding of the nature of marriage and our commitment to expressing Christ’s love through service to others. Under the legislative language before the D.C. Council, the Archdiocese would be forced to choose between these two principles. The archdiocese has long made clear that all people have equal dignity, regardless of sexual orientation. But marriage is reserved for husband and wife because of its essential connection with the creation of children.

 The proposed legislation offers little protection for religious beliefs, including no protections for individuals, as is required under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Under the bill, religious organizations would be exempt from participating in ceremonies or from teaching about same-sex marriage in religion classes and retreats in accord with their faith beliefs, but they would be required to recognize and promote same-sex marriage everywhere else, including in employment policies, and adoption and foster-care policies, against their  beliefs.

 So what does this mean?

 The Archdiocese and Catholic Charities are committed to continuing to provide services in the District. Despite the headlines, there has been no threat or ultimatum to end services, just a simple recognition that the new requirements by the city for religious organizations to recognize same-sex marriages in their policies could restrict our ability to provide the same level of services as we do now. This is so because the District requires Catholic Charities to certify its compliance with city laws when applying for contracts and grants. This includes contracts for homeless services, mental health services, foster care and more. Since Catholic Charities cannot comply with city mandates to recognize and promote same-sex marriages, the city would withhold contracts and licenses.

 Each year, 68,000 people in the District rely on Catholic Charities for shelter, nutrition, medical and legal care, job training, immigration assistance, and more. This assistance is offered to whoever needs it, regardless of race, religion, gender, nationality or sexual orientation. Many of the programs are offered in partnership with the city, which turns to Catholic Charities and other ministries when it cannot provide social services on its own. Catholic Charities has a proven track record of high-quality service, supported through caring, qualified staff, thousands of dedicated volunteers and millions of dollars in financial support from parishioners all over the region. This legislation won’t end Catholic Charities’ services, but it would reduce unnecessarily the resources available for outreach.

 We recognize that the council is likely to legalize same-sex marriage. It is the hope of the Archdiocese and Catholic Charities that council members will work with us to find a way to better balance interests so religious organizations that have served this city well for many decades may continue to provide services without compromising the tenets of their faith.

 The writer is Archbishop of Washington.  

14 Replies to “Archbishop Wuerl’s Op-Ed in today’s Washington Post”

  1. Amen! Your excellency. Stand up for what’s right. I know you will and we your flock will support you.

  2. I am proud to be Catholic and I will continue to serve the poor. Thank you for clarifying our two core faith tenets in this legislative issue. Many fellow Catholics have also expressed their gratitude to the Church for taking a stand and dispelling the confusion on this delicate matter of faith. I am also hopeful that we Catholics will not be denied the right to freedom of religion.

  3. Why is the church fighting against extending health care benefits to same-sex couples? This does not imply that you approve of their private life anymore than extending health care benefits to heterosexual couples who use birth control. Why the double standard?
    Furthermore, if Catholic Charities receives 75% of their money from taxpayers in the district, then we have to acknowledge that gay and lesbian taxpayers are contributing to Catholic Charities. You cannot simultaneously take their money and discriminate against them.

    1. Kristin –

      The Church is not fighting against benefits for same sex couples – it is preserving its long standing teaching on human sexuality as a precious gift from a loving God for the purposes of the oneness of the couple and children.

      When the Church is an employer, she limits benefits based on her beliefs. My wife and I are employed by the Church. Our health care coverage will not cover an abortion nor contraception. There is no double standard.

      Yes, the Church receives 75% (I presume your are right on this figure, I thought it was lower) from the city and spends 100% to help EVERYONE – regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or orientation. The Church has always cared for the poor. We have built an extensive network of hospitals in this country – largely through the generosity of religious women. Catholic Charities has a long history of being an exceptional steward of social services caring for the homeless, the drug user, the incarcerated, etc. Consider how much good our educational system has done – largely without the support of public funds. There are children of same sex couples being educated in Catholic schools today, gay men and women being helped with drug addiction or housing today, and many being loving cared for in Catholic hospitals.

      When a person works for the Church, it will only recognize hetrosexual marriages. This will limit the options for some who are in a same sex relationship and would want to work for the Church. If the DC Council allows for this religious exemption, then the fine partnership of compassion forged over many years between the city and the Church can continue. If the exemption is not forth coming, then the city will not award contracts and licenses to the Church. It is the city that is changing the terms of the relationship between the Church and itself and it will be the poor who will suffer – doubly so. Why? Because the Church does a good job of providing exceptional services with little money. Just note the cost difference between educating an elementary student through a Catholic student and a public school.

      So 25% will continue to be served – but than other 75% (based on what you believe the city provides) will not be served by other agencies because they are not equipped to be as effecient or as effective as Catholic Charities.

      The Church is passionate about compassion. Jesus is the source of that passion. He is also the source of our teachings on human sexuality. We must preserve the unity of Christ as best we can given our flawed and limited – and sinful – nature as human beings.

  4. Did you forget that Catholic Charities has been to court over the issue of providing birth control in its health plan? Courts decided that they are not an arm of the Church and are not included in groups protected to exercise their beliefs. It was an ominous sign of intentional intrusion into the Church’s beliefs. The state willfully acted in making a judgment about what and who should be included in a religion under the guise of civil liberties.

  5. I think every fair-minded person needs to appreciate the Archbishop’s very civil and moderate comments. While affirming the Church’s historic view on marriage, he seems reconciled to the likihood of passage by the DC Council and does not call for any undemocratic means to resist this (such as action by bodies unelected by any DC citizens). He seems simply to ask for an open discussion of how protections might be developed.

    Contrary to earlier talk, we now know that employer provided health benefits are regulated under federal law with a state pre-emption. Therefore this law will make no requirements of any employer (religious or secular) in that regard. With the matters of dispute now narrowed, some agreement should be able to be worked out.

    I further appreciate the Archbishop’s statement that all people have equal dignity, regardless of sexual orientation. I take that as a rejection of the testimony the Archdiocese presented many years ago to the DC Council opposing full repeal of DC’s sodomy law. Certainly laws that call for putting homosexuals in jail or levying fines against homosexuals is not an affirmation of dignity.

  6. Kristin,

    When you sign up for insurance, there is no spot for checking off whether you use contraception or not. Therefore, the Church has no way of knowing if you engage in this sinful practice. However, when you sign on your insurance for that your policy also covers, as a beneficiary, someone of the same sex, roughly the same age, and at the same address, it is kind of obvious what is going on. Thus, offering insurance to the couple is a tacit approval of their sinful relationship.

    1. mrteachersir,
      You are correct. However, you are still missing the point. If the Church is adamant about the immorality of contraception, then (in order to stay true to their faith) perhaps they should at least put a disclaimer on the form saying that if you are practicing contraception in the privacy of your own home, then we cannot in good conscience extend benefits to your spouse. If they do not do something like this then the fact that they offer insurance to the couple “is a tacit approval of their sinful relationship.” Certainly you would agree that ignorance is no exception for participation in “evil.” The double standard remains.
      Once again, we are talking about health care. The Church can approve benefits with a disclaimer that they do not support or recognize this as a marriage, but that they still think that ALL human beings “created in the image of God” have a right to health care.
      Or put another way, should the church refuse to baptize children being raised in a same-sex household? Isn’t this “a tacit approval of (the family’s) sinful relationship”?
      Commonsense and compassion cannot be overlooked, especially when we are struggling to do God’s work.

  7. Not sure why all the “shock and awe” bluster of both sides of this issue is necessary.

    The Church with all its resources and past record of Christian works has worked best as a reassuring, guiding hand during times of change. Although his Excellency makes some valid points that assuage some of my worries that the Church is acting as a powerful, dictatorial lobby; in my opinion, he is still offering points of view that can and should be softened. Although I have to admit ignorance about the make-up of the DC Council, my gut feeling is that it is probably probably faced with the daunting task of handling this policy in an even, fair-handed way. I know they didn’t wake up some morning and decide to put the Catholic Church in their target sights. Perhaps they haven’t articulated or thought through their position well but that doesn’t mean they deserve to boxed into the religious freedom box that they’re in.

    I’m disappointed in the fact that previously helpful and useful services to a struggling district are, although perhaps not explicitly, implicitly held hostage here. What could lessen that effect is if both sides of the issue ratcheted down the rhetoric and quit firing broadsides claiming x will have to happen when y is decided upon.
    My advice on that is to work towards a better result and then wait to see what happens, rather than determine the end ahead of time. Both sides may end up being suprised.

    Both sides could also decide to come to the negotiating table working together towards a more open, helpful dialogue. I Ching provides helpful advice here in my opinion – change often brings good fortune. Many would say difficult change has reaped many benefits with President Obama and this country. Of course, others would not. Further, ridiculous, misguided change is of course not useful for anyone but with the right attitude and work, that doesn’t have to be the end result here.

    Perhaps both sides have already adopted the advice mentioned here and this writing is out of date. Hopefully that is already the case.

    My fervent hope is that God will continue to bless the Catholic Church and His Excellency with the requisite wisdom needed to find whatever way is possible to help others and work with others of different faiths and beliefs. I also hope that the DC Council can find a way to help them to continue to do just that.

    1. Bill says: Although I have to admit ignorance about the make-up of the DC Council, my gut feeling is that it is probably probably faced with the daunting task of handling this policy in an even, fair-handed way.

      Bill, what do you have in mind when you speak of a fair-handed way to deal with this policy?

  8. I am gay, and a Catholic. I personally am on the fence regarding the issue of gay marriage, because like so many other Catholics, for me it’s more than just a civil issue. However, I don’t believe in forcing my beliefs on others. I converted to Catholicism six years ago because during a mass God spoke to me. My life was changed. I love the Catholic church and I love what God, through it, has done for me. I also appreciate the opportunities for me to give back to the church and to the community.

    However, I was very disappointed to read in the Washington Post today that the Archbishop is supporting and encouraging acts of civil disobedience. After signing ‘the document’ Ms. Gibbs goes back and tries to cover up the issue by saying that’s not what he really means. C’mon folks you can’t have it both ways. I just wonder how Wuehl would feel if these acts of civil disobedience that he is supporting were acted out against him? I’ve been in a church service where someone stood up in the middle of a minister’s remarks and acted out. It’s not pretty – – but it is ‘civil disobedience’. I feel like the Archbishop has stopped shepherding and started lobbying. We’ve got enough lobbyist in this city.

    Until then, I will pray that these ‘acts of civil disobedience’ supported by the Archbishop don’t find a way into the Mass – – for his sake, and for the church.

  9. The Archbishop’s response and subtle coercion of public policy clearly demonstrate the importance of separating church and state in this country. Any church and its followers are and should continue to be protected in their beliefs WITHIN the confines of their churches. Likewise, citizens of this country should be protected from discriminatory practices by religious institutions OUTSIDE the confines of the church.
    When Churches like the Catholic church leave their sanctuaries and push public policy like they do with Gay Marriage, trouble ensues. Labor laws and human rights and equality are governed by the State. The church should abide by such laws and not be allowed carve outs.
    As the Catholic church continues to seek to influence public policy to restrict individual rights in very public platforms, we should revisit the very generous tax exemptions such churches enjoy. Those of us who pay taxes should be assured that the recipients of such largess are not using our money to proselytize and discriminate against us. A complete separation of church and state would ensure that.
    You go Archbishop. I support your aim to keep your church pure with its beliefs if it is coupled with a complete severing of any tax subsidies.

  10. Amen to anything, anyone and everyone who will stop this. Besides praying, how can we help?

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