A Reflection on the El Paso Shooting

As I write this (late Saturday evening), the deadly shooting in El Paso is only hours old and the facts are still being sorted out, but evidence is mounting that this was motivated by hatred for Hispanics and immigrants. Such incidents have become all too common in the United States, and, frankly, the death toll from them in recent years (in the U.S.) has far exceeded that rooted in Muslim extremism. The enemy is within.

In the cauldron of anger that America has become, violent rampages are now weekly occurrences. Overt or barely repressed anger seems to be the new normal in America. Without civil discourse rooted in shared values, it is easy to resort to invective, demonizing, and fearmongering. The sickest among us drink this poison and succumb to it.

Saddest of all, it is doubtful that an event like this will cause us all to stop and seek the way of peace; it is more likely to have the opposite effect. The blame game began on the national news almost immediately after the reports started coming in. Speculation went directly to how this incident will benefit or hurt various national political figures. Major networks were running to presidential candidates to get their reactions. Some of the victims had not even breathed their last before the whole matter had been politicized. Talking heads were being lined up to give “expert analysis” on who is to blame, how this will influence the ongoing gun-control debate, whether this should affect immigration policies, whether the incident demonstrates that America is a racist nation, and/or whether this should be viewed as the solitary action of a lunatic. Many will want to know who should have seen this coming but did not report concerns. There is and will be a lot of heat but very little light.

We are all to blame in some sense. To some degree we all contribute to this bubbling cauldron of hostility, to the rage that is often no longer below the surface. Almost no one will own up to his own role or that of his particular faction, however. It’s the other side; they are the ones to blame: It’s Antifa’s fault; no, it’s the white supremacists who are to blame; no, it’s illegal immigrants; no,  it’s Trump; no, it’s the Democrats; no, it’s the Republicans; no, it’s the NRA.

My fantasy is that the President, congressional leaders of both parties, and other key leaders would all gather and declare a time of prayer, fasting, and cooling off. Imagine each of them saying something like this:

I am partially to blame for this and so is my party. We have contributed to the atmosphere of anger and blame that has driven some individuals beyond the boiling point. I realize that I harbor too much hatred for my opponents. I have failed to listen to them. I have failed to express my disagreement with them in a respectful manner. I have engaged in personal attacks or have repeated those of others. I have demonized my opponents and delighted when others did so. Yes, I and my party have contributed to the epidemic of anger in this country. Admitting my part, I reach out to my political adversaries and ask them to consider theirs; I suggest that we are all to blame. I hereby commit to engage in self-scrutiny and to curb my personal attacks on those with whom I disagree; I ask my opponents to do the same. I would like to participate in a month of national mourning, repentance, and reparation for the damage that has been caused and to which I have contributed. May God have mercy us and grant us a time of peace and change.

I know this is naïve, and perhaps I sound “preachy,” but I can dream, can’t I? Even if none of these public figures will do such a thing, what about us? Is it possible for you and me to watch our words and our behavior? To avoid ascribing the worst of motives to those with whom we disagree? To stop eagerly passing on every rumor and allegation we hear or read? We will never all have the same position on every issue, but can we express our disagreement with respect and charity?

Unfortunately, the more likely outcome of today’s shooting is that the anger and blaming will escalate even further. And then in about a week’s time there will be another shooting, and we’ll go through this all over again. [Update: Before this “went to press” there was another shooting, this time in Dayton, Ohio. Apparently my “in about a week’s time” was too optimistic.]

Things are getting hot in the U.S., but although the “warming” is man-made, it has nothing to do with climate change. Satan thinks the weather in America today is just fine.

Help us, Lord, and may the dead rest in peace, far from this angry, overheated world.

When evil days are upon us and the worker of malice gains power, we must attend to our own souls and seek to know the ways of the Lord. In those times reverential fear and perseverance will sustain our faith, and we will find need of forbearance and self-restraint as well. Provided that we hold fast to these virtues and look to the Lord, then wisdom, understanding, knowledge and insight will make joyous company with them [From the beginning of the Letter attributed to Barnabas (Cap. 1, 1-8; 2:1-5: Funk 1, 3-7)].

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: A Reflection on the El Paso Shooting

New Rule Excludes Religious Workers from Benefits Offered to Others. Another Example of Hostile Secularism in the Federal Government

As the recent battle for a proper understanding of religious liberty shows, our culture and many of our government leaders and organizations are becoming increasingly secularized and hostile to religion and religious practice.

Yet another example of this is a recent rule change in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). According to this program, a person who has been engaged in Public Service employment for ten years, can have the remainder of their Student Loan form the government forgiven, presuming they have faithfully been paying it up till then.

However, a recent rule change now excludes those who are involved in any work of a religious nature. In the Washington Post “On Faith” section writes the following to explain the change:

What counts as public service?

Until the end of January, the government definition was clear and inclusive. It read as follows:  “Qualifying employment is any employment with a federal, state, or local government agency, entity, or organization or a non-profit organization that has been designated as tax-exempt by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC).

Now though, the rules have changed. At the end of the description of who qualifies for this program, a new paragraph appears and it’s striking not only in that it re-defines things, but that it does so in a way that seems purposefully disingenuous.

“Generally, the type or nature of employment with the organization does not matter for PSLF purposes. However, if you work for a non-profit organization, your employment will not qualify for PSLF if your job duties are related to religious instruction, worship services, or any form of proselytizing.” [1]

Thus, the new policy explicitly goes out of its way to exclude religious work. In effect it implies that such work is NOT public service, merely because it is exercised through a religious organization for a religious purpose.

Consider that the PSLF program exists because work for a tax exempt organization is generally considered to be of special value to the community. Many tax exempt organizations (like the Church), and those who work them provide care for the poor, special outreach to immigrants, pro-bono or lower cost legal assistance, and the like. The Church, in particular, runs shelters, soup kitchens, schools, hospitals, dental clinics, and so forth.

And, further, there was a traditional appreciation for the fact that religious instruction, and the care of souls, was something that benefited the entire community,  since such care helps to instill personal stability, generosity, commitment, respect for law, strong families and other civic values.

In recognition of the value of such work, and in order to encourage others to undertake it, programs like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness are offered, and churches, non-profits and other 401-C3 organizations have been granted tax exempt status.

Again, note the reason, they are tax-exempt and receive certain other benefits in recognition of the fact that they provide a valuable service to the the community.

The new wording of the law says, in effect, that offering religious benefits and services, the care of the soul, is no longer to be considered worthy of the benefit, that is, such work is no longer to be considered valuable enough that such workers will qualify.

Endless arguments will likely ensue as to the Church/State debate. But note that this is a CHANGE in the law. Those involved in religious work have always been included until now. Mr Hirschfield in his article asks,

Are clergy and teachers of religious faith/thought public servants? Is their work on par with that of others who work for 501c3 non-for-profit groups and for government agencies? It used to be, but as of January 31st, the federal government has changed its mind about that….[2]

He adds,

While religion can be abused in the most horrendous ways, it remains a source of enormous social good and unprecedented public service. The new regulation seems to uphold only one of those truths, and in doing so, is actually taking a position on faith (dare I say, “establishing” one?) – a hostile one. [3]

Yes, hostile would seem to be the word. And that, in a word, is increasingly what secularization is coming to mean: Hostility to religion. In the recent past we who are believers considered secularization to be an unfortunate forgetfulness of God or a disregarding of things spiritual and Godly. But in recent years secularization has increasingly taken on a direct hostility to religious faith, to its existence in the public square, and to its practice anywhere outside the four walls of a Church.

The new PSLF wording illustrates and proceeds from just that kind of growing and “accepted” cultural hostility. Mr. Hirschfield concludes:

…While church-[state] separation is a wise and necessary policy, separation is not about discrimination against, or hostility towards, religion. The regulation, as newly reformulated is clumsy at best, insensitive for certain, and may even be illegally hostile to religion. This one needs to change. [4]

Here’s a video on the well known and related matter of Religious Liberty in case you missed it:

Cardinal Wuerl on Fox News Sunday – A Reflection and Commentary

This morning on Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace interviewed Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, and also my Archbishop, and, lest we forget, the sponsor of this blog! The full video of the interview is at the bottom of this post and I encourage you to see it all. However, here, I would like to focus on a few issues and and add, if I be so bold, my own commentary as well to the remarks of Cardinal Wuerl. As always in such formats,  I will present the original questions and answers in bold, black, italic font. My own remarks in normal text red.

WALLACE: As you look across America, let’s talk about the spiritual state of our union as we approach 2011. I know one of the things that concerns you are all the shouting, talking heads on TV, and all the divisive blogs, and you say they come out of the same mentality as road rage. Explain.

WUERL: I think what happens is when people don’t feel they are accountable for what they’re saying — and that often happens when there is no one there to challenge what you are saying — people can — some people tend to say things that really need to be modified. They need to be contextualized. I think what we have to say to ourselves, as we look at this great country and all of the wonderful things that are a part of our history and our life together, we need to be respectful of each other. We need to be talking to each other out of the same tone that we would if we were directly across the table from someone. And that — that is a little bit of a challenge today because with blogs and with all the ease of communications, we sometimes forget directly across the table from usI personally experience a rather bifurcated life in this matter. I think the Cardinal is quite right in noting that certain settings feature a rather terse and harsh tone, e.g.  on certain blogs, on the Internet, talk radio and to some extent on TV “talking head” panels. But in person I often experience the opposite issue in that people don’t often speak as directly as I would like. I can sit in specific meetings and many people do not come right out and say what they mean. They hedge, “beat around the bush” and equivocate rather than speak directly to the issue and express their opinion clearly. This happnes interpersonally at times also.

One thing I admire about Cardinal Wuerl is that in his meetings, and I sit on many Archdiocesan panels and boards, the Cardinal encourages frank discussion and the airing of differing views. It helps us craft a realistic policies and responses to situations when all the views are on the table and there are no “pink elephants” in the room that every one ignores. Certainly there is an insistence on civil discourse in these sorts of meetings. But in the end, frank, honest, candid discussion is helpful. In many cases however I think that such discussions are rarer in our wider culture than I would wish.

Perhaps this is why some are so strident in settings where their true identity may not be known and where they don’t personally interact with their “interlocutors.” In effect they celebrate a kind of freedom,  to the extreme,  that they do not feel comfortable doing face to face.  There is thus some value to the  “protected” and “incognito” or faceless quality of Internet discussion. However, the Cardinal is right in pointing out that accountability is often less in such settings. This is true in terms of both tone and content. In relationships that involve real, physical presence we can be held accountable for being unkind and, because we cannot so easily “sign-off” from discussions or relationships of this sort,  we will tend to be more careful how we treat others.

It is also true, that Internet discussions are really back and forth monologues more than real conversations. Right now I am typing and you will later (now) read and perhaps type back. Right now I have a monologue going and you cannot interrupt me, or challenge me, either on my tone or content. I might, as the Cardinal points out, need to modify what I am saying or how I am saying it based on your feedback. Further, as the Cardinal notes, one-sided conversations that occur especially in opinion based blogs often lack context. Talking about an issue is fine but context is important and recounting the “rest of the story” is not often respected.

An additional factor of opinion based blogs, radio shows, and news channels,  is that they tend to attract people of like mind so that the conversation lacks depth and many of these subsets become increasingly isolated and opaque. What therefore touts itself to be a wide open discussion increasingly appears as a closed circle of like-minded people in the  corner of the room at a cocktail party saying things to each other and going unchallenged in any substantial way.

In terms of this blog, we are discussing ways of widening the conversation and bringing more people to the table. Fr. Robert Barron is very good at doing this. He is able to engage people in a conversation who would never THINK of going to a Catholic blog. He does this by going out into the culture and commenting on things that most Catholic bloggers don’t (e.g. Bob Dylan as theologian, movie commentaries, etc.) At any rate we’re thinking of bring a lively conversation of the culture to bear more and more here and yours truly (age 49.5) is challenged to keep up with all the latest cultural stuff, especially among the young. More on these ideas later.

WALLACE:…Cardinal, the church does have some problems. And I want to pull up some polls. According to surveys, 75 percent of Catholics attended church weekly, back in the 1950s. That’s now down to 45 percent. And while 31 percent of Americans say they were raised in a Catholic family, only 24 percent now describe themselves as Catholic. Question, how do you account for that?

WUERL: I think what we’re facing is the erosion because of the heavy, heavy influence of secularism. We live in a world, and particularly, our country, that is awash in the continuous repetition of the secular view. And all these statistics say to me is, I’m not doing as good a job as I should in preaching the Gospels. I am not doing as good a job as I need to do in getting the rest of the story out there. And the rest of the story is it’s wonderful to live in a technologically advanced, highly scientific world, but with that is also the gift of faith, and what faith brings to that whole world. Those statistics simply say to me I need to be, the church needs to be much more effective in telling the story of Jesus. I like this answer. We DO have to be sober about the secularization of our society as the chief cause of the erosion of our numbers. But, as the Cardinal points out, this is an explanation, it is not excuse. It simply means that we will have to redouble our efforts and do a better, more effective job of preaching the gospel. We have talked about that a lot on this blog and will talk of it more!

WALLACE: Cardinal, even during the Christmas season, this is still a Sunday morning talk show, so I’m going to ask you about a political issue which has a strong moral component. How do you feel about the repeal of “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell,” the ban on gays serving openly in the military?

WUERL: You have to put that in context of what the church would be concerned about. When we’re dealing with the question of military readiness or morale, those are issues that we have to really hear from others on. What the church is concerned about and what it brings to this debate, this discussion, are two realities. One, the understanding the long, long teaching of the church that every human being is worthy of respect. Every person must be embraced and respected and treated with fairness. Then you also have to take the rest of the Gospel message, the rest of Jesus’s message that human sexuality has a purpose. And this is not for simply personal satisfaction. Human sexually has to be seen in the context of the great gift of love, marriage, family. And so when the church addresses any of these issues that touch on sexuality, that is our starting point. And that’s why we often times are viewed, I think, as an opposition voice, because this is a highly, highly focused society on the pleasures of life. And the church is saying that’s true, but there is also responsible sexuality. – An excellent response and distinction: respect for the person, but clarity on moral issues. We live in a culture where many people insist that the Church do what she cannot. We simply cannot set aside Biblical and Dogmatic teaching on moral issues. We can surely respect that people struggle with them. But many people insist that, until we approve of what they do, we do not really respect them, that somehow, in our disapproval of something they do we intend to offend or disrespect them. But this not so. That someone takes offense at something you or I say does not mean we actually gave offense and even less that we intended to give offense.

The Catholic Church is careful to distinguish between a person’s orientation and their behavior. We also distinguish between temptation and sin. For  example, that someone struggles with and is often tempted to anger does not make them a bad person. However, we cannot give approval to the unrighteous venting of anger. The temptation or orientation to anger is, of itself,  morally neutral, the giving way to that anger in a harmful way is not morally neutral. It is the same with sexuality. Most people suffer some degree of sexual temptation. This is not, of itself, sinful. What is sinful is to give way to it, whether through fornication, adultery, pornography, masturbation, etc. Thus, the homosexual person is not bad because of an orientation and the manner in which they are tempted sexually. Rather, what is bad is, not the person, but the acts that flow from the temptation by yielding to it.

I understand that even with this distinction (respect for the sinner, clarity about sin) many Gay people are not satisfied. What they want is approval of the acts. But the Church cannot give this. Yet, as the Cardinal says, and that is every human being is worthy of respect even if we cannot approval all of what every human being does, starting with the man or woman in the mirror. We do not intend therefore any disrespect, we do not intend to offend. That some do take offense and feel disrespected is regrettable and we in the Church  invite them to consider that our concerns are rooted in sincerely held Christian principles, rooted in biblical revelation, and the teaching of the ancient Church, and that we cannot simply cast aside what we sincerely believe to be reveled by God in this matter.

WALLACE: So are you in favor or against the repeal of “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell”?

WUERL: That is a question that has to be worked out politically. And there isn’t a specific Catholic Church position, but whatever happens, it has to be seen in terms of the church’s teaching position. And that is, human sexuality is something that is supposed to be exercised responsibly and within the context of marriage. It is good for the Cardinal to avoid getting into a policy discussion of exactly how the US military should handle this. In this blog many have remarked with anger how they consider the US Bishops often transgress their role by getting involved in matters of policy. It is clear that the Bishops must advocate moral principles and set forth a Biblical and Christian vision regarding matters of justice and the moral life. But that does not mean that they should comment on every specific issue regarding policy.

The Cardinal has articulated clearly enough that the Church insists upon sexual responsibility for all people. How the military chooses to regulate itself or its members around possible threats to military discipline related to sexual matters involves prudential judgments, judgments that they are best fit to make.

It is also possible in this answer that Cardinal Wuerl is deferring to Archbishop Timothy Broglio who is the Archbishop for Military Services and may have more of a reason to comment directly on policy matters in this regard since his priests who serve in the military are directly impacted by the decision. You can read his statment here: http://www.catholic.org/national/national_story.php?id=36796

WALLACE: And we have — and I apologize. We have about 45 seconds. In this special season, what message do you have for Christians and non-Christians alike?

WUERL: Christmas is a time when we all can look with hope to the future. That’s part of the message of Christmas. There is the best in each one of us. And we’re all capable of bringing out the best. And to do that together with one another, in a very pluralistic society, says that we can look to the future with hope, because if we respect and love one another, there is nothing we can’t accomplish. Yes, hope is the best note on which to end. The Pope also does this very well in his book Light of the World. In that Book Peter Seewald is often alarmist, but the Pope always goes back to the hope that is rooted in the promise of Jesus Christ that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church. Cardinal Wuerl has the same principled balance: sober about the challenges we face, but rooted in hope for we serve a Lord who said: “In this world you shall have tribulation, but have confidence. I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

But Is It Bigotry?

It was recently called to my attention that a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships,  Harry Knox has been  outspoken opponent of the Catholic Church for many years. This piqued my attention and so I dug a little further. My brief research yielded some of the following facts:

  1. In a March 2009 Statement Knox declared that Pope Benedict XVI is “hurting people in the name of Jesus” by not condoning condom distribution as the solution to AIDS in Africa. “The pope’s rejection of scientifically proven prevention methods is forcing Catholics in Africa to choose between their faith and the health of their entire community.  Jesus was about helping the marginalized and downtrodden, not harming them further” he said.
  2. He has recently reaffirmed these views
  3. Knox who is a member of the “Human Rights Campaign” an organization working that  advocates on behalf of some in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and “transgender” communities also publicly decried a decision last year of a Catholic Pastor in Wyoming to refuse communion to an openly lesbian couple.   Knox said, “In this holy Lenten season, it is immoral and insulting to Jesus to use the body and blood of Christ the reconciler as a weapon to silence free speech and demean the love of a committed, legally married couple. The Human Rights Campaign grieves with the couple, Leah Vader and Lynne Huskinson, over this act of spiritual and emotional violence perpetrated against them.”
  4. Knox was also critical, along with others of the Vatican’s opposition to a UN initiative to decriminalize homosexual activity. The 2008 HRC Statement  signed by Knox reads  in part: As faith leaders we were shocked by Vatican opposition to this proposed initiative. By refusing to sign a basic statement opposing inhumane treatment of LGBT people, the Vatican is sending a message that violence and human rights abuses against LGBT people are acceptable. Most Catholics, and indeed most Catholic teachings, tell us that all people are entitled to live with basic human dignity without the threat of violence.
  5. There are other statements by Knox and his group that are also strongly critical of the Pope and the a Vatican along similar lines.

 It is surely unfortunate that President Obama has such an outspoken critic of the the Pope and the Vatican on his Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. His presence seems divisive, at least from the perspective of Catholics, faithful to Church teaching.  His opposition to the teachings and policies of the Catholic Church is vigorous and at times specifically directed at the Pope.   In a recent Press Conference Congressman John Boehner was asked if he thought Harry Knox should resign from the President’s commission. He answered quite clearly “yes” and went on the refer to Knox as an anti-Catholic Bigot. The  St Michael Society  has begun to circulate a petition calling for his removal the President’s Council.

So, here is the question I have for you: Is Harry Knox an anti-Catholic bigot? He surely has strong differences of opinion with the Catholic Church in general and the Pope in particular. He has not hesitated to state these in the strongest possible terms even going so far as to accuse the Pope of “hurting people in the name of Jesus.” He is vigorous, wrong-headed and also absurd in his use of Scripture. His tactics are sadly typical of many who advocate on behalf of some in the Gay community. Namely, use lots of bullying and/or provocative language, venom, anger etc.  But again I ask, does all this amount to him being an anti-Catholic bigot?

I ask this question respectfully and with a concern. I think anti-Catholic bigotry does exist. But my concern is that we not over use the phrase “anti-Catholic bigot.” So many others today over use words like racist, homophobic, hate speech, reactionary, bigot etc. I am often called or accused of some of these things in the very comments of this blog. I think we would do well to be very careful to avoid adopting a similar practice of possibly over using the category “Anti-Catholic Bigot.”  There are those who vigorously disagree with the teachings and practices and policies of the Catholic Church but does that alone make them an anti-Catholic Bigot?  I guess if that were the case many if not most Protestants would qualify for the term! I think we have to allow for the fact that people can respectfully and even strongly disagree with us without being a bigot necessarily.

So here are a few questions I would like to ponder with you?

  1. What are some of the benchmarks of true anti-Catholic Bigotry?
  2. How is anti-Catholic bigotry different from simple opposition to the practices, beliefs, and policies of our Church.
  3. Are there certain phrases or actions that immediately make you suspect anti-Catholic Bigotry? What are they?
  4. Is there something in particular the Harry Knox has said that is for you, over the top and puts him in the category “anti-Catholic bigot” ?
  5. Even if he isn’t a bigot should he still step aside?

Not to steer the conversation too much, but I will say that my “anti-Catholic bigotry” alarms start going off under the following circumstances:

  1. When Church teaching is deliberately or carelessly misrepresented for the purposes of stirring anger and resentment at the Catholic Church.
  2. When Catholics who are trying to be faithful to Church teaching and/or the clergy who teach it are excoriated with name calling and attacks on their personal motivations. For example when we who articulate or uphold Catholic teaching or seek its reflection in culture and law are called hateful and bigoted, insensitive etc.
  3. When Catholics are told that they have no right to enter the public square or to influence the public discussion on matters of culture or public policy. Or when it is said that Catholics (or other Christians) cannot have a place at the public policy table because their religious point of view is ipso facto excluded due to false and severe interpretations of the so-called “separation of Church and State” (A phrase that nowhere occurs in the US Constitution).

So you have my questions and I’d value your comments. The fundamental question is this: What is the line to be drawn between opposition to Catholic teaching or policy (which non-Catholics in our culture are entitled to have) and anti-Catholic bigotry? When is the line crossed? Did Harry Knox cross it?

Here’s a brief clip referenced above wherein Rep. John Boehner calls for the resignation of Harry Knox:

Storm Journal

I have written on the snow previously. You are likely aware that we are in a blizzard here in Washington. The video below was called to my attention by New Advent  site and the Deacon’s Bench Blog. It is a fascinating time lapse of storm on last Saturday.

I also include my own photos here Msgr Pope Photos of Storms on Feb 6 and 10 if you’d  like to look at them. You can click on slideshow or view them individually. They depict the storms of the past week in various stages. I enhanced a lot of photos I took today and filtered out the blizzard whiteout effects so they don’t make it seem as bad as it was. But at least you can see a few things!

And here’s the wonderful video showing how God really piled on.

DC Same-Sex Marriage Bill: An Imposing Agenda

marriage_logoFor many years now secularists and self-described progressives have made the claim that religious believers, especially those from traditional perspectives, were trying to impose their beliefs on others. They have also make frequent accusations that religious believers are “intolerant.” It has been my usual experience that people who stridently accuse others of things are themselves often most guilty of the attitudes they most decry in others. And now today we see just such an example in the looming actions of an increasingly extreme contingent of the DC City Council in reference to same sex marriage.

The crafters of the Bill have chosen to significantly narrow religious exemptions and thereby force religious organizations into the  untenable position of accepting and even promoting so-called same-sex marriage. The Archdiocese of Washington has released a a statement that pretty well details the situation. I reproduce it here:

 The DC City Council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary today narrowed the exemption for religious freedom in a bill that would legalize marriage between same-sex couples. The bill is headed to the full council.

The committee’s narrowing of the exemption leaves religious organizations and individuals at risk for adhering to the teachings of their faith, and could prevent social service providers such as Catholic Charities from continuing their long-term partnerships with the District government to provide critical social services for thousands of the city’s most vulnerable residents. The bill provides no exemption for individuals with sincerely-held religious beliefs, as required under federal law. In fact, one council member opposed an amendment that would have respected an individual’s federally-protected, deeply-held religious beliefs by saying that would encourage a “discriminatory impulse.”

The committee rejected concerns raised in testimony by the ACLU, the Archdiocese of Washington, the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington and a group of nationally-recognized legal scholars, including Robin Fretwell Wilson, professor at Washington & Lee University Law School. In calling for broader religious liberty protections in the bill, the experts cited well established United States Supreme Court case law under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a federal law that applies to the District of Columbia.

Under the bill, religious organizations do not have to participate in the “solemnization or celebration” of a same-sex marriage ceremony. An earlier version of the bill also exempted them from “the promotion of marriage that is in violation of the entity’s religious beliefs.” The revised language significantly narrows that exemption to the “promotion of marriage through religious programs, counseling, courses, or retreats.”

As a result, religious organizations and individuals are at risk of legal action for refusing to promote and support same-sex marriages in a host of settings where it would compromise their religious beliefs. This includes employee benefits, adoption services and even the use of a church hall for non-wedding events for same-sex married couples. Religious organizations such as Catholic Charities could be denied licenses or certification by the government, denied the right to offer adoption and foster care services, or no longer be able to partner with the city to provide social services for the needy.

“It is our concern that the committee’s narrowing of the religious exemption language will cause the government to discontinue our long partnership with them and open up the agency to litigation and the use of resources to defend our religious beliefs rather than serve the poor,” said Edward Orzechowski, president/CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. Catholic Charities serves 68,000 people in the city each year. The city’s 40 Catholic parishes operate another 93 social service programs to provide crucial services.

The teachings of the Catholic Church, including those of the Archdiocese of Washington, hold that all individuals have equal dignity and deserve equal respect. However, marriage by its very nature must be between a man and a woman. One essential purpose of marriage is an openness to creating and nurturing the next generation, which is the reason that governments and cultures throughout all time have given these relationships special recognition and support. See www.MarriageMattersDC.org for more information on marriage.

Many media reports today have indicated incorrectly that the Archdiocese of Washington is “threatening to end social services to the poor” if the Bill is not changed. But the true fact is that the Bill would force us out since to accept or administer even $1.00 of DC money would put us under a whole series of unacceptable rules requiring us to recognize or even facilitate aspects of Gay “marriage.” I could also open us to lawsuits and to “decertification” which would exc;ude us from providing social servies in DC. It is not we who threaten, it is we who are threatened by the implications of this Bill.

I hope you can see what is happening here. Through judicial fiat seculars and progressives are trying to impose recognition of same sex “marriage.” By severely reducing religious exemptions members of the City Council and their allies are simply bullying and forcing their will. They have the votes on the Council and refuse to allow the citizens of this city to have their voices heard by placing this initiative on the ballot. This Bill is, simply put, an imposition.

It is also an example of intolerance toward the traditional religious community. The views of the religious communities in question are not some recent trend or theological speculation. The definition of marriage that is being rejected is some 5,000 years old and stretches all the way back to the earliest pages of Scripture. There are also solid Natural Law arguments at the root of the traditional understanding of Marriage. We are not bigots or homophobes merely for holding the traditional view of marriage. The narrowing of religious exemptions in the current draft of the Bill seems another  example of intolerance for ancient and deeply held religious belief.

It is an irony that many who have marched under the banners tolerance and open-mindedness, now that they have power, show that it never really was about either of those things. It appears it was really about power and imposition. The very ones who have so often accused the religious and traditional of imposing our will and being intolerant now give evidence of the very things they accused others of.

Catholic Ecology

On Friday night, I went to see No Impact Man with two friends. It’s a new documentary about a man in New York City (along with his wife and toddler) who decides to live for one year without making any environmental impact. No cars, buses, or planes. No refrigerators or elevators. No plastic bottles and no Styrofoam. Only eating local, seasonal produce.

For me, this film is far more thought-provoking than anything else I’ve seen about conservation or ecology. I think that’s because it’s a family story, almost like a home video. It really shows the freedom, joy, and love in the way they lived. There was no evidence that the family was religious, but their sense of self-discipline, moderation, and respect would be inspiring to any Christian.

As far as I can tell, we haven’t blogged much about the environment or ecology, so over the next few posts I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts about the film and related topics. As an introduction, here are some documents for your perusal.

Common Declaration on Environmental Ethics
Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, June 10, 2002

Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All Creation
Pope John Paul II, World Peace Day, January 1, 1990.

Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common Good
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, June 15, 2001

Renewing the Earth
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, November 14, 1991

Caring for God’s Creation Project: A Program for Environmental Justice
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1993.

Who Gets to Decide?

I was at a rally today sponsored by the Stand4 MarriageDC.com Coalition. I also witnessed the leaders of this coaltion file at the DC Board of Elections a ballot initative  on the issue of same sex “marriage.”  The Initiative,  if approved would place on the ballot for a vote by all the citizens of the District of Columbia the following delcaration: “Only marriage between a man and woman is valid or recognized in the District of Columbia.”

What is at stake here is the definition of Marriage in the District and who gets to say what that is. Some months ago the DC City Council decided, without holding hearings, to recognize same-sex unions from other jurisdictions.  Currently, there are plans by David Catania and others on the Council to enact further legislation to recognize same-sex unions contracted right here in DC.

The definition of Marriage is NOT something that should be left to 13 people decide. This is too important for such limited input. It deserves to be brought before all the voters of this city who have a stake in what is determined. Marriage is not some bureaucratic or merely legal entity, it is a pillar of civilization. The arrogance of the City Council in refusing even to hold public hearings before the last vote is manifestly undemocratic. It seems clear that advocates of same-sex unions have little interest in hearing from the voters on this critical issue.

But you ought to pay careful attention to this issue for its implications are sweeping. At stake is the definition of marriage as well as the democratic process. Will marriage be simply defined by legislators in closed door session, by blunt judicial fiats or willit be decided by the citizens of the District of Columbia after thoughtful discussion and preparation for a vote? These are significant issues and you and I ought to pay attention and participate in the process. Learn more of this at www.Marriagemattersdc.org

I would like to conclude by quoting from a letter of Archbishop Wuerl who reminded the priests of this Archdiocese that we, as a Church have the duty to speak and teach clearly on this matter:

The definition of marriage originates in the created order and comes from the natural law. At the core of the Church’s teaching on family life is God’s plan for the human race set forth so majestically in the Book of Genesis. The original plan — still operative today — calls for the man and woman to come together and form a communion of mutual support. “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him” (Gen 2:18). This partnership is to be a permanent one. This teaching was confirmed explicitly by Jesus himself: “…Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Matt 19:6).  As custodian of these truths, the Church is compelled to preach this to the world.