Catholic Church threatens to put D.C.’s poor and homeless out in the cold over gay marriage

Catholic Church leadership seems to be stepping up its role in actively oppressing women and queer people. First came the Vatican’s appeal to Anglicans who do not want women or openly gay people as priests. Then the United States Council of Catholic Bishops used their influence to build support for the Stupak amendment. Now the Catholic Archdiosese of Washington is threatening to abandon its social services work over a proposed same sex marriage law.

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.
Fearful that they could be forced, among other things, to extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples, church officials said they would have no choice but to abandon their contracts with the city.

D.C. social services are in bad shape
. The closing of a major homeless shelter and budget cuts have worsened the situation in a city already struggling to serve its poor and homeless residents. As someone who organizes for access to abortion I have obvious problems with gaps in the services provided by Catholic Charities. But that does not discount the vital work they do for the 68,000 D.C. residents who rely on Catholic Charities for shelters, health care, and food programs.
The Archdiosese is making a clear statement: it considers keeping rights from same sex couples more important than the needs of this city’s most vulnerable. Their willingness to use the lives and health of 68,000 people in need as pawns in their fight for the right to discriminate is unconscionable. D.C. needs more social services, not less. I hope the Archdiosese can put aside the politics of hate for a moment to recognize what I would think they would consider a moral obligation to do vital life saving work.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • MN_Radical

    I have always considered myself a faithful Roman Catholic, but if the broader Church does not speak about what the DC Archdiocese is doing, this may be the final straw that pushes me to the Episcopalian Church. Anger and disappointment do not even begin to describe how I’m feeling.

  • LivingOutLoud

    The use of homeless, vulnerable individuals as pawns in a bigger political power play is disgusting. There is nothing “Christian,” about these actions being taken by the Catholic Church.
    The fact that they place stopping gay marriage as being worth more than thousands of people’s lives, both future and present, that their services help, is absolutely beyond me.
    I am just jaw-to-the-floor speechless.

  • aftercancer

    I grew up Roman Catholic, complete with aunts who were nuns. I was pushed out the door the day my parish invited the lunatics from Operation Rescue in one day to lead a letter writing campaign.
    I miss the mass, I miss the rituals and there is nothing that can make me go back. I am a christian with a small c and try to live in a way that would make Jesus (or any other spiritual being) pleased. The rest is just bullshit.

  • becca

    I am against the government legistlating religion, if a religion wants to be intolerant and bigotted, they should be able to be, first amendement and all. The real problem here is that the city is contracting to a church. The church is worried about the city enforcing anti-discrimination laws against gays? How about enforcing some anti-discrimination laws on the role of women in the church leadership? This is what happens when you let church and state get mingled, is things get blurry. The city still has the money to contract to a charity to provide homeless shelters, how about encouraging the start up of a secular or mixed-religion charity to spend this money on?

  • Comrade Kevin

    I suppose they think it’s better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven.

  • Sloppy Sandwich

    Don’t leave over the mistakes of this one diocese. You might as well leave over the crusades, or the inquisition. Or the priest molestation scandal. They’ve fucked up before, they’ll fuck up again. Stick with them for the good they do. If you leave, it’s one less resonable person.

  • Craig R

    This is just another page from the same playbook as the Stupak amendment — hold the absolute greater good hostage over the small-minded bigotry.
    (BTW — my wife tells me that “Stupak” has now turned into a new role of expression — such as:
    “I got nailed by the speed trap on I-95, and got a $210 fine”
    “Dude, you got Stupak-ed!” )
    MN_Radical – come on over to the D/a/r/k/ S/i/d/e/ Episcopalians — I think about half of the congregants at my local church are Roman Retreads (as we sometimes call ourselves)

  • supremepizza

    I agree, the Catholic Church’s loss, is another charity’s opportunity. Churches participating in social service programs routinely fight this sort of thing & usually there are exceptions written in. Still, this is an opportunity for either other churches, or other organizations with less baggage on the issue, to step into the breach.
    It appears that under Benedict the Catholic Church is going through a substantive & deep shifting to the right on cultural issues. I’m not Catholic but I find it a bit disturbing (not that I’m at all sure I have any right to be…considering I’m not Catholic).

  • aleks

    The Roman Catholic hierarchy in the U.S. is an adjunct of the GOP. Gays and Abortion all the time, peace, justice, healthcare, the poor, the death penalty, meh.

  • Gular

    I think they’re angry because the City Council’s reaction was to say “well, then we’ll give our money to someone else then.” Now they’re using bigger words and more inflammatory threats to get their way.
    It’s really kind of childish and sad.

  • aletheia_shortwave

    I love their position on homosexualiy vis-a-vis their position on pedophilia. And by “love,” I mean “hate.”
    In the documentary Deliver Us From Evil, there is actually an interview with several priests who, it was discovered, knew about another priest abusing children and failed to report it.
    An interviewer asked one of them, you know, what the f*** is going on, you knew this sexual abuse was happening? Why didn’t you say anything?
    The priest says “Well… I knew that he was interested in young girls. But I thought, you know, that is only natural. I didn’t know that he was a sick and depraved homosexual, preying on young boys. Otherwise, of course I would have reported it.”
    The reality is, of course, that most priests who sexually abuse children don’t discriminate based on gender, attacking male and female children equally.

  • goobergirl

    Apparently the Catholic Church has forgotten the very basics of Jesus’ teachings – do to the least of your brothers as you would have done to you.
    They’ve also apparently forgotten the whole “love they neighbor” thing too. And give unto Caesar what is Caesar and unto God what is God’s.
    I agree with Supremepizza, screw the Catholic Church. Let a secular charity, which can provide more complete services anyway, provide homeless shelter and housing. Or perhaps the government should step in and use the money they are contracting to the Church to run the shelter themselves! At the end of the day, the Church needs that money too, so hardball is not a wise game to play.

  • Athenia

    If they really need the money from the city, than they are not getting enough money from their congregations or the Vatican.
    Maybe they should put all that lobbying money towards this instead!

  • ladylicious

    Nice. Because everyone knows that God would so much rather see destitute people starve and freeze to death outside of the church than have a same-sex marriage inside the church. How can anyone really believe that? It’s so messed up. It’s like some of these people have never actually even read their bibles. You know, do unto others as you’d have done unto you….whatsoever ye have done to the least of these, ye have done unto me. What…like none of that even rings a bell? Some of the least God-fearing people I’ve ever met are the ones who yell the loudest about their faith. Justifying fear and hatred with religion is blasphemy.

  • Xanthippe

    Wow. This makes my head hurt.
    Is it common for religious organizations to have these kind of contracts with the city? That seems a little odd to me.

  • Sloppy Sandwich

    “Apparently the Catholic Church has forgotten the very basics of Jesus’ teachings – do to the least of your brothers as you would have done to you.”
    Have you forgetten it yourself? Or did you know it in the first place? What you have here is a bible mashup of the two verses:
    Matt 7:12
    Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.
    Matt 25:40
    Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.
    But I still think its shitty that they’d bow out of good works just to avoid giving benefits to same-sex partners of employees. The Archdiocese of San Francisco worked out a compromise.
    In fact the guy (Cardinal or Archbishop, I can’t remember) that worked out the compromise in San Francisco was appointed to Benedict XVI’s prior post in Rome. This was Benedict’s subtle way of giving the finger to the American catholics who would have the church be a subsidiary of the RNC (it’s not, not yet anyway).

  • Ryan

    If there is anyone using the poor as pawns here, it’s the DC city council, which apparently assumes the Archdiocese would actually be willing to compromise Catholic principles in order to continue its charitable efforts. And as we all know, there is little big-government liberals would like to see more than for the Church to compromise its teachings, or else shut down its charitable operations.
    The Archdiocese of DC has made very clear that it does not want to stop providing services, but that the passage of the same-sex marriage bill as it currently stands would make it impossible for these services to continue in conformity with Catholic principles.
    As for the accusations of bigotry, it’s worth noting that the poorer areas of Washington DC, which are predominantly African-American, are pretty clearly against the same-sex marriage bill, which is one reason the bill’s supporters have never wanted the issue to come to a popular vote.

  • Kim C.

    “Catholic principles”
    And why do these stand against providing same-sex couples with benefits? Jesus surrounded himself with prostitutes and tax collectors: even when he considered them immoral, he still sought to help them. Even if the Catholic church is anti-gay, it need not be anti-help.

  • Phenicks

    Call their bluff. The Archdioceses in DC is saying they would have to not register because they would have to recognize gay marriage via their adoption services. Ok. Make an exemption for them, they can then certify and if they refuse then they are no longer in a position to hide behind the cloak of religion.
    Want to use pawns?
    Check and mate.

  • Phenicks

    It should be NO secret.
    A very large number of the black residents, many of whom haven’t been in a church in decades and some of whom aren’t even christian let alone catholic, are VERY much so against same-sex marriage. If it gets put to popular votes, the same city that came out overwhelmingly voting for Obama and other civil rights will come out in droves to defeat any bill that grants same-sex marriage rights.
    THAT is a shame.

  • Auriane

    In reading this, my main thought is that my local Pagan Alliance needs to open its own hospital and apply for public funds and private donations. If the haters want to play hardball, why not just fade them into irrelevance? They’re already helping themselves, but perhaps it’s time for more tolerant people to push back, like the city council suggested, and support charities that are more open to serving everyone, not just a select few.

  • saintcatherine

    I think this would be great. I have no doubt that the Archdiocese would be fine with keeping up services if tey would be exempt from requirements that they provide benefis to same-sex couples, or arrange adoptions for same.

  • saintcatherine

    Look, the Church is not saying it thinks “keeping rights from same sex couples more important than the needs of this city’s most vulnerable.” The Archdiocese of Washington, like Boston and CA before it, is recognizing that it can be legally required to do things like extend benefits to same-sex couples, and to set up adoptions for those couples as well, if it is working as a contractor for the city.
    It doesn’t have the ability, legally, t do these things. The Church actually teaches that these things would be cooperating in spiritual harm.
    You don’t have to agree with them to recognize that the Archdiocese is in an untenable position. Now, personally, I think that they ar getting ahead of themselves and waving about this eventuality as a kind of threat.
    But the responses here are typically snarling; every time the Catholic Church is mentioned you get truly nasty and uninformed people commenting, and by them you would think that the entire Archdiocese has just been waiting for a chance to throw poor people under the bus in order to “stick it to the gays.”

  • SquaredCircle

    You make it sound like the Catholic Church is expected to provide those social services. They have no specific obligation to provide those services for anyone, especially if providing those services conflicts with the fundamental principles on which the church is based. Yes there is a problem, but no, those people are not entitled to homeless services.
    “The Archdiosese is making a clear statement: it considers keeping rights from same sex couples more important than the needs of this city’s most vulnerable.”
    Is it clear that they are making this statement? It seems to me that they would probably regretably withdraw the offering of services. I agree with saintcatherine that there is a clear bias here against the Catholic Church as exemplified by this post.

  • LalaReina

    I agree. I know the church is the embodiment of all evil on this site but as a Catholic I don’t believe the state has a right to dictate Church policy.I don’t agree with the policy but that’s not the point.

  • LalaReina

    I think that is all they want, they clearly want to continue services.

  • aleks

    Absolutely. A Roman Catholic exemption to civil rights laws.
    You don’t think the period when the Church was above the law is called the Dark Ages because it was before light bulbs do you?

  • Phenicks

    Since when is it a civil right to get help from a specific religious group?
    Th crusades was about murdering people-spcifically non-believers, not hurting their feelings or exclusion from adoption “rights” (there is no such thing as a right to adopt because nobody has to ever give up their child in the first place to be adopted).

  • Laura_M

    I’m not sure what disappoints me more—the fact that they’re threatening this, or the fact that it doesn’t surprise me. While they may not have an absolute obligation to provide social services, this threat to withdraw their support for vulnerable people goes directly against one of Jesus’ own teachings:
    Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
    Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
    The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
    (Matthew 25: 34-40)
    The Catholic Church may not explicitly be required to help the poor and the vulnerable, but the founder of Christianity seems to have been pretty keen on the idea himself.

  • Ryan

    If the Church refused to work with or provide aid to gays, THAT would be bigotry. But the issue at hand here – the legal and financial acknowledgment of same-sex marriages among Catholic services employees – is far more specific. Even if you believe that opposition to gay marriage is a purely sectarian religious issue, you ought to agree that is is wrong to ask a religious group to do something that violates their core principles. It seems to me that the DC city council is placing a higher priority on imposing its beliefs about marriage on the Church than on allowing the city’s vital aid services to continue.

  • earthling

    This is a clear case of aid in one hand, dogma in the other. They can’t just give to people, no, that would be too humanitarian – they have to make sure that they push their hateful agenda at the same time.
    Some of the homeless people they are helping are no doubt gay themselves: what message are the Church sending out with this? ‘Yeah, if you’re on the street you can stay in our shelter, but if you ever get off the streets and come and work for us we won’t give your partner any benefits.’ How revolting.
    The Catholic Church are showing themselves up for what they are; a bigoted institution sulking at a threat to its privilege.
    If they really cared about human beings they would not give a fig about same-sex marriage laws. But that’s just it: the Catholic Church do not see all human beings as equal and they never will.
    In their opposition to homosexuality, they are just sticking to the scripture. In terms of the Bible, Catholics are correct to oppose homosexuality as this view is consistent with the majority of Bible teachings on this subject. The point is that the Bible is wrong, and so they are wrong.
    I wish people would stop defending this religion by saying ‘oh well Jesus said love they neighbour’ etc because either LGBTQI rights stands on its own as a self-evident moral principle or it doesn’t. Put the Bible down for one second and see that what the Catholic Church is doing is morally wrong, full stop.
    I really hope there are some secular charities out there who will take up the slack once DC tells these bigots to get stuffed.

  • Kim C.

    “They have no specific obligation to provide those services for anyone, especially if providing those services conflicts with the fundamental principles on which the church is based.”
    You do realize that the “fundamental principles on which the church is based” means that they DO have an obligation to provide for the poor, as commanded specifically by the Lord that they worship, right?

  • Alessa

    If the church spent 1/4 of the time dedicated to focusing on helping other as opposed to going against things like abortion and gay marriage, the world would be such a better place. They may have these huge charities that contribute a lot, but the amount of energy put into “against” movements is absolutely staggering and astounding.

  • LalaReina

    The DC city council doesn’t have the power, resources or authority to do squat for the local residents but want to flex what they think is their muscle on the Church for few liberal press headlines. It is not going to work. They are the villains in the story. What’s more this will backfire across religious communities of all types. The Right Wing has always said “they are going to come into your churches” and here we go.

  • mltmlt

    1/4 of their time? You mean like the 1/4 of AIDS/HIV care in all of Africa they are responsible for? Like being the largest charitable organization on earth? Like not being profit-based unlike this hypocritical social enterprise garbage that’s developing?
    You’re right…they need to give up their values so they can ‘start leading’ in charity. LOL

  • BigH

    I converted to Catholocism in my teenage years when my dad did. Didn’t really seem like any big deal because 95% of the folks in our town were Catholic anyway. Have since married into a Catholic family but am finding myself going through a VERY substantial shift in my own spirituality away from organized religion, and in particular away from the Catholic church due to it’s stance on not allowing women to be priests, not allowing for a married clergy option, blocking substantive progress on fighting teenage pregnancy or AIDs (the whole no-birth-control thing), and for it’s opposition to gay marriage. (Wow, that’s A LOT!)
    This threat to stop performing charitable work (FOR PAY) in DC is just another nail in the coffin of my ability to believe in or support the Catholic church. They’ve exposed themselves as hypocrites who are ignoring JC’s call to care for those who need their help the most.
    Let’s let the Catholic Church walk away. Good riddance.

  • aleks

    Since when is it a civil right to get help from a specific religious group?
    Since when is it getting help from a specific religious group to have operations within DC’s jurisdiction obey DC’s civil rights laws?
    Th crusades was about murdering people-spcifically non-believers, not hurting their feelings or exclusion from adoption “rights” (there is no such thing as a right to adopt because nobody has to ever give up their child in the first place to be adopted).
    Since when does anyone think the Crusades constitute the only thing the Roman Catholic Church did for 900 years? Heaven help us all . . .

  • aleks

    Milton FTW

  • aleks

    The Church’s American leaders have been cozying up to the GOP at least since the child molestation and cover up scandal. This means an obsessive focus on gays and abortion and a complete disinterest in “liberal” issues.

  • aleks

    Or Pius XII. That’s another reason one could leave, besides the Church declaring that opposition to gays is its primary purpose and helping the poor is something of a hobby.

  • aleks

    Prioritizing the poor is “Liberation Theology.” It’s been out of fashion for decades.

  • aleks

    How far do you think that “help” goes towards preaching against condoms in a continent dying of AIDS?

  • mltmlt

    I’m not sure aleks…but who cares? Do you really think that condom talks are going to help in a country where people are scared to be in the same room with an poz person? Do you really think it’s so hard to get access to condoms in Africa? This is exactly how limited people’s views of the problem of HIV/AIDS really are. When the crisis just started in America the gay community went underground due to the stigma and refused any talk of using condoms because it was a ‘hamper on their freedom’. Now the Church wants to spend it’s efforts working on poverty/stigma/women’s rights/children’s education take the dialogue to the next level and the rest of the world is bitching about it??
    Get over the fact that you can no longer make a profit by pushing latex industry in this race to the bottom. The issue is bigger than that…and pushing condoms and simple monetary solutions doesn’t help the situation…it only makes it worse. I’m sorry to break it to the American conscience but it’s going to take more than latex to fix this one.

  • mltmlt

    Big H. The priesthood is not like running for public office, and the Church calls women to fully participate in all aspects of public life. The priest, however, is meant to be a representative of Christ who died on the cross and is a symbol of sacrifice. Women do not need to be priests because I’m pretty sure women have already gone and given enough sacrifices in this world. In Catholicism one becomes a leader by being a servant…but I guess that’s what you think women are for? I thought we were past throwing women into volcanoes.
    We do not have married clergy because we call clergy mother/sister/father/brother and that is their role after they are joined to God in a mystical union. Do you sleep with your family?
    When Planned Parenthood allies itself with anti-abortion initiatives you can do all the hypocrite talk you want. The Church has the right to provide services to the public directly instead of through agencies who do not respect their values. Which is really what is happening here.
    As far as I’m concerned you don’t really know much about the Church to begin with.

  • aleks

    aleks replied to mltmlt :
    How far do you think that “help” goes towards preaching against condoms in a continent dying of AIDS?
    mltmlt replied to aleks :
    I’m not sure aleks…but who cares?

    Game over, you lose.

  • mltmlt

    How can I lose against someone whose head isn’t even in the game?
    “problem of AIDS cannot be overcome merely with money, necessary though it is. If there is no human dimension, if Africans do not help [by responsible behavior], the problem cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics: on the contrary, they increase it.”
    This is not preaching against condoms…this is making a clear statement about the delivery of condoms in Africa and the uni-dimensional, corporate, capitalist approach to a human and therefore multifaceted issue.
    If you reduce his statement to ‘preaching against condoms’ you are a sucker for spin and you are not aware of what the Church is really talking about.
    There is a lack of realism in debate about condoms, according to a French epidemiologist who maintains that Benedict XVI’s assertion that condom use can actually aggravate the AIDS crisis is “simply realistic.”
    René Ecochard, director of the biostatistics department at Lyon’s University Hospital Center, signed a document last April supporting his case.
    Speaking this week with France’s La Manche Libre, Ecochard explained that there is “a lack of realism” on the condom issue, which he called a “prisoner of ideology.”
    This ideology brought an uproar in the Western press when Benedict XVI said en route to Africa on March 17 that the “problem of AIDS cannot be overcome merely with money, necessary though it is. If there is no human dimension, if Africans do not help [by responsible behavior], the problem cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics: on the contrary, they increase it.”
    Ecochard contended: It seems as though “opinion loses its points of reference when it addresses the issues of sexuality and the family.”
    The doctor acknowledged that part of the problem was “an error of understanding in public opinion.”
    He explained: “People thought that the Pope was speaking of the efficacy of the plastic, the condom, when in reality he was speaking of the campaigns to spread the condom. This is very different.
    “As is true of every technological object of prevention, the condom has a quantified efficacy.”
    But therein is not the problem, Ecochard stated, “All epidemiologists agree today that the campaigns to distribute [condoms] in countries where the proportion of affected people is very high, do not work.”
    “If the condom works four out of five times,” this might be sufficient “when AIDS is not widespread,” he explained. “However, in a country in which 25% of young people 25 years old are affected — Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Zambia — it isn’t sufficient.

  • aleks

    Yeah BigH, why do you think women should be servants (the Church has never had female servants for as long as it’s only had male priests, don’t you see the connection?) and want to throw them into volcanoes? Why don’t you know as much about women, the Church and How Africans Are as mltmlt?

  • mltmlt

    No aleks you’re missing the point. The priesthoos is a role reversal, to place men in a role which ‘feminine’ in a traditional gender binary and to make women priests removes the radical message from the theology.
    It is not that women are not ‘helpers’ it is much more than that.

  • aleks

    Because you’re self-defeatingly smug and ignorant. No one needs to beat you for you to lose.
    People have sex. The Church can’t stop Catholics from having sex, it sure as hell can’t stop its own priests from doing it. Given that people have sex and Africans are people, your solution to the AIDS crisis is to . . . try to prevent accurate scientific knowledge of how to protect oneself and partners from the spread of deadly disease. Just the latest in the Catholic Church’s traditional role of complicity in mass death. Definitely the institution with the moral authority to tell us how to live our lives.

  • mltmlt

    Oh really. How is the Pope denying access to accurate scientific knowledge? He agrees that the condom works technically, but he is suggesting that the problem must be dealt with holistically…not with money and condoms ALONE. What is wrong with this?
    It’s the spin that has infused his comments with inaccuracy and the publics inability to get it’s news from the source that is killing people.