The Washington Archdiocese and Same-Sex Marriage

The Archdiocese of Washington, DC, is no longer offering benefits to spouses of new employees, because of the change in DC law allowing same-sex marriages.  Here's the Washington Post:

Employees at Catholic Charities were told Monday that the social services organization is changing its health coverage to avoid offering benefits to same-sex partners of its workers -- the latest fallout from a bitter debate between District officials trying to legalize same-sex marriage and the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington. Starting Tuesday, Catholic Charities will not offer benefits to spouses of new employees or to spouses of current employees who are not already enrolled in the plan. A letter describing the change in health benefits was e-mailed to employees Monday, two days before same-sex marriage will become legal in the District. "We looked at all the options and implications," said the charity's president, Edward J. Orzechowski. "This allows us to continue providing services, comply with the city's new requirements and remain faithful to the church's teaching."


Catholic Charities, which receives $22 million from the city for social service programs, protested in the run-up to the council's December vote to allow same-sex marriage, saying that it might not be able to continue its contracts with the city, including operating homeless shelters and facilitating city-sponsored adoptions. Being forced to recognize same-sex marriage, church officials said, could make it impossible for the church to be a city contractor because Catholic teaching opposes such unions....The church faced two options with the approval of the new law, said Robert Tuttle, a George Washington University professor who studies the relationship between church and state. One choice was to expand the definition of domestic partner, as the Archdiocese in San Francisco did years ago, to include a parent, sibling or someone else in the household.  The second choice was to do what the Washington Archdiocese has done: eliminate benefits for all spouses.  "For decades, the church has been at the forefront of worker benefits, so this move cuts against their understanding of social justice and health benefits to all possible," Tuttle said. "But obviously, you can see they felt there was a real conflict between those values. They feel they weren't left with much of a choice."

This comes on the heels, as we reported in the Signs of the Times this week, of the archdiocese shuttering its 80-year-old foster care and adoption program rather than licensing same-sex couples as adoptive or foster parents, to comply with the new DC law.

The allusion in the Post article to (now Cardinal) William Levada's alternate approach to the issue when he was archbishop of San Francisco is an interesting one, since it shows that there may be a number of ways to respond.  Here is John Allen's summary of Levada's approach in San Francisco, written in May 2005, when Archbishop Levada was named as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

Levada has a reputation as someone with the capacity to find imaginative solutions to difficult problems. A leading case in point came in 1997, when the City of San Francisco threatened to withdraw funding from any social service agency that did not provide health benefits to domestic partners. I was in Los Angeles at the time and was assigned to cover the story, and it seemed for a brief period that the city and the church were at a stalemate. At the eleventh hour, however, Levada proposed allowing employees to designate anyone they wanted as a recipient of benefits on their health plans -- an aunt, a parent, a good friend, etc. In that sense, the church was making benefits more widely available, without endorsing same-sex relationships. One Catholic theologian at the time called the decision "Solomonic," though some critics still felt it fudged over the church's opposition to homosexuality.

And here is Cardinal Levada's own description of his approach, in a letter to Crisis magazine

What did we agree to? We agreed that agencies and businesses would be in compliance if their benefits packages allowed unmarried persons to designate another legally domiciled person in their household (including blood relatives) to receive benefits equivalent to those already provided for spouses (without reference to a partnership based on sexual identity or activity). In other words, we took a stand in favor of expanded benefits, which the city could hardly refuse, since its "model" legislation is named "Nondiscrimination in benefits." But the effect of this agreement is to move the discussion from "discrimination" against homosexuals to one in which the provision of greater benefits is the issue.

Since Catholic agencies now can comply with city law without being forced to recognize a category based on unacceptable sexual criteria, I think we have achieved a breakthrough that is in accord with Catholic moral principles on both marriage and family and social justice.

James Martin, SJ 

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David Nickol
8 years 9 months ago
Joe C,
I think you are correct. But would the Archdiocese of Washington have refused insurance coverage for the spouse of a worker who had been sacramentally married, divorced, and was remarried? I don't think so. 
David Nickol
8 years 9 months ago
It's kind of like in the old days when municipal swimming pools in the south were closed to avoid letting blacks swim in them. If nobody got to swim, then nobody was discriminated against. Is the creative solution Cardinal Levada came up with not good enough for the Archdiocese of Washington? 
Also, how can the Catholic Church insist that illegal immigrants are entitled to be covered under health care reform legislation (a position I wholeheartedly support) but that legal same-sex spouses are not entitled to receive health insurance? 
James Lindsay
8 years 9 months ago
I fail to see the difference between offering benefits to gay spouses and heterosexual spouses in civil marriages (which the Church does not regard as morally licit either). Indeed, because married couples actually marry themselves sacramentally (including gay ones), the question is more about saving face for a Bishop without a red hat yet than it is about morality.

The Church is whistling in the graveyard, since its biggest problem is not DC law, but the continued generosity of its donors (many of whom will not be happy about this action - including my family who have given to DC Charities in the past, but won't validate this act by continuing to in the future) and the fact that Catholic (donor) families will soon be asking the gay unions of their children/parents/siblings.
Peter Lakeonovich
8 years 9 months ago
David, the answer is because the Catholic Church is not a permissive Church, where anything goes in the name of equality and inclusiveness. That church would be you-know-who's church. When our Lord asked St. Peter to feed his lambs, He was not talking about feeding people with canned goods and health benefits. He was talking about bringing the Good News (that is, Jesus Christ Himself, in the Eucharist) to the lambs, feeding them the Bread of Life and teaching them to enter into a relationship with Christ. Surely, the act of the Archdiocese of Washington will cause sufferring, but suffering in defense of our Catholic faith, suffering in the name of Lord, is an act of true Love. See our Lord's Passion. And, yes, Jesus taught us to make our neighbor's problem our problem, and to welcome the outcasts, feed the hungry and clothe the naked. But, as we learned in the Holy Father's most recent Encyclical, charity untethered to the Truth (which is Jesus Christ himself) lapses into mere sentamentality. The Archdiocese of Washington is doing the right thing, because it will fail in its mission if it becomes detached from Catholic teaching just to maintain "charitable" employee benefits. What Caridnal Levada did in San Francisco was a watering down of Church teaching and is tantamount to a vague acquiesence. I'm sure the early Christians could have engaged in such nuances and hair-spliitting sophistry to deny their faith avoid the lions, but then again they could not becuase their love of Christ would not stand for it. We should applause this act of love by the Archdiocese of Washington, whose hand has been forced by this law (no doubt sponsored by you-know-who).
8 years 9 months ago
Wow!  Things must be bad if the actions of the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith are considered ''permissive.''  Is the Holy Father asleep at the switch?  How can he allow such a man to have such power and authority?
In all seriousnes, I think this was a very poor decision.  Too bad Archbishop Wuerhl didn't learn from the prudential decisions of Cardinal Levada
James Lindsay
8 years 9 months ago
Peter, if by "You Know You" you mean Marion Barry, the answer is no. Indeed, he was one of the three who voted against it. For those of you who don't know DC inside baseball, the current council chair, who shepparded the change through, was the DC Director of Covenant House, a Catholic organization.

Telling people their relationships are disordered begs the question of how we know the natural order on same sex marriage. It takes true intellectual gymnastics to continue to hold the traditional view. In the Church's premier text on Ethics, Fagothey's Right and Reason (which is used in Catholic minor seminary), the author had to rely on theism to prove that homosexuality was not within the confines of natural law - he could not do it on the merits alone. In other words, its a teaching that should only apply to Catholics (if them) since you can't prove it without reference to the Church's teachings. As such, it should not be imposed on Charities employees that are not Catholic.
Pearce Shea
8 years 9 months ago
1. Begs the question doesn't mean "asks the question." sorry to be a pedant.
2. Yes Michael, but it's explicitly illegal for any organization to delimit benefits only to those employees who are of a specific religion, so that won't work. You are right also, that the Church doesn't hold non-Catholics to the same standards to which it holds Catholics, but if active, open homosexuality, much less the marriage of two gay people, is a moral evil, and the Church is pretty clear on that one, then participating or sanctioning that evil is obviously also a no-no.
I know we all like Levada's solution because it's easier and more permissive. It's also disingenuous insofar as it's a step taken specifically to _avoid_ having to address a moral dilemma on which the Church has been pretty clear. But that said, as someone who has had to work a long time at a very low paying nonprofit without absolutely zero benefits, I think we should all take a step back and recognize that this is just not the end of the world. What's the end result? All those that already had a spouse named on their plans keep their benefits. Everyone else no longer has the option. THAT'S IT. The Church continues to do its great, necessary work for everyone in the area who, let's face it, is much too poor to spend time reading anything here. The Church gets to do one of the things it does best, and best of all, it does it without compromising its principles. We ought to be happy about that.
David Nickol
8 years 9 months ago
Why is it any more participating in or sanctioning the alleged ''moral evil'' of same-sex marriage to provide insurance coverage to the same-sex spouse than it is to hire the worker with a same-sex spouse in the first place? Suppose (horror of horrors) that the couple has adopted a child, and one works for the Archdiocese of Washington while the other stays home and takes care of the child. Is the Archdiocese sanctioning a moral evil by paying a salary to the person who works?
It is my understanding that these employees of the Archdiocese do not have to meet any religious test. They don't have to be Catholics. They don't have to be Christians. The Archdiocese notes on its web site that it is an ''equal opportunity employer.'' So it claims not to discriminate in hiring. It just wanted to reserve the right to discriminate in giving benefits. 
And please don't claim this was done out of ''love.'' Intransigence or haughtiness maybe, but not love. 
8 years 9 months ago
Just a correction to Michael Binder's first post.  The Catholic church does not consider heterosexual civil marriages morally illicit.  Civil marriages are not sacramental, of course, if that is what you mean.  Hindus, protestants, and non-believers are still married in the eyes of the Catholic church, and this is why, if you convert to Catholicism, after you are married, you cannot get married again, but have your marriage blessed.
Chaviv Cardoso
8 years 9 months ago
I think I prefer "you-know-who's" church.
Martin Gallagher
8 years 9 months ago
Is it possible that the DC archdiocese made a different decision from the San Francisco archdoicese solely  because health insurance costs have increased sharply from 1997 to 2010?  Perhaps the costs of expanding the definition of a ''domestic partner'' make it no longer feasible.  Has a spokesperson for the DC archdiocese explained the decision?  Maybe this will be moot once universal health care is enacted.
8 years 9 months ago
As secular extremists force their sinful agenda down the throats of the public, it is good to see the Church make a strong statement against the perverted activists. The very existence of the Church is threatened by the homosexual agenda and its anti-religion, anti-family, sexually promiscuous lifestyle.

Any changes that the Church makes in response to the legalization of gay marriage is a response to an attack. The Church must push back against the threat rather than get out of its way. The loss of spousal benefits calls attention to the attack, whereas the extension of benefits to non-spouses suggests that this is a non-issue. This is the much needed sounding of an alarm.
David Nickol
8 years 9 months ago
Given the magnitude of the threat, do you think it is enough just to deny benefits to same-sex couples? Shouldn't the Church take a stand and refuse to hire homosexuals altogether, and certainly those in same-sex marriages? Certainly if the very existence of the Church is threatened, it cannot be expected to pay salaries to those who support the "homosexual agenda" and the destruction of the Church, the family, and the very idea of sexual fidelity. True, "e
very sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided," but is it unjust discrimination for the Church to refuse to pay money to those who espouse the "homosexual agenda"?
Of course, the Archdiocese would have to remove the words "Equal Opportunity Employer" from their web site.
8 years 9 months ago
David -

I think there is a difference in paying someone to do a job, and providing health benefits to someone on the basis of their open participation in a sinful activity. The first is a provision for services rendered; the second is a provision for something that is in direct conflict with the Church's teaching.

Paying a sinful person to do the good deeds of the Church can only have a positive effect on the Church and on the sinner. But rewarding someone solely for his sinful behavior affirms the sin and hurts the Church.

If, however, the hired hand in the course of working for the Church flouts his sinful activity such that it could be perceived to be that the Church supports or encourages his activity, then I believe termination would be appropriate. But I don't believe that the mere sinfulness of an employee in and of itself means that that person should not be hired.

The issue at hand is the fact that there is an attack on the Church, and the Church has to respond to it in an attention-grabbing manner.
8 years 9 months ago
Michael -

I think that anyone who seeks spousal benefits from the Church when the union is based in sinfulness should be denied those benefits. Divorce is on the same level as homosexual unions in leading to the demise of marriage, families, and the Church; the church should not be rewarding any of it and certainly not bend over backward to sidestep the issue.
8 years 9 months ago
Jim and Stephanie:

The sinfulness of homosexuality is not up for debate, and I'm certainly not here to debate the effects of homosexuality. Proponents of homosexuality are always looking for proof about the damage that homosexuality causes to society; they conduct biased research studies and spin the data to persuade the public to accept their misguided lifestyle. But that is irrelevant here; the Church is clear. Homosexuality is a sin.

I'm no religious scholar, but the Church cannot and should not change its doctrine on the basis of public opinion; it should not bow down to political power, regardless of whether the sin has the effects that I spoke of. That is, regardless of whether the homosexual lifestyle, in fact, involves sexual promiscuity and threatens family and religion, the Church needs to act against the powers that are trying to force it to accept this sin or otherwise change its position on the subject. You don't think homosexuality should be a sin? Go find another church.

Thank God the Church is pushing back on this with an affirmative statement instead of appeasement.
Jim McCrea
8 years 9 months ago
Mike B.
You and others that support your position continue to make an unprovable and insupportable statement time and time again, as if repetition equals proof:  "homosexual unions in leading to the demise of marriage, families, and the Church."
There is NO PROOF that permitting same-sex unions has had any causation in the demise of marriage and familiies. 
Re:  the Church.  She is perfectly capable of causing her own death, and continues to demonstrate in an ever-increasing basis.  Same-sex unions don't have a dog in THAT fight!
S Bond
8 years 9 months ago
Mike, can you point me to the homosexual agenda you refer to?
See, they gay people I know are all pro-religion, pro-family, and not at all promiscuous.  I feel like they're not well informed about what all they're supposed to be inflicting on the rest of us.
S Bond
8 years 9 months ago
Mike, you said:
"The very existence of the Church is threatened by the homosexual agenda and its anti-religion, anti-family, sexually promiscuous lifestyle."
Again, where is this agenda you speak of?  Please be specific.
S Bond
8 years 9 months ago
And by the way, Mike, the church does not teach that homosexuality is a sin.  Just so you know.
8 years 9 months ago
Stephanie -

As I said, my purpose here is not to debate the homosexual agenda; there are more appropriate forums for those discussions.

I'm sorry that you do not agree with the Church's position on homosexuality and choose to fight it instead of embrace it. I'll pray for your enlightenment, and you should do the same. If you can't accept the Church, then leave it, but do not expect the Church to succumb to the selfish desires of such a misguided segment of society and its misinformed supporters. The Church is not a democracy.
James Lindsay
8 years 9 months ago
Mike, if married gays are flounting their sinfullness, aren't straights married civilly or remarried divorced Catholics doing the same? If so, how can you justify continuing to provide spousal benefits to such people already receiving them?

This is not about fighting evil. This is about saving face and I doubt it was Ed's idea (at least I hope not).
S Bond
8 years 9 months ago
Mike, to make your argment, you:
1. Cited an agenda for which you cannot produce any evidence, and
2. Invented a Catholic church teaching.
Just so we're clear. 
I'll pray for your enlightenment, surely.  In the meantime, I'd suggest you do some homework.


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