Newspaper logo

COMMENTARY:

Catholic Hierarchy Attacks the Capital’s Homeless

by James Ridgeway
First published in his blog Unsilent Generation earlier today, 12 November 2009

Not since Reagan, who in cutting social services, dumped the poor onto the streets in the early 1980s, telling faith based charities to take care of them, has the prime source of charity – the church – made such a threat.

For the second time in a week, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the US has jumped into sexual politics at a time when conservatives are trying to make sex a divisive issue in health care reform. Last Saturday the Archbishop of Chicago lobbied the House Republican leadership on the reform legislation.The Catholics wanted to make sure the anti abortion amendment to the legislation would pass–which it did.

Yesterday the Archdiocese of Washington DC threatened to cut off social services money provided by Catholic Charities to the homeless in the Capital because the church hierarchy abhors the very idea of gay marriage.

This threat is not just about gay rights. It is another sign the Church has decided to elevate its meddlesome policies on sex to the forefront of national politics and at a time when the entire social service sector of the economy faces dramatic change. Tying together abortion and gay rights is now a major factor in the health care fight. The conservatives have seized on sex as a powerful political lever in the debate scheduled to go to the Senate floor next week.

The homeless are a commonplace, fixture, in Dickensian Washington. They beg from downtown street corners as the lawyers, politicians and lobbyists brush past. Not since Reagan, who in cutting social services, dumped the poor onto the streets in the early 1980s, telling faith based charities to take care of them, has the prime source of charity – the church – made such a threat.

Here is part is the Washington Post’s report:

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn’t change a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.

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.

“If the city requires this, we can’t do it,” Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said Wednesday. “The city is saying in order to provide social services, you need to be secular. For us, that’s really a problem.”

Several D.C. Council members said the Catholic Church is trying to erode the city’s long-standing laws protecting gay men and lesbians from discrimination. The clash escalates the dispute over the same-sex marriage proposal between the council and the archdiocese, which has generally stayed out of city politics.

Catholic Charities, the church’s social services arm, is one of dozens of nonprofit organizations that partner with the District. It serves 68,000 people in the city, including the one-third of Washington’s homeless people who go to city-owned shelters managed by the church. City leaders said the church is not the dominant provider of any particular social service, but the church pointed out that it supplements funding for city programs with $10 million from its own coffers.....

So what are we left with:

“Lets say an individual caterer is a staunch Christian and someone wants him to do a cake with two grooms on top,” said council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 6), the sponsor of the amendment. “Why can’t they say, based on their religious beliefs, ‘I can’t do something like that’?”


Born in 1936, James Ridgeway has been reporting on politics for more than 45 years. He is currently Senior Washington Correspondent for Mother Jones, and recently wrote a blog on the 2008 presidential election for the Guardian online. He previously served as Washington Correspondent for the Village Voice; wrote for Ramparts and The New Republic; and founded and edited two independent newsletters, Hard Times and The Elements.

Ridgeway is the author of 16 books, including The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11, It’s All for Sale: The Control of Global Resources, and Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, and the Rise of a New White Culture. He co-directed a companion film to Blood in the Face and a second documentary film, Feed, and has co-produced web videos for GuardianFilms.

Additional information and samples of James Ridgeway’s work can be found on his web site, http://jamesridgeway.net.

This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



Copyright © 2009 The Baltimore News Network. All rights reserved.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

Baltimore News Network, Inc., sponsor of this web site, is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed in stories posted on this web site are the authors' own.

This story was published on November 12, 2009.