Catholics Fire Back at Bishops’ Anti-Gay Campaign

Sarah Posner wrote earlier this week about the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ new strategy to make “religious liberty” the focus of its resistance to abortion and legal equality for LGBT Americans, and the ways the plan echoes conservative evangelical legal strategies.

On Wednesday, spokesmen for Catholics for Equality, a lay LGBT-equality group (full disclosure: I’ve done some work for Catholics for Equality in the past, though none since I became associate editor at RD), held a press conference to talk about this week’s gathering of bishops, and called the “religious liberty” campaign a way to distract attention from the yawning gap between American Catholics’ relatively tolerant views on LGBT issues and the increasingly draconian anti-gay positions demanded of the hierarchy from the Vatican.

Joseph Palacios, a priest and sociology professor at Georgetown University, a Jesuit school, said this week’s announcements should be considered in the context of the new liturgy that Catholic churches will adopt next month, which he said reflects a more hierarchical and patriarchal, and less democratic, mindset. He said a century of Catholic social justice doctrine was grounded in the lived experience of injustice that people were experiencing, for example, as workers or immigrants. But under John Paul II and now Benedict, he says, the church is imposing doctrine that is not empirical or grounded in the lives of LGBT people, but in the abstraction of “natural law.”

Palacios called the church’s claims of “religious liberty” in the context of Catholic Charities “disingenuous” given that the vast majority of Catholic Charities funds, in many dioceses, come not from the contributions of individual Catholics, but from taxpayers. For example, according to Palacios, the taxpayer-to-charity mix for Catholic Charities funding in Chicago is 87 to 3 (the remainder representing things like fees for services). He quoted ranges of taxpayer funding in other dioceses from 54 to 86 percent.

Catholic Charities, he suggests, would more accurately be described as “Catholic contractors.” 

Palacios also pointed to a speech given earlier this year by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi in opposition to UN recognition of LGBT rights as human rights as an indication that the Vatican was staking out a position (also similar to that taken by extreme anti-gay evangelical leaders) that there is no such thing as a gay identity, only people suffering from disordered attractions, and that therefore there is no legitimacy to any legal recognition of gay identity.

Thus, as the bishops’ new anti-marriage-equality website makes clear, the hierarchy is also adamantly opposed to legal protections for same-sex couples such as domestic partnerships or civil unions. That, of course, puts the bishops at even greater distance from the people for whom they claim to speak, three-quarters of whom support some form of legal recognition for LGBT relationships. Attey and Palacios suggest that the new “religious liberty” campaign is a way to distract attention from that huge and growing gap.

Palacios and Attey also decried what is essentially a new tax being imposed by the bishops on American dioceses of an additional three percent of their budgets to bankroll the USCCB’s political and public relations campaigns against LGBT equality and abortion rights and in support of its “religious liberty” campaign. Attey predicted a strong backlash from Catholics, especially those in parishes that are already struggling financially.

Peter Montgomery, a Washington, DC-based writer, is an associate editor for Religion Dispatches and a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way. His work focuses on religion, politics, and LGBT issues. Follow him on twitter @petemont.