The U.S. Catholic bishops met in New Orleans last week. I read an account of this meeting in the National Catholic Reporter last week, and two things struck me.
One, the bishops are really worried that they might lose the lucrative contracts they get from the federal government because of their increasingly out-of-step views on issues like LGBT rights and access to birth control.
A lot of people aren’t aware of this, but Catholic Charities basically would not exist if it were not for you the taxpayer. About 62 percent of the organization’s budget comes from government sources.
Every now and then, a government official has the temerity to actually try to bring some accountability to that money. An elected official or a bureaucrat might mandate, for example, that employees at taxpayer-funded Catholic groups receive contraceptive coverage or that LGBT Americans be served alongside everyone else.
Helen Alvaré, a professor at George Mason University who advises church officials, carped that it is “getting difficult” for the church to work with the federal government “because of laws like a federal mandate requiring coverage of contraceptive services in health care plans.”
“We have always believed it has been eminently possible and good for us to partner with the public authority,” Alvaré said. “Part of me worries some [people] at some levels of government are beginning to imagine a charitable services world where we are not a partner.”
Imagine that – social services run by entities that don’t use them to deny people their basic human rights or foist their religion onto the unwilling! What is this world coming to?
It gets even more galling: The Reporter noted that Alvaré, whose talk focused on “the new evangelization and poverty,” suggested “that the U.S. bishops could better evangelize by emphasizing their work to serve those in need.”
So the bishops want to use their mostly tax-funded social service programs to evangelize those in need and draw them into the church. Does anyone else see a problem here?
The second thing that struck me is that the bishops are completely flummoxed by the evolving situation concerning same-sex marriage. You can sense their frustration – and even terror – as the polls turn against them.
W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, talked to the bishops about marriage and its benefits. Wilcox pointed to research showing that children tend to do better when they come from stable homes with two parents present.
A couple of the bishops questioned Wilcox about same-sex marriage, which they seemed to assume is bad for children. To his credit, Wilcox noted that the research doesn’t back that up. Stability, he noted, is the key.
“Most of the scientists would say that there’s no difference… between a stable same-sex family and a stable heterosexual family,” Wilcox told the bishops.
He later added, “I think that the assumption…is that when same-sex marriage is legalized and it is given cultural support, it will be as stable as heterosexual marriage.”
When Bishop Joseph Tyson of Washington state asked if there was data to back that up, Wilcox replied, “The data suggest that same-sex couples – and this is really preliminary – are more likely to have stable relationships when the legal regime is more supportive of their relationships.”
So families do better when the government offers them support and values them? You don’t say! Somehow I’m thinking this was not the answer the bishops wanted to hear. (This is especially noteworthy because Wilcox has not exactly been a fan of same-sex marriage in the past.)
I have no problem with these guys serving the poor and spreading their views about marriage (even though I disagree with those views). I just want them to understand that if their program involves evangelism, if it discriminates against people on the basis of who they love or if it interferes with the personal medical decisions of others, they shouldn’t expect one dime of taxpayer funding for it.
The bishops have consistently had problems grasping the idea that people who don’t agree with their theology (and their politics, which are increasingly jumbled together) might not want to subsidize their church. In fact, they seem to want to have the best of both worlds: They want all of the taxpayer money they can get with none of the government’s oversight and regulation.
Simple decency and evolving cultural attitudes in America are increasingly making that stance a non-starter.