Bishops Say Rules on Gay Parents Limit Freedom of Religion

Roman Catholic bishops in Illinois have shuttered most of the Catholic Charities affiliates in the state rather than comply with a new requirement that says they must consider same-sex couples as potential foster-care and adoptive parents if they want to receive state money. The charities have served for more than 40 years as a major link in the state’s social service network for poor and neglected children.

The bishops have followed colleagues in Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts who had jettisoned their adoption services rather than comply with nondiscrimination laws.

For the nation’s Catholic bishops, the Illinois requirement is a prime example of what they see as an escalating campaign by the government to trample on their religious freedom while expanding the rights of gay people. The idea that religious Americans are the victims of government-backed persecution is now a frequent theme not just for Catholic bishops, but also for Republican presidential candidates and conservative evangelicals.

“In the name of tolerance, we’re not being tolerated,” said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Ill., a civil and canon lawyer who helped drive the church’s losing battle to retain its state contracts for foster care and adoption services.

The Illinois experience indicates that the bishops face formidable opponents who also claim to have justice and the Constitution on their side. They include not only gay rights advocates, but also many religious believers and churches that support gay equality (some Catholic legislators among them). They frame the issue as a matter of civil rights, saying that Catholic Charities was using taxpayer money to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Tim Kee, a teacher in Marion, Ill., who was turned away by Catholic Charities three years ago when he and his longtime partner, Rick Wade, tried to adopt a child, said: “We’re both Catholic, we love our church, but Catholic Charities closed the door to us. To add insult to injury, my tax dollars went to provide discrimination against me.”

The bishops are engaged in the religious liberty battle on several fronts. They have asked the Obama administration to lift a new requirement that Catholic and other religiously affiliated hospitals, universities and charity groups cover contraception in their employees’ health plans. A decision has been expected for weeks now.

At the same time, the bishops are protesting the recent denial of a federal contract to provide care for victims of sex trafficking, saying the decision was anti-Catholic. An official with the Department of Health and Human Services recently told a hearing on Capitol Hill that the bishops’ program was rejected because it did not provide the survivors of sex trafficking, some of whom are rape victims, with referrals for abortions or contraceptives.

Critics of the church argue that no group has a constitutional right to a government contract, especially if it refuses to provide required services.

But Anthony R. Picarello Jr., general counsel and associate general secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, disagreed. “It’s true that the church doesn’t have a First Amendment right to have a government contract,” he said, “but it does have a First Amendment right not to be excluded from a contract based on its religious beliefs.”

The controversy in Illinois began when the state legislature voted in November 2010 to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples, which the state’s Catholic bishops lobbied against. The legislation was titled “The Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act,” and Bishop Paprocki said he was given the impression that it would not affect state contracts for Catholic Charities and other religious social services.

In New York State, religious groups lobbied for specific exemption language in the same-sex marriage bill. But bishops in Illinois did not negotiate, Bishop Paprocki said.

“It would have been seen as, ‘We’re going to compromise on the principle as long as we get our exception.’ We didn’t want it to be seen as buying our support,” he said.

Catholic Charities is one of the nation’s most extensive social service networks, serving more than 10 million poor adults and children of many faiths across the country. It is made up of local affiliates that answer to local bishops and dioceses, but much of its revenue comes from the government. Catholic Charities affiliates received a total of nearly $2.9 billion a year from the government in 2010, about 62 percent of its annual revenue of $4.67 billion. Only 3 percent came from churches in the diocese (the rest came from in-kind contributions, investments, program fees and community donations).

In Illinois, Catholic Charities in five of the six state dioceses had grown dependent on foster care contracts, receiving 60 percent to 92 percent of their revenues from the state, according to affidavits by the charities’ directors. (Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Chicago pulled out of foster care services in 2007 because of problems with its insurance provider.)

When the contracts came up for renewal in June, the state attorney general, along with the legal staff in the governor’s office and the Department of Children and Family Services, decided that the religious providers on state contracts would no longer be able to reject same-sex couples, said Kendall Marlowe, a spokesman for the department.

The Catholic providers offered to refer same-sex couples to other agencies (as they had been doing for unmarried couples), but that was not acceptable to the state, Mr. Marlowe said. “Separate but equal was not a sufficient solution on other civil rights issues in the past either,” he said.

Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Rockford decided at that point to get out of the foster care business. But the bishops in Springfield, Peoria, Joliet and Belleville decided to fight, filing a lawsuit against the state.

Taking a completely different tack was the agency affiliated with the conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, which, like the Catholic Church, does not sanction same-sex relationships. Gene Svebakken, president and chief executive of the agency, Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois, visited all seven pastoral conferences in his state and explained that the best option was to compromise and continue caring for the children.

“We’ve been around 140 years, and if we didn’t follow the law we’d go out of business,” Mr. Svebakken said. “We believe it’s God-pleasing to serve these kids, and we know we do a good job.”

In August, Judge John Schmidt, a circuit judge in Sangamon County, ruled against Catholic Charities, saying, “No citizen has a recognized legal right to a contract with the government.” He did not address the religious liberty claims, ruling only that the state did not violate the church’s property rights.

Three of the dioceses filed an appeal, but in November filed a motion to dismiss their lawsuit. The Dioceses of Peoria and Belleville are spinning off their state-financed social services, with the caseworkers, top executives and foster children all moving to new nonprofits that will no longer be affiliated with either diocese.

Gary Huelsmann, executive director of Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois, in the Belleville Diocese, said the decision was excruciating for everyone.

“We have 600 children abused and neglected in an area where there are hardly any providers,” he said. “Us going out of business would have been detrimental to these children, and that’s a sin, too.”

The work will be carried on, but the Catholic Church’s seminal, historic connection with it has been severed, noted Mr. Marlowe, the spokesman for the state’s child welfare agency. “The child welfare system that Catholic Charities helped build,” he said, “is now strong enough to survive their departure.”

Complete Article HERE!

Cardinal George, you’re wrong about Chicago Gay Pride

COMMENTARY — Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite

Chicago Gay Pride is a deeply spiritual event, combining a celebration of the diversity of humanity with a zest for life lived truthfully. Chicago Gay Pride is one of the largest such parades in the U.S., and it is listed on the city of Chicago’s official tourism Web site. Many, many Chicagoans are proud of their Pride Parade.

As a Chicagoan who is proud of Chicago Pride, therefore, I was very distressed to hear the Catholic Cardinal of Chicago, Francis George, make statementsto FOX Chicago Sunday, intimating that this wonderful Chicago event could become comparable to demonstrations by the Klu Klux Klan against Catholicism.

The presenting issue was that Chicago’s upcoming gay pride event had been rerouted past Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church and might logistically interfere with that Sunday’s services. But Cardinal George’s response was to fear-monger against LGBTQ Chicagoans and their allies who participate in Pride. The cardinal said, “You don’t want the gay liberation movement to morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism.”

Equally Blessed, an umbrella group of four pro-LGBTQ rights Catholic organizations, has issued a statement condemning such a comparison that has “demeaned and demoralized” Chicago’s Gay community, and doing so in a way that draws a comparison to the “murderous nightriders of the Ku Klux Klan.” A petition at change.org has called for Cardinal George to resign, and has started an online petition.

I have another idea. Today I have written a letter to Cardinal George’s office, asking him if he will be my guest and march with the Chicago Theological Seminary’s Pride group in the 2012 Chicago Gay Pride parade.

This is a serious invitation. First, I make it in full confidence that the cardinal would be welcome in the Seminary’s Pride group. The United Church of Christ, to which our school is related, has as it’s motto, “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” We practice what we like to call a “radical welcome” and that includes the cardinal. We have had many fine Catholic students over the years.

Second, I would like to invite the cardinal because I have become an ally of the LGBTQ community and it has been an incredible spiritual and theological journey for me. I would like to share with him a small part of how important this journey can be for Christian leaders as well as parishioners.

I have learned so much from what a spirituality of truthfulness teaches, and how it can illumine a great deal about the Christian Gospel, as well as about theology, ethics, pastoral care, and worship. Over the years of teaching and learning with gay students, faculty, and staff colleagues, both at the seminary, around the nation and indeed around the world, I have gained from their courage in facing up to a world that is hostile to their very humanity, and challenging churches that claim they are not included in God’s love and care. Despite all the hurtful and harmful religious messages, many LGBT people nevertheless come to know God’s love and affirmation for exactly who they are. As title of the biography of Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Churches, says so well, The Lord is My Shepherd and He Know’s I’m Gay.

I have also learned that change is possible. For example, this year’s Pride Parade will now start at 12 noon, as the Chicago’s LGBT community has graciously agreed, following a meeting with representatives of Our Lady of Mount Carmel last week, to start later in order to accommodate those attending services at the church.

Change is also coming to the Catholic Church as more gay Catholics join groups working to change the church, and more straight Catholics come to know their fellow parishioners and respect them.

Cardinal George has now attempted to walk back his hurtful comments, indicating the comparison was only “parade-parade” not “people and people.” It’s a start, but it’s far from enough.

Thus, my invitation stands, because more change is needed in the Catholic church, and truly in all churches, so that the “people and people” comparison is not merely descriptive, but a positive and even spiritually enlightening one.

Join us in Chicago Theological Seminary group at Pride, 2012, Cardinal George. I promise you it will help with your ministry.

Complete Article HERE!

Chicago Archbishop Denounced, Urged to Step Down

Cardinal Francis George, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Chicago, is receiving intense criticism and calls for his resignation after comparing the LGBT movement to the Ku Klux Klan.

The incident came after organizers of the Chicago gay pride parade moved next year’s start time up from the traditional noon to 10 a.m., meaning it would go past one of the city’s oldest Catholic churches when worshipers were attending Mass; the parade is always held the last Sunday in June. There had been problems at the 2011 parade because of overcrowding along the route, and organizers thought an earlier start would be a way to address it, but leaders of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church objected, saying they feared parishioners would be inconvenienced.

George discussed the controversy this week with a local television station, which Wednesday broadcast a clip of him saying, “You don’t want the gay liberation movement to morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism.” Parade organizers agreed to move the start time back to noon, but outrage over George’s comment lingers.

“Cardinal George has gone too far, and he should graciously apologize, and step down from his post,” wrote Tracy Baim, editor of Chicago LGBT newspaper Windy City Times, in an editorial posted online Friday. She called the KKK comparison “vile,” and she noted that the hate group demonstrated against the pride parade in its early years.

The national LGBT group Truth Wins Out is circulating an online petition calling for George’s resignation and describing his statement as “backward and bigoted.” The pro-gay Catholic group Equally Blessed issued a statement saying, “In expressing fears that a joyful, celebratory gay pride parade could erupt into anti-Catholic violence, Cardinal Francis George has demeaned and demonized LGBT people in a manner unworthy of his office,” and Sharon Groves of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Program said his “horrific comparison of the LGBT movement to the Ku Klux Klan drives an unnecessary wedge between Catholics and the hierarchy.” Find more reactions here.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese said critics of the cardinal should watch his interview, which will air in its entirety Christmas Day on Chicago’s Fox affiliate. “Whether it was the best choice of analogy I don’t know,” she told the Chicago Tribune. “Taken out of context the meaning can be misinterpreted. I would suggest people read the whole interview.”

Complete Article HERE!

Cardinal Francis George Fears Gay Pride Parade ‘Could Morph Into Klu Klux Klan’

This man has lost his mind!

Cardinal Francis George, the head of the Catholic Conference of Illinois and the Archbishop of Chicago, has said he fears a new Gay Pride parade route in Chicago because it would pass in front of a Roman Catholic church.

George told Fox Chicago that he agreed with Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s concerns about the parade route. The church has asked the city to force organizers to alter their plans.

“I go with the pastor,” George said. “He’s telling us that he won’t be able to have services on Sunday if that’s the case. You don’t want the gay liberation movement morph into something like the Klu Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism.”

George defended his stance when the host called it “a little strong.”
“It is, but you take a look at the rhetoric. The rhetoric of the Klu Klux Klan, the rhetoric of some of the gay liberation people. Who is the enemy? Who is the enemy? The Catholic Church.” (The video is embedded in the right panel of this page. Visit our video library for more videos.)

Last year, George opposed Illinois’ civil unions law, which is now in effect.
“Marriage is what it is and always has been, no matter what a legislature decides to do; however, the public understanding of marriage will be negatively affected by passage of a bill that ignores the natural fact that sexual complementarity is at the core of marriage,” he wrote.

Complete Article HERE!

Cardinal Pell under attack from within over bishops’ grand house in Rome

A LEADING Catholic priest has criticised Cardinal George Pell for reserving a “grand apartment” for himself at the Australian church’s new guest house in Rome, saying “the ethics of our secular state are higher than those of our church”.

Father Eric Hodgens, of Melbourne, an elder statesman among the clergy, also savaged Australia’s Catholic bishops for what he regards as an abject performance during their five-yearly visit to Rome last month, particularly in failing to stand up for Bill Morris, sacked earlier this year as bishop of Toowoomba.

“They eat their own when fingered by Rome,” Father Hodgens wrote of the bishops in The Swag, the national journal of Catholic priests. “How can you trust them?

”They are reckless with our patrimony. They seem incapable of protecting their own rights, let alone ours, in a system which is corrupt by today’s secular standards. No wonder the attitude of so many priests and observant laity is moving from disappointment to disgust,” he wrote.

Father Hodgens said the Domus Australia guest house in Rome – a beautifully refurbished old religious house with 33 rooms for paying visitors, a richly restored grand chapel and organ and a 150-seat auditorium opened by Pope Benedict XVI last month – cost between $30 million and $85 million, according to different estimates.

He said Cardinal Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, had hoped all Australian dioceses would pay for it, but only Melbourne, Perth and Lismore had made contributions and the Sydney Archdiocese had paid the bulk.

He said Catholics of the four dioceses were not consulted, there was no prospect of a reasonable financial return and no accountability. “What does it say of us who trust bishops?
The ethics of our secular state are higher than those of our church.”

Secrecy also surrounded the sacking of Bishop Morris, who never saw the charges against him or the report by an “inquisitorial visitor”, Archbishop Charles Chaput, then of Denver, he said.

“And the Australian bishops simply rolled over … . they thanked their humiliators for being generous with their time,” Father Hodgens wrote.

“Thank God we live in a secular state and not in a Catholic theocracy,” he said.

Cardinal Pell is overseas but a Sydney Archdiocese spokeswoman said the total cost to develop the Australian pilgrim centre in Rome was similar to that of a new parish or school, ”not the excessive amounts quoted by some ill-informed sources”, and the investment was expected to pay its way.

”Domus Australia was funded by the transfer of an underutilised property investment to this purpose and by borrowings and donations,” she said.

”No money raised through parish collections has been used in this initiative.”

Complete Article HERE!