There's a bit of a hubbub going on in the District of Columbia of late. The City Council is weighing a sweeping gay rights move, bundling together gay marriage, gay adoption, partners' rights, and whatnot, and the Catholic Church -- as is to be expected -- is resistant.
Resistant to the point where they say they will simply pull the plug on their entire charitable works in the city should it pass.
Critics are denouncing the Church (as is their wont), saying that the Church must be bluffing, that the Church is overreacting, that the Church is being hypocritical because it hasn't made the same threats in other places where gay marriage has passed, and it's all a big to-do about nothing, because the law explicitly says the Church doesn't have to perform gay marriages if it doesn't want to.
They're right on that last point. They're wrong on every single other one.
First up, the Church doesn't bluff. There may be a surface resemblance between the Church's move and the typical move of politicians facing budget cuts -- make the cuts in the most visible, most popular, most needed areas first -- but that's where it ends. The Church does NOT use the poor as hostages for imposing its social agenda.
Next, the Church is not overreacting. While the gay marriage aspect is the most attention-grabbing aspect, it is the other elements that are most offensive to Catholic doctrine -- and most directly threatening to the Church. The Church does NOT sanction or assist in gay marriage, does NOT offer "same-sex benefits" to employees, and does NOT recognize same-sex relationships as equal to opposite-sex ones. Under the proposed law, they would have to yield on each of those points.
Then there's the "they haven't protested in other states" argument. Again, not true. In Massachusetts, the state forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation of adoptive parents -- so the Church said "OK, fine" and got out of the adoption business altogether. They are quite consistent on this point -- they will fight against the laws they oppose, but will accept them as long as they are not personally required to take action in support of them. And if the law would force them to act in a way they find morally repugnant, they will simply take their toys and go home.
Now, I happen to think the Church is wrong in its positions here. (I also happen to think that the Church is wrong in a lot of other places, too -- such as contraception, the ordination of women, and I still loathe their conduct in the whole "pedophile priest" scandal. There should have been a RICO investigation there, and quite a few high-ranking Churchmen -- like Cardinal Law -- should be behind bars. But I digress...)
But more importantly, I think they have the right to be wrong.
The Church has its beliefs. It has its tenets and its principles. It has decided which are the most important ones, and has rediscovered its spine. It has drawn the line in the sand -- society can go to Hell if it wishes, but the Church will not aid and abet in the process.
On this, they will not bend. If that means that they will no longer help in the adoption process in Massachusetts, so be it. If that means they have to completely shut down their charitable works in the District of Columbia, so be it.
And as they've said in the past, if hospitals end up required to perform abortions on demand, they will shut down every single Catholic hospital in the country.
Now that is a bluff we dare not call -- Catholic hospitals represent 12.7% of all hospitals in the United States and 15% of all hospital beds. And the Church clarifies that threat -- they simply won't sell them off, but shut them down and, if necessary, tear them down. They will be morally obliged to make certain those hospitals are never used to perform abortions.
The Church's position is arguable, but defensible. They will not, under any circumstances, cooperate with any law they find morally repugnant. Instead, they will find a way to not violate the law and still not comply with it. And the way they are talking about is to simply remove themselves from the law's reach.
The law can say that they cannot discriminate against gays in adoption. But the law can not compel them to continue assisting in adoptions.
The law can say that employers cannot discriminate against gay employees. But the law can not compel them to have employees.
The law can say that hospitals must perform
adoptions abortions on demand. But the law can not compel the Church to keep its hospitals open should it decide to raze them.
The learned solons of the District of Columbia speak as if they don't really need the Church and its charities, that there is a long list of other organizations just itching to step up and fill the void should the Church choose to leave the city. This is entirely consistent with plans by the Obama administration to limit tax deductions for charitable contributions, moving such things under the aegis of government and out of the hands of independent organizations.
One doesn't have to be Catholic to see the value of the Church's charitable works. One doesn't have to subscribe to Church teachings to respect their right to abide by them as they see fit. And one doesn't even have to be a believer to see the threat to the common good being posed by this move by the DC City Council.
And that's coming from an agnostic gay marriage supporter who is still uncertain as to whether the Catholic Church has been a net boon or bane to modern civilization.