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Catholic Bishops Put Sex Obsession Ahead of Mission to the Sick and the Poor

First they threatened to take down health-care reform over abortion coverage. Now they're threatening services to the sick and poor of Washington, D.C., over same-sex marriage.

They lead a church that claims to stand on the side of the sick and the poor, the meek who shall inherit the earth. But in the course of a single week, the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church proclaimed themselves willing to see health-care denied to millions of uninsured Americans, and to yank the social-service rug out from under the feet of tens of thousands of urban poor in the nation's capital -- all to serve the bishops' obsession with the sex lives and reproductive organs of others.

The church's week of shame began with the bishops' role in creating the monster that is the Stupak amendment to the health-care reform bill passed last weekend by the House of Representatives, when the bishops refused to bless a compromise made between pro-choice and anti-abortion Democrats in the language of the bill. (Without the bishops' blessing, anti-choice Democrats vowed to vote against the bill, so Speaker Nancy Pelosi was strong-armed into allowing Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., to bring an anti-choice amendment to the floor.) Finishing off the week with a brutal bang, the church threatened to sever its social service contracts with the District of Columbia if the city council of Washington, D.C., passes a measure legalizing same-sex marriage -- a move that would throw services to 68,000 of the poorest and most vulnerable citizens of the nation's capital into chaos.

This week in the life of the church, says Frances Kissling, the long-time Catholic feminist activist and current visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics, demonstrated the church's "willingness to just be a bully." (Full disclosure: I worked for Kissling in 1998, during her 30-year tenure at the helm of Catholics for Choice.)

The Poor Must Suffer for the Sin of Same-Sex Marriage

Edward Orzechowski is the president and chief executive officer of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. At issue for the church, he said in a press statement, is that the committee drafting the measure in the city council had adjusted the language so that the church would be forbidden from discriminating against same-sex couples in either the adoptions it arranges for the city's foster-care system, or in the employment benefits it offers to its own personnel.

Many of the people who work for Catholic Charities, Orzechowski told the Washington Post, hail from the LGBT community, so the church would be forced to violate its tenets if the anti-discrimination provision remained in the marriage-equality measure. Just so you have that straight: gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are good enough to work for Catholic Charities, as long as it's okay for the church offer them a lower level of benefits than those conferred on heterosexual couples. And what of the thousands of good people who work hard jobs for low pay in the employ of Catholic Charities in Washington? What will become of their jobs if the church severs its contracts with the city?

"It's a dangerous thing when the Catholic Church starts writing and determining the legislation and the laws of the District of Columbia," said city council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), chairman of the Human Services Committee, told the Post, only to receive this rejoinder:

Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, countered that the city is "the one giving the ultimatum."

"We are not threatening to walk out of the city," Gibbs said. "The city is the one saying, 'If you want to continue partnering with the city, then you cannot follow your faith teachings.' "

"This is the way the church has dealt with every human being from time immemorial -- and that is to somehow make everybody else feel guilty, and they're never guilty," said Kissling, the former president of Catholics for Choice, in an interview with AlterNet. "It's true in your personal life, it's true about if you have an abortion, or if you're gay, or if you want to get divorced. It's always, somehow, you who is being selfish."