The Archdiocese of Washington’s announcement that services would have to be cut if the District of Columbia City Council recognizes same-sex “marriage” without religious exemptions was not a “threat” or “ultimatum” but a simple recognition of the policy’s consequences, the Archbishop of Washington said in an opinion essay in the Washington Post.
Without strong religious freedom protections, the proposed legislation would force the Church to choose between expressing Christ’s love in service to others and defending the nature of marriage, Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl wrote in his Nov. 17 essay.
“The archdiocese and Catholic Charities are committed to continuing to provide services in the District. Despite the headlines, there has been no threat or ultimatum to end services, just a simple recognition that the new requirements by the city for religious organizations to recognize same-sex marriages in their policies could restrict our ability to provide the same level of services as we do now.”
The archbishop wrote that the city itself would withhold contracts and licenses because Catholic Charities and other religious organizations cannot comply with city mandates to “recognize and promote” same-sex marriages.
Contracts for affordable housing projects, homeless services, mental health services, and foster care are among the projects endangered by the legislation, which requires religious organizations to recognize and promote same-sex marriage everywhere except for religious ceremonies, religion classes and retreats.
“It doesn’t need to be that way,” Archbishop Wuerl said.
“While we do not agree with the council on redefining marriage, we recognize that it is firmly committed to opening marriage to homosexual couples,” he added. “We are asking that new language be developed that more fairly balances different interests — those of the city to redefine marriage and those of faith groups so that they can continue to provide services without compromising their deeply held religious teachings and beliefs.”
The archbishop explained that the archdiocese was joined in its call for stronger religious freedom protections by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, and nationally recognized legal scholars.
He said the legislation offers “little protection” for religious beliefs and no protections for individuals, which he said is required under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Reporting that each year 68,000 people in the District rely on Catholic Charities for shelter, food, medical and legal care, job training, immigration assistance and other services, the archbishop noted that this assistance is provided to whoever needs it regardless of sexual orientation.
“Catholic Charities has a proven track record of high-quality service, supported through caring, qualified staff, thousands of dedicated volunteers and millions of dollars in financial support from parishioners all over the region. This legislation won’t end Catholic Charities’ services, but it would reduce unnecessarily the resources available for outreach.”
Archbishop Wuerl expressed hope that city council members will work with the diocese so that religious organizations’ decades-long service to the District may continue “without compromising the tenets of their faith.”