In an interview with Rocky Mountain News, Archbishop Charles Chaput further explained his position on a proposed Colorado law that could threaten the identity of Catholic organizations that accept government funds.
Q: The most straightforward interpretation of your column suggests that you will shut down Catholic Charities if this bill - or any bill - passes which restricts your ability to hire or fire based on Catholic religious standards. Is that a correct reading of what you will do?
Chaput: No. Catholic Charities will continue its core mission to the poor with or without public funds. If the government wants to carry the burden it currently asks religious-affiliated groups to carry, that's the government's business, and so are the costs and problems that go along with it.
What I actually said is that Catholic Charities "is an arm of Catholic social ministry. When it can no longer have the freedom it needs to be 'Catholic,' it will end its services." At this point, HB 1080 is only a bill; a bad bill — but not yet the law. If HB 1080 were to become law, that would be the time for us to make service decisions based on the content of the law. But if you're asking me whether I meant what I said about closing services rather than compromise our religious identity, I most certainly did.
Q: What current standards do you and the Catholic archdiocese demand of your employees when it comes to sexual orientation and religion?
Chaput: We expect our employees to respect Catholic teaching and support it in their professional lives. That's logical and just because the Catholic community has a religious mission. Obviously, we respect the personal lives of our employees. We have no interest, nor does any other sensible employer, in intruding on their privacy or family autonomy outside their service to the Church. But it's self-defeating to imagine a Catholic-affiliated ministry where the key guiding people can't be required to be Catholic.
Q: You note that Catholic Charities already employs many non-Catholics. Obviously, you aren't discriminating against them in your hiring practices even today. So what's the danger of this law — its worst-case effect? Please give some specific examples of how it could impact an agency like Catholic Charities.
Chaput: I think I've said what I need to say pretty clearly in my Jan. 23 column, and Chris Rose amplified on that well in his Jan. 30 letter to the Denver Catholic Register.
Q: How do you respond to those who say, "Oh, the archbishop is just playing politics by threatening to shut down Catholic Charities. Would he really deny services to the poor and disadvantaged — take milk from babies' mouths — just to keep from complying with established discrimination laws?"
Chaput: Christians were delivering services to the poor long before government got into the business and will continue to do so long after any of us are around to argue. The Church didn't start the HB 1080 debate. We had it pushed on us. HB 1080 has bad implications for all religious service organizations, not just Catholic ones. This unfortunate bill and its fallout are entirely the work of others. But anyone who thinks the Catholic community is 'playing politics' on this matter is seriously mistaken. We're eager to cooperate with anyone of good will. Catholic Charities has a long track record that proves it. But we won't be used by the government to provide services, often at a financial loss to ourselves, and then be told we can't hire key people according to our religious identity because it allegedly compromises the public good. That's unjust, bad for the poor, alien to American history, and offensive to religious believers.
Q: Your opposition to this bill will also have some people wondering, "But isn't any kind of discrimination against groups of people just plain wrong? Shouldn't religious groups that believe in helping people want to outlaw every kind of discrimination, no matter what kind it is?" What do you say to them?
Chaput: I'd ask them to use their common sense. It's reasonable for a religious organization to ensure and protect its religious identity. It's also reasonable to expect religious organizations to refrain from proselytizing when using public funds.
But it's unreasonable — in fact, it shows a peculiar hostility toward religion — to claim that religious organizations will compromise the public good if they remain true to their religious identity while serving the poor with public funds. That's just a new form of prejudice using the 'separation of Church and state' as an alibi.
Published with permission from the Archdiocese of Denver