.- Leading U.S. bishops explained that despite a commitment to fight domestic violence, they could not endorse a prominent federal bill due to its inclusion of troubling gender and sexuality language.
“Unfortunately, we cannot support the version of the ‘Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013’ passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate because of certain language it contains,” several bishops explained in a letter.
Released by the U.S. bishops’ conference on March 6, the letter was written by Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore and Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles.
The bishops serve as the heads of conference committees involving domestic justice and human development, marriage and family life, religious liberty and migration.
Their letter discussed a bill to re-authorize previous versions of a 1996 anti-domestic violence law. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on March 7.
The bishops emphasized that legislation protecting individuals from domestic violence “is consistent with Catholic social teaching that reveres the inherent and inviolable dignity of all human persons.” They referenced a pastoral letter stressing that any form of such violence, “physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal,” is sinful.
However, the bishops continued, provisions in the recent bill “that refer to ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’” block their ability to support it.
“All persons must be protected from violence,” the bishops explained, however “codifying the classifications” is “problematic.”
These classifications, they said, “are unnecessary to establish the just protections due to all persons” and instead “undermine the meaning and importance of sexual difference.”
They warned that the new language threatens the understanding of marriage existing between a man and a woman. In addition, they said, the new terms “are unjustly exploited for purposes of marriage redefinition.”
In their letter, the bishops also praised the incorporation of the “Trafficking Victims Protection Act” into the anti-violence law, though they noted their concern that the act excluded conscience protections for service providers.
This lack of protection, they said, places faith-based groups that serve victims of human trafficking – such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – at risk of violating “their bona fide religious beliefs as a condition for serving the needy.”
In late 2011, the conference was told that it could no longer receive federal grants to run its highly-ranked program to help trafficking victims because it was unwilling to refer for contraception and abortion.
“Failure to have conscience protection for such service providers undermines a long-held value in our democracy – religious liberty,” the bishops cautioned, observing that without these protections, the bill “fails to prevent discrimination” against organizations that help victims.
“In the end,” they explained, “the victims of human trafficking are harmed because organizations such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are unable to render services that reach them and serve their human needs.”