Friday, October 7, 2011

Footnote to Catholic Charities Story in Illinois: Peoria Group Continues Mission, Drops Catholic Designation

A quick footnote to a story I've discussed several times on this blog: as I've noted in a number of postings, the Catholic Charities organization in Illinois has been pressing for the "right" to receive lavish state funding for its programs, while refusing to adhere to state non-discrimination laws.  In particular, the organization wants to continue enjoying the "right" to discriminate against same-sex couples as it places adoptive children in homes.  

Back at the end of August, I discussed this issue and the response of the bishop of Peoria, Daniel Jenky, to it when I noted that Jenky was insisting that the state of Illinois had declared war against the Catholic church through its refusal to grant the church the "right" to discriminate while receiving taxpayer support.  Jenky's position is part and parcel of a broader strategy of many U.S. Catholic bishops under the leadership of Timothy Dolan to maintain that the religious liberty of Catholics is under attack insofar as Catholic officials and organizations are not allowed the special "right" to discriminate against gay and lesbian persons--while receiving state and federal funding for initiatives in which the bishops insist they must have the "right" to engage in discrimination.

And now a footnote to the Peoria story: as Heidi Schlumpf reports at National Catholic Reporter, yesterday Catholic Charities of the Peoria diocese announced that it is transitioning to a new non-profit status unaffiliated with the Catholic church, which will provide adoption and foster care services to same-sex couples in civil unions.  Catholic Charities of the Joliet, Springfield, and Belleville dioceses are continuing to maintain that they must have the "right" to discriminate while receiving taxpayer dollars, and are also maintaining that they have a "right" to state support.

The decision of Catholic Charities of Peoria will, of course, be spun by right-wing Catholics as evidence supporting Jenky's and Dolan's claim that the church is under attack by godless secularists who do not respect Catholic beliefs.  In fact, you can see that meme already developing in this Commonweal blog thread responding to a posting of David Gibson about an EEO training session at a Texas state university which has lit fires around the conservative Catholic blogsphere.  Note how Commonweal regular Kathy Pluth seeks to insert the Peoria story into a discussion with another regular, David Nickol, as she suggests that the Peoria case illustrates that Catholics are being forced "to choose between their beliefs and doing charity work."

As if Kathy and her right-wing political positions represent all Catholics.  And as if no Catholics at all in the U.S. think that Catholic organizations have no right to discriminate against gay and lesbian citizens while taking state funding.  And as if there are no options other than maintaining a Catholic "right" to discriminate against those who are gay, or closing one's doors as a charitable organization when that "right" is denied.

Though the decision Catholic Charities of Peoria has just made illustrates precisely that there is, indeed, a middle way . . . .  But it's unfortunately not one that the bishops and those who claim the title Catholic exclusively for themselves, like Kathy Pluth, want to acknowledge, as they draw a line in the sand over this issue of the "right" to discriminate against gays, and as they read gays out of their church.

(The middle ground's quite simple, really: keep doing your charitable work.  But stop discriminating.  Because discrimination is the very antithesis of anything that charity means.)

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