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Bishops React to Obama’s Executive Order on Hiring Discrimination

© SAUL LOEB / AFP
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“Unprecedented and extreme,” say chairman of religious freedom and marriage committees.

The bishops chairing two important committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have blasted President Barack Obama’s July 21 executive order prohibiting discrimination based on “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” as “unprecedented and extreme.”  

According to Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, head of the bishops’ religious liberty committee, and Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, who chairs the marriage and family committee, the order threatens religious liberty and is deeply flawed in its understanding of sexuality. “In the name of forbidding discrimination, this order implements discrimination,” their joint statement declares.

Though the bishops’ statement downplayed the financial aspect, the policy puts at risk nearly a billion dollars in federal funds for social services and foreign aid the government pays to Catholic agencies annually, translating into salaries for thousands of staff and non-discriminatory assistance to millions world-wide. The bishops warn that “contractors that disregard sexual inclination in employment face the possibility of exclusion from federal contracting if their employment policies or practices reflect religious or moral objections to extramarital sexual conduct.”

Perhaps mindful that much of the Catholic laity support gay rights (about 60 percent favor same-sex marriage, according to a March poll by Pew)  some bishops let the the two chairmen do all the talking. The USCCB as a whole issued no statement. The usually outspoken Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia would not comment. Los Angeles’ Archbishop Jose Gomez could not be reached. L.A.’s communications office let  the archdiocese’s priest in charge of ministering to gays and lesbians handle the response to Obama’s executive order.

Said Father Chris Ponnet: “Under the New Evangelization, mercy and love must be proclaimed in every situation, and to gay and lesbian persons in particular, along with responsibility.”

If there were nothing in Ponnet’s response to the executive order about the executive order, then, what was there in the statement from Bishop Malone and Archbishop Lori, complained National Catholic Reporter columnist Michael Sean Winters, about Jesus Christ?

“Call me foolish, but I find it astonishing that a statement signed by an archbishop and a bishop on behalf of other bishops fails to mention God, makes no reference to the Bible, and is so utterly devoid of pastoral sensibility. This is the work of a lawyer, not a bishop.”

The issue, as Winters knows, is whether Christian pastoral agencies will be forced to either give up all federally-funded work or be forced to hire practicing homosexuals. An ecumenical group of Evangelical Protestant  and Catholic leaders, including Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities, and Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America, last month sent President Obama an open letter appealing for a religious exemption in the anticipated executive order. Father Snyder responded to the actual executive order with approval, Schneck with disappointment.

Said Father Snyder: “We are pleased that the Executive Order signed today by the President upholds already existing religious exemptions that will allow us to maintain fidelity to our deeply held religious beliefs. Specifically, we are pleased that the religious exemption in this Executive Order ensures that those positions within Catholic Charities USA that are entrusted with maintaining our Catholic identity are to be held exempt.”

He was referring to a 2002 executive order made by President George W. Bush exempting religious organizations from federal anti-discriminatory measures. Obama’s order means Catholic organizations can keep homosexuals out of only a few top jobs with specific Catholic content, but that is enough for Father Snyder.

Schneck admitted to Aleteia his “disappointment” that there was not a broader exemption but “relief” that Bush’s 2002 order was not touched.

This, he said, leaves a conflict which the courts will resolve. “Given recent decisions at the Supreme Court and the lower courts, once this new order is challenged, I see more wiggle room for religious organizations than the bishops appear to think there is,” said Schneck.

Steve Weatherbe writes and blogs from Victoria, B.C., as faithvictoria.wordpress.com and reports regularly for thechristians.com.

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