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Is the Archdiocese of Washington about to extend benefits to same sex spouses?

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 07/23/15

This email arrived in my inbox this morning:

I recently read on The Church Militant website that the Archdiocese of Washington D.C. is planning to extend employment benefits to spouses of same sex couples employed in the diocese. I would love to see your thoughts on this on the blog. First question is: Why is the Archdiocese of Washington D.C. employing same-sex couples? Do their policies not contain a morality clause confining eligibility for employment to those persons who are not engaged in conduct which is deemed contrary to Catholic Doctrine and Morals? Second: How can the Diocese hope to be a lamppost to the faithful within the diocese on the issue of same sex marriage, when the diocese gives implicit approval to the practice?

I’m not privy to the employment practices of the Archdiocese of Washington, and can’t say how they determine who they hire or what (if any) “morality clauses” might be involved.

Also, the premise above isn’t entirely accurate. A little Googling revealed that the archdiocese has not decided what it plans to do. It appears to be weighing its options and “deliberating” extending benefits to gay spouses.

However, following the Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage, Cardinal Wuerl wrote on his blog:

On a very practical level, there is a concern about the new definition of “spouse” and its legal ramifications. In this area for example, we must find a way to balance two important values, the provision of appropriate health care benefits for all Church personnel including their spouses, and the avoidance of the perception that by doing so we accept a definition of marriage and spouse contrary to faith and revealed truth. CDW-portrait-fullFor decades the bishops of the United States have insisted that access to decent health care is a basic safeguard of human life and an affirmation of human dignity from conception until natural death. They have advocated that health care legislation should 1) ensure access to good quality, affordable health care for all; 2) retain longstanding requirements that organizations not be forced to pay for elective abortions or plans that include them, and 3) effectively protect conscience rights. We continue in this tradition. The Archdiocese of Washington has a long and recognized history of serving all people across this metropolitan area in education, health care, social services, outreach to the poor and needy and collaboration with all people of good will in building up the common good. We remain convinced that it is precisely by being true to our Catholic identity that we can continue to help realize a truly good and just society where all enjoy the benefits of peace, prosperity and freedom. These reflections come with the hope that we try clearly to respect the law of the land and its implications and at the same time we are equally clear on our understanding of marriage and what it means in the light of the Gospel. As our Holy Father, Pope Francis, reminds us, we are all sinners but sinners who have been embraced with the mercy of God and we must therefore all try to find a way of accompanying one another as we make our way through life and try in the light of the Church’s teaching to draw ever more close to the Lord Jesus.

You can read the whole post here.

On a hunch, I suspect there’s a boatload of complicated legal issues involved here.

But with the recent ruling of the Supreme Court, what can a church employer do? If a diocese finds out an employee is in a same sex marriage, and is seeking spousal benefits, can the employee be dismissed? Can benefits be denied? Can an employer, on religious grounds, decline to hire someone in a same sex marriage? Or can the employer even refuse to hire someone who is homosexual and might one day enter into a same sex marriage?

Smarter minds than mine are picking this apart and looking for answers. Like I said, it’s complicated (and could very well be costly.) I imagine these kinds of deliberations are going on in chancery offices all over the country.

It remains to be seen how church employers can and do respond. Stay tuned.

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