If the Feds Demand Same-Sex Marriage, What Will Our Pastors Do?
America's Catholic bishops, and other church leaders, may face a choice between saving souls and the bricks and mortar.
If the logic of same-sex marriage as a constitutional right is pushed to the limit — and its giddy supporters show no sign of restraint, looting the culture like a horde of victorious Vikings — the federal government could soon strip orthodox churches of their tax exemptions. Then they’ll send church leaders the bill for hundreds of millions of dollars. Property taxes will be assessed on cathedrals and soup kitchens, on hospices and pregnancy shelters, on nursing homes and universities. School principals will pay business tax on the tuition scraped together by low-income families to shoestring religious schools, so they’ll have to raise it or close them. The money you give to your church will not be tax deductible — as it would have been if you gave it to Planned Parenthood. The state will treat your tithes the same as the money you lost in Vegas; perhaps you can write some of it off as an “entertainment expense.”
And I wonder what the leaders of our churches will do. I speak here as a Catholic, though I’m sure that my Protestant brethren are wrestling with their own set of anxieties. I was cheered when the Sunday after the same-sex marriage decision, the bishop here in Dallas had a statement read in all parishes, reaffirming our church’s commitment to natural, biblical marriage. But I have been less than inspired by other things that I’ve seen. On Fox News, Bill O’Reilly complained that his producers had approached bishop after bishop, seeking some spokesman to give the Church’s position. No one would do it.
There’s a palpable fear of Caesar at work here, but also something else. I am trying to figure out what that “x factor” is.
Explain for me, someone, the response of progressives’ dreamboat Chicago Archbishop Cupich to the same-sex decision: Along with a pro forma restatement of church teaching, he reasserted the need for “real, not rhetorical” respect for homosexuals and promised to “extend support to all families, no matter their circumstances, recognizing that we are all relatives, journeying through life under the careful watch of a loving God.” He made no mention of the court’s challenge to religious liberty.
What’s going on in London, where the Cardinal-Archbishop of Westminster, the leader of Britain’s Catholics, approved a group of “Catholic” gay activists marching in London’s gay pride parade? His spokesman explained that their presence was a form of “evangelization.” Could that well-paid church bureaucrat keep a straight face as he said that? How beaten-down, docile, or foolish does he think we Catholics are? Do Catholic civil-rights groups march arm-in-arm with the Klan as an evangelistic enterprise?
It’s alarming to recall that several prominent bishops at the last Synod on the Family proposed language that would have undermined Catholic teaching on this subject at its root, asking that the Church recognize the special gifts that gay Catholics bring by virtue of their sexual orientation. That language was mercifully struck from the final draft of the document, but those bishops were not disciplined, or even publicly corrected. Indeed, they recently held a secret meeting planning their strategy for the next Synod.
The bishops acted forthrightly against the HHS mandate, which demanded that Catholic institutions underwrite their employees’ use of contraceptives, including abortifacients. It was brave but a no-brainer, since unborn lives were involved. That factor attracted support from many Protestant churchmen, and brave owners of businesses such as Hobby Lobby. Everyone accepts the fact that Catholic bishops oppose abortion, and they would have been utterly discredited had they done anything else.
But I wonder, really wonder, what bishops will do in this case, if the Feds insist that they hire people in same-sex “marriages” to teach in Catholic schools, and then that they perform same-sex weddings in their churches — or else pay tens of millions of dollars in taxes on their property.
Few noticed the reaction when the Obama administration insisted that non-profit groups who receive federal contracts must comply with non-discrimination rules, and hire openly gay employees, including those in same-sex marriages. This order seemed to threaten lucrative partnerships with the federal government, especially the bishops’ involvement in resettling immigrants.
Our bishops condemned the order, but I have been unable to find the names of any Catholic federal contractors who lost government business rather than comply. (Perhaps they exploited the loophole in the order allowing church agencies to refuse to hire gays for specific jobs germane to the “religious identity” of the agencies.) Catholic Charities, which since 1997 had pressured the church in San Francisco to offer benefits for domestic partners, responded by announcing it was pleased with the order, and already in full compliance. Catholic Relief Services condemned the order, but a year later we learn that a vice-president of Catholic Relief Services is a gay activist who has contracted a same-sex “marriage.”
Bill O’Reilly cited the sex abuse crisis as a possible source of bishops’ reticence to speak out in defense of religious liberty. He wondered if they thought their credibility was too tainted, given that as of 2002, two-thirds of U.S. bishops had been implicated in cover-ups. I disagree; the bishops seem quite unabashed about intervening in U.S. politics when it comes to poverty programs and immigration. But many bishops’ behavior in the sex abuse crisis does give us an ominous hint about how they might act in the current crisis.
As prosecutors argued in court summation arguments and internal church documents reveal, the best explanation of bishops’ appalling failure to remove and report sex abusers is simple: worldliness. When confronted with middle-aged men who seduced vulnerable teenagers, their reaction was to worry about the church’s bottom line. If they didn’t stifle this secret, would they be subject to lawsuits? Would the church’s reputation suffer, and would donors divert their money elsewhere? What would happen to their diocese’s insurance premiums? At all costs, at the cost of countless ruined lives, of young souls twisted and alienated from Christ, these bishops acted to save the bricks and mortar. And in an irony worthy of Dante, that very choice cost them hundreds of millions of dollars.
The bishops could soon face a much more ominous threat to their finances, and instead of tort lawyers they would be threatened by the full force of the U.S. federal government. Will they stand firm and risk those magnificent Gothic buildings, those vital health care centers, that network of schools that serves the urban poor? Or will they tell themselves that the really “Christian” thing to do will be to listen to the culture, to maintain their mission as best they can by tweaking their public witness, to save not souls but bricks and mortar?
It might just take a miracle to keep the Catholic hierarchy in America on track with the church’s perennial teaching on marriage. But all things are possible with God.
This article has been modified since it was originally published.