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Catholic Bishops Now Oppose Violence Against Women Act

Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Good Samaritan”

Once upon a time, the USCCB produced a pastoral statement on domestic violence that opened with this sentence: “As pastors of the Catholic Church in the United States, we state as clearly and strongly as we can that violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified.” Among other things, the statement takes on those who would misuse scripture to justify domestic violence, and calls on the church to keep in mind three things: the safety of the victim (and any children in the home), accountability for the perpetrator, and either restoring the relationship or mourning its loss.

Once upon a time, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops supported the Violence Against Women Act. This is not that time. Not any more:

. . . we cannot support the version of the “Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013” passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate (S. 47) because of certain language it contains. Among our concerns are those provisions in S. 47 that refer to “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” All persons must be protected from violence, but codifying the classifications “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as contained in S. 47 is problematic. These two classifications are unnecessary to establish the just protections due to all persons. They undermine the meaning and importance of sexual difference. They are unjustly exploited for purposes of marriage redefinition, and marriage is the only institution that unites a man and a woman with each other and with any children born from their union.

The Senate’s decision to incorporate into S. 47 a title reauthorizing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act also raises concerns because this title omits language to protect the conscience rights of faith-based service providers to victims of human trafficking. . .

And thus do Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, 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 see someone lying in the ditch, and pass by on the other side — an increasingly common practice for US Catholic bishops. So much for concern for the safety of victims, accountability for perpetrators, and restoring or mourning broken relationships. All that is trumped by concern for what the bishops perceive to be threats to themselves and their interests.

These bishops affirm the earlier pastoral statement, and repeat that sentence quoted above that violence against women is never justified. It is clear, though, that they believe that only straight women deserve the fullest protection in law. The bishops call the addition of sexual orientation provisions unnecessary, but Patrick Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and chief sponsor of VAWA, begs to differ:

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act also emphasizes the need to provide services and support to all victims of domestic and sexual violence. The bill will help to ensure access to services for all victims of domestic violence through a uniform non-discrimination provision that, for the first time in VAWA’s history, provides inclusive language to ensure that victims seeking assistance cannot be denied services based on gender identity or sexual orientation, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, or disability.

That, finally, is what the bishops are most nervous about. Don’t force us to provide services to lesbians or the transgendered!

The second objection is similar: don’t force us to provide morning-after medication and the full range of legal medical options to victims of human trafficking! Say the bishops:

Conscience protections are needed in this legislation to ensure that these service providers are not required to violate their bona fide religious beliefs as a condition for serving the needy. Failure to have conscience protection for such service providers undermines a long-held value in our democracy—religious liberty. Absent those protections, S. 47 fails to prevent discrimination against faith-based providers of care, such as the USCCB, which for years has provided exceptional service and care to such victims. In the end, the victims of human trafficking are harmed because organizations such as the USCCB are unable to render services that reach them and serve their human needs.

Uh, no. If the USCCB decides not to reach out to these victims and serve their needs, that is their choice. The USCCB is deciding to put control and self-justification ahead of service and support. The USCCB is able to render services, but is choosing not to, because they want to protect their ability to discriminate and put their own religious beliefs ahead of the beliefs of others.

And is it just me, or are the bishops sounding a bit like well-mannered shakedown artists here? “Nice program you’ve got here — it’d be a shame if something were to happen to it” and “Give us what we want, or these powerless people get it” may work as statements of political leverage, but they sound a bit unseemly from a pastoral point of view, especially coming from bishops of the church. Whatever happened to Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:  “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it [provide help] to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me”?

Perhaps the USCCB might want to look at the experience of their German counterparts over the last couple of months. The German Catholic bishops recently had their noses rubbed in the mud for placing their theological hairsplitting ahead of the needs of rape victims, as well as their poor understanding of science. As a result of the public outcry, they rethought things a bit:

In mid-January, the [Roman Catholic] church in Germany was blasted after two Catholic hospitals in Cologne refused treatment to a rape victim due to concerns about the provision of emergency contraception in the form of the “morning-after” pill.

On Thursday [February 21], the German Bishops’ Conference completed an about-face on its approach to the treatment, saying that Catholic facilities in Germany were now free to prescribe such pills in rape cases, provided that the medication was used to prevent a pregnancy and not to abort an already fertilized egg.

As Pat Leahy noted (at the link above), “The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act is supported by over 50 national religious organizations, more than 200 national organizations, and 500 state and local organizations, including victim service providers, law enforcement officers, prosecutors and survivors themselves.”

Too bad the USCCB cannot count themselves among those religious organizations. Too bad for them, and too bad for the women in need.


h/t to Vincent van Gogh for his depiction of the story of the Good Samaritan (image in the public domain)

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

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