The limits of a charitable calling

THE LIMITS OF A CHARITABLE CALLING…. I’ve always found the Book of Matthew rather beautiful: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me….”

It goes on to say, “Unless you live in a city where gays can get married, in which case, to hell with it.”

OK, it doesn’t really say that last part, but the D.C. Archdiocese may be confused on the point.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn’t change a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.

Under the bill, headed for a D.C. Council vote next month, religious organizations would not be required to perform or make space available for same-sex weddings. But they would have to obey city laws prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

“If the city requires this, we can’t do it,” Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said Wednesday. “The city is saying in order to provide social services, you need to be secular. For us, that’s really a problem.”

Keep in mind, Catholic Charities receives quite a bit of taxpayer money to do social service work — contracts that existed long before Bush’s “faith-based” initiative. The archdiocese is now saying it would abandon its charitable contracts with the city if local officials legalize same-sex marriage.

Or as my friend Rob Boston put it, “Let me get this straight: The church is saying, ‘Unless you bow to our demands, we’ll stop taking your money’?”

Catholic Charities seems to want tax funds with no strings attached. The Post reported that from 2006 through 2008, Catholic Charities received about $8.2 million in city contracts to provide various services. The city is now asking them to abide by some reasonable anti-discrimination laws, laws that in my view they should have been following all along.

David Catania, a member of the D.C. who has pushed the same-sex marriage law, got it exactly right when he said, “If they find living under our laws so oppressive that they can no longer take city resources, the city will have to find an alternative partner to step in to fill the shoes.”

For the record, there are other charities in D.C. that contract with the city on social services. The archdiocese is the only one threatening to stop working with local officials over the marriage equality issue.