Leading Catholic Bishop Supports New DOJ Religious Liberty Task Force

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz speaking at the Department of Justice

A leading U.S. bishop was present at a gathering where the Trump administration announced its new religious liberty task force, showing a sign of support for an initiative with great potential to harm LGBT equality.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville addressed a Department of Justice (DOJ) gathering on religious liberty earlier this week where Attorney General Jeff Sessions  announced that the Department had formed a religious liberty task force.

Kurtz, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Religious Liberty, spoke at the meeting about Catholic teaching on religious liberty, but then indirectly criticized anti-LGBT nondiscrimination efforts. Crux reported Kurtz’s contribution to the meeting:

” ‘When activists try to force Christian ministries to violate their consciences, they force Christians into a bind. Service is in our DNA, but so is the truth about the human person. . .One of our biggest concerns is the ability of our child welfare organizations to place the foster children with families consistent with our teaching.’

“He explained that the opioid crisis, among other things, was leading to a noticeable increase in the number of children requiring help from child welfare organizations.

“n’Yet, as a real crisis emerges, faith-based child welfare providers are being targeted for closure because of the convictions about the family. Service providers who have a track record of excellence have been shut down.'”

“He mentioned that the city of Philadelphia was trying to force Catholic foster care providers to comply with its nondiscrimination policies and require them to place children with same-sex couples, and that the ACLU sued the state of Michigan because Michigan has a law permitting foster care agencies with religious beliefs to reject qualified same-sex couples as placements.”

Kurtz’s implication is that faith-based social service providers should be able to deny adoption and foster care services to LGBT people. The archbishop added that “we should look to have all hands on deck when it comes to tackling the greatest needs of our day.”

In Philadelphia, the city cut ties with Catholic Social Services, which would not abide by anti-LGBT nondiscrimination protections and has prompted a brewing legal battle. A lawsuit is also pending in Michigan and, in the past, Catholic agencies in Washington, D.C. and Massachusetts ended foster care and adoption services rather than help same-gender couples.

Other Catholic-related issues were raised at the Department of Justice meeting. Both Kurtz and Attorney General Jeff Sessions mentioned the so-called HHS mandate under President Barack Obama that required employers to provide access to contraception as part of health insurance benefits. Sessions also referenced moments when members of the U.S. Senate asked nominees for judicial and executive appointments about their religious beliefs.

LGBT advocates sharply criticized the new task force. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat congressional candidate who is Catholic, tweeted:

“‘I highly doubt that Sessions and this administration, who fought to ban Muslims from this country, value ‘religious liberty’ at all. . .They believe in and prop up a false, zero-sum world where the expansion of one’s rights must come at the cost of another’s. Vote them out in November.'”

Elsewhere, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign said it was another step in the Trump administration’s “sanctioning discrimination against LGBTQ people.” Tim Teeman of The Daily Beast said the administration had declared a “holy war” against LGBT people.

At the USCCB’s spring meeting in June, Kurtz said his Committee on Religious Liberty planned to  seek new approaches to promote the bishops’ understanding of religious liberty because public opinion increasingly views that understanding as a “license to discriminate.” Crux reported:

“The effort will include ‘choosing our language carefully’ through the use of ‘inspiring and relatable language that promotes the “gift” of religious freedom,’ he said. He used the example of faith-based agencies that face the threat of government shutdown because of their religious or moral convictions.

“The effort will focus on keeping the needs of children first, Kurtz said. ‘We also have emphasized that this is not the time to limit those agencies that are able to serve children and we’ve urged the need to make space in our culture to offer service with integrity of faith,’ he said.”

While U.S. bishops have resisted the Trump administration in certain arenas, notably on the rights of migrants and refugees, they seem to have no problem with the administration’s narrow understanding of religious liberty, even at the risk of denying the equality and human dignity of  LGBT people. Are the bishops concerned about protecting their institutions’ access to taxpayer funds or with promoting an expansive understanding of religious liberty that protects everyone’s human rights?  Most troubling in many of these disputes is that the bishops’ efforts are also harming children in need of loving homes.

It is time for bishops who oppose their counterparts’ abuse of religious liberty to speak out against the discrimination that is increasingly being given voice. These bishops must instead propose an authentically Catholic understanding of religious liberty that is entirely consistent with LGBT equality and focuses on communities in the U.S., like Muslims, Jews, and Sikhs, whose religious liberty is actually under attack.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 1, 2018

11 replies
  1. Don E Siegal
    Don E Siegal says:

    Catholic Bishop Supports DOJ Religious Liberty Task Force

    I have two points.

    Is anyone surprised? Did anyone really expect anything different from the USCCB? When the bishops ignore the respect and dignity they are obligated to honor in all persons, it makes it very difficult for the discriminated party to have that same respect and dignity that they are obliged to have even for those with whom they fundamentally disagree.

    When religious organizations enter into partnership with civil governments, what makes them exempt from following the civil laws of that government agency as written? If they cannot do that because of conscience, then they should refrain from providing the civil service altogether. One either provides the service to all eligible applicants or to none at all. Doing so has nothing whatever to do with religious freedom.

  2. Mary Jo
    Mary Jo says:

    Ah, the real Church appears from behind the new push for gentler semantics about LGBTQ folks. Did you ever doubt it? That this bishop stood in front of this hateful group should not be a surprise but try to take it as a wake up call. All the James Martins of the world will have a hard time fighting this abomination. And they want all of us to be “civil.” Really?

  3. Mrs Nugent
    Mrs Nugent says:

    Once again the hierarchy is supporting a man and his administration who have no moral standards. For the money? To support their homophobia, though many are gay? They are not supporting any kind of liberty by aligning themselves with this man in the White House.

  4. Father Anthony
    Father Anthony says:

    There are two ends to marriage. The first is unitive, the second is procreative. in the past the procreative aspect has been emphasized. This is no longer necessary because the world is populated now. The units have a special needs to take precedence but it is not being done that way. If the unit is a special for emphasize then marriage between same-sex couples and others would be okay. But as long as the intention of marriage is to have children nothing will change and we will continue to have discrimination and our official teaching even if it is not spoken that way.

  5. Loretta
    Loretta says:

    “Choosing our language carefully”. Actions speak louder than words. Sitting down with members of the Trump administration who willingly and gleefully rip children from their parents arms, hold them in prisons, deny access for verification of safety As reports of physical and sexual abuse emerge, deport 450 of those parents with little chance of ever seeing their children again , Administering drugs to these children, and leaving them traumatized even when finally reunited with their parent, with no plan or records to amend this sin against God and all that is holy while damning good and loving people who want to adopt abandoned children has only one word: hypocrisy.

  6. Clyde Christofferson
    Clyde Christofferson says:

    Even Archbishop Kurtz would agree that we are all on a journey to become more faithful to the Gospel. Current Church policy on LGBT is less faithful rather than more faithful to the Gospel. And to compound this insult the official Church touts that this lack in faithfulness to Christ is being perpetrated in the name of religious liberty. One can only hope that the Church’s lack of faithfulness in this matter reflects a temporary lapse in a journey that is continuing.

  7. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    “At the USCCB’s spring meeting in June, Kurtz said his Committee on Religious Liberty planned to seek new approaches to promote the bishops’ understanding of religious liberty because public opinion increasingly views that understanding as a ‘license to discriminate.’”

    Wolves in sheep’s clothing. Public opinion is seeing through the bishops’ brand of religious liberty to the real animus that lies at its heart. The bishops’ current brand of religious liberty has not been about liberty for individuals to practice and organizations to propagate their beliefs. It is at heart a conviction that bishops should be free to discriminate against women and LGBT people with impunity, while they continue to feed at the trough of public monies.

    Nor are “the truth about the human person” and “keeping the needs of children first” among the top priorities of these anti-women, antigay prelates. Their policies are based on beliefs, not truth or the needs of children.

    The current campaign to clothe the imposition of episcopal convictions on society without regard for truth and children, is reminiscent of the attempt to justify the ban on birth control and equality of women in the Church with specious arguments, and the Trump Administration’s attempts to suppress facts unearthed by the press with bold-faced lies.

  8. Tom
    Tom says:

    It has always seemed that when religious liberty is mentioned it isn’t about “liberty and justice for all” but rather about how a particular point of view can be upheld regardless of whether or not it discriminates against an other.

  9. Friends
    Friends says:

    A fabulous cascade of responses — all of them imbued with righteous and fully-justified indignation. These prelates — Kurtz and his cohorts — do not represent the Church that Jesus Himself bequeathed to His followers. Rather, they will use every trick in the book of deceptions to sabotage the Prime Directive of mutual love that Jesus Himself established for us. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”.

  10. Janelle Lazzo
    Janelle Lazzo says:

    In my very conservative parish, I have long realized that discussions about acting in accordance with one’s religious liberty too often means exercising one’s own personal bigotry . This does not always involve acting oneself to deprive someone else of their rights, but it can include standing by while others act in a discriminatory way and mounting no objection to that. When the hierarchy gets into the act, I think it is particularly heinous. It is amazing that the USCCB would align itself with an administration that professes to be pro-life but stands by while activities that would enhance the well-being of children already born are not supported. This would include failing to place children in the foster care of well-qualified same sex couples just because of their sexual orientation. This is definitely a Catholic Church policy I would like to see changed

  11. Richard Boyle, OSM
    Richard Boyle, OSM says:

    I cannot contain my own derisive laughter at the name given to the entity run by Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration, the so-called “Department of Justice.” And I further find myself nauseated by the association of the Catholic Church (through its official national identification in the USCCB) with that same DOJ. It’s all a sham to uphold power, self-serving ideology, and oppression of the weak, the marginal, and minorities of every description. I find the Gospel of Jesus and the actions of the corporate RCC going further and further in opposite directions.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *