The National Catholic Reporter broke news this week that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) lobbied last year against legislation to fund a national suicide hotline because it would also fund LGBTQ-specific care, which is only the latest use of their political weight to stop pro-LGBTQ initiatives.
Christopher White reported on the USCCB’s opposition to the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, approved by Congress last fall, because of the law’s LGBTQ funding provisions. His report continues about the USCCB’s ongoing efforts to impact U.S. lawmaking:
“A similar path has been taken by the U.S. bishops since March 2013 toward the Violence Against Women Act, bipartisan legislation that established a separate office and additional funding for the prosecution of violent crimes against women.
“‘All persons must be protected from violence, but codifying the classifications “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as contained in S. 47 is problematic,” the bishops wrote in a statement signed by the heads of four committees and one subcommittee.
“Relatedly, the bishops have long opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), legislation that dates back to 1974 and has been proposed by each Congress since 1994. The bill prohibits discrimination in hiring and employment due to sexual orientation, and the bishops argue that it fails to distinguish ‘between sexual inclination and sexual conduct’ and does ‘not represent an authentic step forward in the pursuit of justice in the workplace.'”
The USCCB has also been an outspoken opponent of the Equality Act that is now before Congress. All of this, White writes, was “an effort to reject any legislation that acknowledges the category of LGBTQ persons.”
But the bishops’ conference opposition extends beyond even religious critics of the Equality Act, like conservative Christians, Mormons, and Jews. Concerned by the Equality Act’s exemption from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, these groups have proposed alternative legislation, Fairness for All Act, that would establish LGBTQ non-discrimination protects but allow wider religious exemptions. White comments on this topic, “Unlike many of their long-standing allies, the U.S. bishops reject this approach.” He continues:
“In a letter sent to [Fairness for All Act sponosr Representative Chris] Stewart in December 2019, the bishops said they could not support the legislation, warning that, along with concerns about what it would mean for Catholic charitable operations and conscience protections, ‘the ends (securing the included religious freedom protections) do not justify the means (establishing gender ideology as a basis for a national policy, further undermining the anthropological basis of the family).'”
Thomas Berg, a law and public policy professor at the University of Saint Thomas, joined a letter with First Amendment scholars to support the Fairness for All Act. His concern is that, with the bishops’ approach, “hostility to the LGBTQ community is the public face of Christianity.” Berg commented, “a refusal to consider LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws, even when balanced with significant religious liberty protections, makes it very difficult to dispel that attitude.”
Bondings 2.0 readers are well-acquainted with the USCCB’s ongoing and firm opposition to anything that would expand the rights of LGBTQ people. The bishops were often allies of Donald Trump in his administration’s fervor to rollback existing LGBTQ protections and implement new discriminatory policies in areas such as healthcare, social services, and education. The bishops’ conference’s stance when it comes to President Joe Biden has been antagonistic with the president’s pro-LGBTQ executive orders and support for the Equality Act being second only to abortion on the reasons why.
And yet, there is still something jarring about the bishops’ lobbying to stop even a suicide hotline for people in mental health emergencies because it would have funded LGBTQ-specific care. A beauty of the Catholic tradition is that, in its better forms, it avoids extremes. It is more comfortable with a “both/and” formulation and with finding third ways. It respects consciences and prioritizes pastoral care, all with the aim of doing justice. This tradition could be a rich resource for the bishops to navigate pluralistic, democratic society towards the common good of all. But, in contrast to this tradition, which they are tasked with preserving, the majority of U.S. bishops sink deeper into ideological partisanship. And it is people on the margins who pay the cost.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 26, 2021