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BROWN: Catholic Church playing hardball with groups that supported legalizing same-sex marriages

Updated: July 29, 2013 12:34AM



In an eye-opening display of hardball, the Catholic Church is threatening to cut off funding to local groups that work with the poor for being part of an immigrant rights coalition that endorsed legalizing same-sex marriages in Illinois.

The groups in question receive grants from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the anti-poverty arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

They also all happen to be partners in the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the state’s most influential advocacy group on behalf of immigrants.

The Illinois Coalition normally works cooperatively with the Catholic Church, which also is a leader on immigration issues. In fact, Catholic Charities is one of the coalition’s 130 partner organizations across the state.

But that relationship has been on the rocks since May 23, when the coalition issued a statement in support of “marriage equality” for same-sex partners.

That announcement ran directly counter to the Catholic Church’s strong opposition to same-sex marriage.

In the days that followed, church officials responded by contacting grant recipients affiliated with the immigration coalition and presenting them with a choice: Either withdraw from the coalition and renounce its gay marriage position or forget about the funding.

As a condition of their written agreements with Catholic Campaign for Human Development, grant recipients are expressly prohibited from pursuing any agenda that runs contrary to Catholic teaching.

ICIRR executive director Lawrence Benito refused to comment on the situation when I contacted him, as did leaders of the groups whose funding is endangered.

My sources tell me nobody wants to talk because they have a meeting scheduled with church officials for later this week and still hope to change some minds or find a compromise. Good luck with that.

In its original May 23 statement on marriage equality, the coalition nodded to the possibility that its position could be controversial with parts of its membership.

“While we recognize that there are differences of opinion within immigrant and faith-based communities regarding same-sex marriages, including among our members, the majority of our members — and therefore our organization — believe that a full respect for our state’s and our nation’s diversity demands that we not discriminate based on whom we love, and that we call upon an end to such discrimination in our local, state, and federal laws,” it stated.

Dylan Corbett, manager for mission and identity for Catholic Campaign for Human Development in Washington, said the organization was alerted to the situation by the Chicago archdiocese, which must approve the grants.

Corbett emphasized that no decisions have been made yet about what action to take.

“At this point, we’ve let the groups know there might be a problem,” he said tactfully. “We don’t want to be precipitous.”

Corbett said some of the groups receiving grants have indicated they were taken by surprise by the immigration coalition stepping into the gay marriage arena and had not been consulted in advance.

“If you’re part of a coalition, that would imply you support the coalition’s agenda,” he said.

Among the groups that received funds from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development for the 2012-2013 grant year were: Latino Union, Resurrection Project, United African Organization, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, ARISE Chicago, Chicago Workers Collaborative, Interfaith Leadership Project and Most Blessed Trinity.

Corbett said only grant applications for the 2013-2014 funding year, which started June 1, are in question. Some grants are made by the national organization, while others are made by the local archdiocese, but the archdiocese must approve all of them.

We’re not talking about huge money here. Most of the national grants run from $25,000 to $75,000. But in the non-profit world, every funding source is usually regarded as important.

As I’ve made clear in the past, too clear for some of you, I support the gay marriage bill that has cleared the Illinois Senate but never came to a vote in the House during the recently concluded legislative session.

I also consider it a mistake for the Catholic Church to step on its own laudable immigration mission in the name of enforcing the right to discriminate against gays and lesbians, although as a non-Catholic, I wouldn’t expect to be particularly influential on the subject.

“It’s in our interest to preserve these relationships,” Corbett said. “These groups are doing really good work.”

Let them continue their good work — and follow their own consciences on matters of public policy.



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