Charity begins at home, ends at city hall

Posted: Mar 26, 2006 5:05 PM

The last time the Roman Catholic Church and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors squared off on same-sex marriage, the Special City's thought police essentially forced Catholic Charities to renounce Catholic doctrine in order to continue receiving city funds it needs to care for the sick. With a similar battle looming, will city solons again be as intolerant as the Vatican it deplores?

 Here's the situation: Catholic Charities has placed 136 such children in good homes in the last five years, including five children with same-sex couples. As Catholic Charities Executive Director Brian Cahill explained, the previous S.F. archbishop, William Levada, exercised "pastoral flexibility" -- in looking beyond the Vatican's opposition to same-sex marriage so that the charity could provide loving homes for children who sorely need them.

 As Cahill explained, at any given time California has some 700 foster children who are "difficult to place." They have multiple handicaps, or they've been traumatized by neglect or abuse. Maybe they're older. Odds are better than even that it will take more than two years for agencies to find those children a permanent home, and those children are not best off in the foster-care system.

 "God bless any parents who are willing to come forward and take care of these kids," said Cahill. "Regardless of their sexual orientation, they are doing God's work, and we should commend them for taking care of kids that no one else wanted."

 Alas, after the same Levada donned his cardinal's red hat in Rome, he sent an e-mail to Catholic Charities in Boston and San Francisco that said, "Catholic agencies should not place children for adoption in homosexual households."

 Catholic Charities in Boston announced it will get out of the adoption business rather than violate state laws that forbid discrimination against gays and lesbians. Gay advocates won a political victory -- and unwanted children will pay the price.

 In the San Francisco Bay Area, Catholic Charities has announced no such change in its policy. The group sent out a statement that said it "will continue to serve the best interests of vulnerable children who need loving homes -- either the way we have been -- or in a new creative way."

 Beware: "creative" is Church Latin for "cave." Cahill hopes the church will not try to force Catholic Charities in San Francisco to stop these adoptions. I agree that the Vatican should put the children's best interests first.

 I also recognize that the church has a right to uphold its beliefs and don't believe city governments should tell religious groups what to believe. For its part, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution that cited the Levada e-mail: It's an "insult to all San Franciscans when a foreign country, like the Vatican, meddles with" the great San Francisco tradition of same-sex families. Being the supes, they threw in some of their favorite adjectives: "hateful," "discriminatory," "insulting" and "callous."

 Certainly the supes have a right to hector the church, even if they miss the irony that they, too, have meddled in the doings of Vatican traditions.

 In 1996, the city required all city contractors to provide staffers with domestic-partner benefits so that same-sex couples would enjoy the same benefits as married couples. Supporters said that the city was barring discrimination against homosexuals. Bunk. Catholic Charities, which provides loving care for those with HIV and AIDS, is hardly out to hurt gays, no matter what the Vatican thinks about homosexuality.

  The 1996 rule was a heavy-handed bit of work designed to force religious people to renounce church doctrine. It wasn't enough that they wanted to house and care for people with AIDS. Noooo, Catholic Charities also had to show it put City Hall doctrine before Vatican policies when it came to gay relationships. Catholic Charities concocted a "creative" agreement in order to let the charity provide staffers with a sexual-orientation-neutral form of partner benefits.

 It was an intolerant squeeze on religious freedom, "viewpoint discrimination." The devout need not apply. A decade later, the city can't pull funding for adoptions because it doesn't give Catholic Charities a dime for its adoption activities. It can, however, withdraw city dollars for Catholic Charities' programs for the homeless and people with HIV/AIDS. Once again, politics could trump healing.

 If the Special City so desires, it can make life hell for a charity that only wants to help people in need. If the Special City likes to, it can conduct another inquisition to make sure that charities strictly adhere to the supervisors' doctrine. Or maybe City Hall has grown up, and now realizes that tolerance is a two-way street.