In Georgia's religious-freedom debate, Catholic bishops sit on the sidelines

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles | Apr 07, 2016

Last week, under heavy pressure from powerful corporations, Georgia’s Governor Nathan Deal vetoed legislation that would have protected religious institutions from being required to approve same-sex marriages or to hire openly homosexual employees. In his veto statement the governor implicitly adopted the rhetoric of the homoesexual lobby, suggesting that any resistance to same-sex unions is intolerable. "I do not think that we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia," he said.

With that veto and that public statement, Governor Deal implicitly accepted the argument that any group which refuses to endorse homosexuality is engaged in invidious discrimination. How did Christian leaders react? Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention  denounced the governor’s stand as “shameful,” a “sellout to big business.”

And how did the Catholic bishops of Georgia respond to this disgraceful claim that the Christian faith is a form of bigotry? Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta and Bishop Gregory Hartmayer of Savannah announced blandly: “Gov. Nathan Deal has announced his intention to veto H.B. 757 and the debate will, thus, continue.”

Yes, the debate will continue. But which side will the bishops support: those who argue that Christians should be compelled to recognize same-sex unions as normative, or those who support the freedom of conscience? Their statement provided absolutely no clue:

Under these circumstances, the general well-being of the state requires that all respectfully acknowledge the worthy motivations on each side and progress into a future of dialogue which, more than continually revising legislative language, will focus on greater compassion and mercy so that every individual can develop his or her full potential.

So the Catholic bishops of Georgia, it seems, will sit on the sidelines, like spectators at a tennis match, watching the arguments batted from one side to the other.

And speaking of tennis…

Imagine, if you will, that an athletic young friend has told you that he hopes to win the Wimbledon championship this year, and asked you to pray for his success. You agree to do so. But then, as time passes, you learn that he is not practicing. Instead of working on his notoriously weak backhand, he is reading novels, playing video games—and sending out more requests for prayers. Wouldn’t you be annoyed? Wouldn’t you feel that you had been played for a sucker—that your prayers had been solicited under false pretenses?

Isn’t it inconsistent– if not downright immoral—to ask others to pray for something, if you are not willing to take the normal steps required in the natural order to achieve the desired end? For the past five years the Catholic bishops of the US have urged the faithful to fast and pray for the cause of religious liberty, most notably with the annual “Fortnight for Freedom.” That initiative itself is laudable. But the prelates’ pleas for prayerful support sound hollow if, when religious freedom is directly attacked, the bishops themselves remain on the sidelines.

 

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

Sound Off! CatholicCulture.org supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 13 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Louise01 - Aug. 12, 2016 11:09 PM ET USA

    Absolutely the Catholic community needs reforming and not only the clergy. Catholics are so ignorant and self-centered in their decisions on voting. What? Vote for the non-negotiable issues...not important to me! My pastor has more than once urged we pray for the conversion of America similar to the past when we were praying for the conversion of Russia.

  • Posted by: nix898049 - Jul. 26, 2016 1:32 PM ET USA

    All good comments! For myself, I find I agree with Phil. We need a reformed/reinvigorated Catholic presence. Then we may be blessed with leaders who are the country's good servants but God's first.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Jul. 25, 2016 1:55 PM ET USA

    "If you are a Catholic, and you wonder why the GOP does not produce candidates who unequivocally promote the culture of life, ask yourself whether today’s Republican Party is the right vehicle on which to place your political hopes." For this reason, I have not contributed to the GOP for the past two years, and make individual candidate and PAC contributions. Eventually, the GOP will go bankrupt and the slurpers will look for greener pastures.

  • Posted by: phineas - Jul. 23, 2016 5:58 PM ET USA

    "2016 Republican Party platform hailed as most pro-life, pro-family ever" in Lifesite News. Opposes Common Core. Opposes secular tyranny of globalistic movement. Favors 1st Amendment protection. Opposes onslaught of Muslim Brotherhood and jihad. "...whether you will be welcome in the GOP of 2017" is an odd question to ask. This grassroots movement is OUR movement, too!

  • Posted by: feedback - Jul. 23, 2016 2:06 AM ET USA

    The authors of the appeal don't think much of their fellow Catholics is they assume that they value Trump's candidacy for "His appeals to racial and ethnic fears and prejudice." The Catholic supporters that I know, value Trump primarily for his honesty.

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Jul. 22, 2016 11:50 PM ET USA

    I suggest that we pray that God use Trump to write straight with crooked lines, as he has done before.

  • Posted by: [email protected] - Jul. 22, 2016 10:36 PM ET USA

    Perhaps you still don't get it. I am Catholic and Republican and sick and tired of the GOP leadership both in House and Senate. I believe Trump will clean up the lying mess. Thanks for all your work but on this your only choice is Hillary. GOD help us.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Jul. 22, 2016 9:56 PM ET USA

    Some believe a Clinton presidency will do enduring harm that might not be reversible. The Trump phenomenon is a collective groan from very deep. It's also a reality check. A priest once said we receive the leaders we deserve. Disturbing as our reality is, is it undeserved? Were not Catholics- about 52%-pivotal in electing Obama? Where are the prelates? Who are the political confreres of Pope Francis seen in the photo ops? The reform might well be "squeezed" out of us as in a wine press.

  • Posted by: Archpriest - Jul. 22, 2016 6:18 PM ET USA

    May I point out that the Republican VP candidate is himself a former Catholic turned evangelical Protestant. Governor Katich is a former Byzantine Catholic turned to an evangelical Anglican group. As a priest I am increasingly seeing "former Catholics" who have turned elsewhere for spiritual fatherhood and leadership. While many of our bishops are good and holy men, as a group they are increasingly seen as out-of-touch, "clueless" and liberal political meddlers.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Jul. 22, 2016 6:17 PM ET USA

    I quit the GOP about 15 years ago when I realized it is staffed by politicians, not statesmen. I decided to support Trump in June 2015 after watching his performance in most of the debates. He was far and away the better candidate, standing with the Church on positions the other candidates would not touch, e.g.: the two-state solution in Palestine, willingness to negotiate with Putin and Kim Jong-un, his opposition to caretaking of illegals in prisons, his economic and foreign affairs reforms.

  • Posted by: BobJ70777069 - Jul. 22, 2016 6:03 PM ET USA

    Granted Trump has been, to say the least, no gentleman, his avowals of conversion to a pro-life position is to be preferred to HRC s strident support for abortion and every immoral, degenerate, perverted, and anti-Christian idea I can think of. Aren't we taught to vote for the candidate who is likely to do the least harm?

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Apr. 10, 2016 4:50 PM ET USA

    Abp. Gregory's position on "same-sex marriage" (26 June 2015): "The [U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing same-sex marriage] has made my ministry as a pastor more complex since it demands that I both continue to uphold the teachings of my Church regarding the Sacrament of Matrimony while also demanding that I insist upon respect for the human dignity of both those who approve of the judgment as well as those who may disapprove.” What is so complex about upholding the teachings of the Church?

  • Posted by: shrink - Apr. 08, 2016 10:15 AM ET USA

    This post by Phil is so pertinent to today's reading from the Acts5:34-42. At that time, the first acts of evangelization of the bishops and the pope was speaking "truth to power." The apostles were willing to be flogged rather than have their speech silenced by the power structures of their day. I suspect there would be a much more vigorous evangelization by the laity, if we observed our bishops being "flogged" by the media for speaking the truth about the sexual sins of our time.