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

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | 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 See full bio.

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  • 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.