Denver's Biggest Charity Group Threatened

Catholic Identity Jeopardized by "Anti-Discrimination" Bill

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DENVER, Colorado, JAN. 30, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The largest provider of charitable and social services in the Denver area is threatened by the draft of a new bill that could force the organization to ignore religious beliefs in hiring personnel.



In an editorial published today, the president of Catholic Charities defended the rights of his organization. Christopher Rose wrote that helping the poor and suffering is "not just the government's business. […] It's been the business of religious communities for centuries, and quite honestly, we often do it better and with fewer resources. That's why the government partners with us in the first place."

Rose's letter is the latest step in a debate over a draft bill called HB 1080. The bill deals with legislation the Colorado bicameral passed last year to prevent discrimination in hiring based on sexual orientation or religion. That legislation was amended, giving an exemption to religious organizations and nonprofits. HB 1080 seeks to scrap the amendment.

Archbishop Charles Chaput, in his weekly column of Jan. 23, said that Catholic Charities has a right to its religious identity.

The Denver prelate said that "Catholic Charities has no interest at all in generic do-goodism; on the contrary, it’s an arm of Catholic social ministry. When it can no longer have the freedom it needs to be 'Catholic,' it will end its services. This is not idle talk. I am very serious."

Archbishop Chaput went on to say: "Catholic organizations like Catholic Charities are glad to partner with the government and eager to work cooperatively with anyone of good will. But not at the cost of their religious identity.

"Government certainly has the right and the power to develop its own delivery system for human services. But if groups like Catholic Charities carry part of society’s weight, then it’s only reasonable and just that they be allowed to be truly 'Catholic' -- or they cannot serve."

Behind the scenes

The archbishop concluded his column voicing concern that the Anti-Defamation League was rumored to have a hand in drafting HB 1080.

Bruce DeBoskey, the regional director of the league, responded Jan. 24 with a letter protesting the archbishop's column and acknowledging that the Anti-Defamation league did help draft the bill. Rose, Catholic Charities' director, responded to DeBoskey's claims with today's letter.

He said that "what Mr. DeBoskey portrays as discrimination is actually the legitimate practice of faith-based agencies seeking to hire people of like faith to ensure that their mission of serving the poor is faithfully undertaken."

Rose agreed with DeBoskey that Catholic Charities is not the only organization threatened by the bill. He cited other organizations, including Jewish Family Services, which would also be affected.

"DeBoskey notes that Archbishop Chaput would oppose a religious test for employees who work for the government. That's true," Rose affirmed. "But in regard to HB 1080, it's also irrelevant.

"Jewish Family Services doesn't become a division of the U.S. Department of Human Services because it counsels low-income persons while receiving Medicaid dollars. […] If they do, then every private citizen becomes a government actor upon reaching age 65 and receiving Social Security benefits. And every taxpayer becomes a federal agency when he or she receives a tax rebate this spring. Receiving partial -- and sometimes inadequate -- compensation from the state to perform a public service does not transform a private agency into the government."

"The real effect of HB 1080 is to purge religious engagement from the public square by either religiously neutering religious service organizations or forcing them to abandon their ministries in cooperation with government," Rose added.

In Rome

Archbishop Paul Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, commented on Archbishop Chaput's face-off with the Colorado government when he presented Benedict XVI's Lenten papal message Tuesda, which focuses on almsgiving.

"This bishop is doing the right thing," the National Catholic Reporter recounted. "Theologically, charitable activity and the good deeds of the faithful are always connected to the proclamation of the Word. […] Service is always tied to testimony to the Word of God, and no one must break this connection."

"This points to a great contemporary problem," Archbishop Cordes said. "Thanks to the generosity of many donors, the charitable agencies of the Church are able to do their work. But this carries a risk that the spirit of a Catholic agency can become secularized, doing only what the donor has in view."