Charity And Justice In Washington DC

A reader writes:

I watched with dismay (as a gay Catholic myself) the utterly cringe-inducing Intelligence Squared debate recently linked on your website between Ann Widdecombe and Archbishop Onaiyekan (as the Catholics) and Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry (as the non-Catholics) on the other. With news of the threat from the Archdiocese of Washington to withdraw support for social services should the DC City Council legalize same-sex marriage (another cringe-inducing moment, but this time far more grievous), something struck me about an apparent inconsistency in the Church's understandings of charity and justice.

If you listen to Archbishop Onaiyekan, he states that the Catholic Church does not discriminate when it comes to providing relief to those in need. Indeed, he's probably generally right about that–I've heard evangelical Protestants criticize the Church on exactly this issue, namely, the practice of performing corporal works of mercy without directly proselytizing the beneficiaries. I think this is the result of the Church's understanding that charity is the highest of theological virtues, and I think it's praiseworthy. Moreover, as St. Thomas would have noted, the goods of the earth belong to all, so it is a matter of justice that they be distributed accordingly (however problematic this is in practice). In this sense charity and justice do not conflict.

But this gets thrown into question with the Washington, DC, Archdiocese's recent actions. Let's put aside the legitimate outrage that many are feeling that the Church is holding the homeless and needy hostage in order to get its way on same-sex marriage, though this in itself is a huge issue. Instead, look at the glaring inconsistency of the Church's position with regard to gays and lesbians themselves: The Church claims that justice actually demands discrimination against gays and lesbians in certain matters: for example, the granting of civil and economic rights associated with marriage, housing (landlords shouldn't be forced to violate their consciences and rent to gay co-habitators, for example), employment in certain professions, etc.

So let's grant that justice is indeed served by discriminating against gays and lesbians on certain issues. The upshot is that gays and lesbians potentially are left without various primary goods: homes, jobs, food, medical care, health insurance, etc. What though does charity demand? If we follow the Church's traditional practice, as articulated by Onaiyekan, charity would demand that the Church provide for needy gays and lesbians–regardless of their life-choices/faith/orientation, etc.–all those aforementioned primary goods without condition.

In other words, we have a situation where charity and justice conflict, something that is supposed to be impossible according to JPII's Veritatis Splendor or Benedict's Caritas in Veritate.

I fear that what we have is a hierarchy so fixated on an abstract fundamentalism that it has decided to forgo concrete charity. It is far more preoccupied with a Pharisaical orthodoxy that it has forgotten Jesus' message. It grieves me, but I am sad to say it does not surprise me any more.