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The Silence Of California’s Catholic Bishops

A Catholic reader in California writes to complain that the state’s Catholic bishops are paying no attention to Assembly Bill 2943 an LGBT rights bill just approved by the Democratically-controlled state legislature. It now heads to the California Senate. As I wrote here last week, if passed and signed into law as written, the bill stands to strike a massive blow against religious liberty in California.

The Catholic reader said he went to the California Catholic Conference website to see how the state bishops’ lobbying arm was fighting the bill. It turns out that … they aren’t. It’s not even on their radar. The reader writes about the site:

These are the top legislative priorities of the Catholic Church in California while attendance is cratering and the state is proposing banning Christian books:

1) Expanding the CalWorks eligibility age from 19 to 20 years old

2) Getting grant money from the state to provide immigration services

3) A tax deduction for new teachers

4) Grants for school-based trauma recovery centers

5) Preventing juveniles from being tried as adults

6) Opposing using public money to provide abortion drugs on CSU and UC campuses

This list is simply breathtaking in its display of skewed priorities. The most pressing issues the Church is concerned about in the California legislature is tax credits for teachers and funding for immigration programs? The biggest challenges facing young people according to the CCC right now is getting kicked off CalWorks at 19? Even the opposition to public money for abortion drugs on campus is remarkable for the fact that it’s fighting a battle long since lost in the state.

Don’t get me wrong, these are all important issues in isolation. But the state is considering banning books explaining orthodox Christian teachings on sexuality and it’s nowhere on their radar. It’s maddening.

Your tithes at work, I guess. Are the state’s Catholic bishops simply ignorant, or do they actually not care about this legislation? If not, why not? Because they’re not interested in defending Catholic teaching on sexuality in the first place?

Any of you readers have any real insight on this? If so, please share.

UPDATE: The California Catholic reader writes back:

I think it’s a combination of things, listed in descending order of charity.

First, I think it may be a function of who they hire for these advocacy positions. A friend of mine who works with the CCC on advocacy is the social justice type and he reads books on these issues exclusively from the point of view of the left. The issues he thinks about and sees as important are shaped by that intellectual milieu.

I doubt he reads sites like The American Conservative, National Review or any other right-leaning website that would find AB 2943 alarming. The fact that he had never even heard of the bill was a good indication that he’s not even on the lookout for things like that.

The second factor might be the natural desire of people to take the path of least resistance. Obviously the Church has been beat up a lot recently on marriage and sexuality issues. Especially in a place like California, the chances of prevailing on those issues is slim. I can easily see those looking at priorities for legislative advocacy and deciding to focus on those areas where they might be able to find a sympathetic ear in Sacramento.

This tendency might be augmented by the habit you complain about frequently, the inability of church leaders to take the threats to religious liberty seriously. Even if they know about it, they may be dismissive of it because obviously such a blatantly unconstitutional bill would never pass, and even if it did, it would be struck down in court. So why bother, when all it would do is get you grief from the press and woke parishioners? Except we both know that this is a false confidence that’s underestimates the hostility to the Church in the dominant culture.

The least charitable interpretation is that those in charge of the CCC’s legislative advocacy know about the issue, but decide that protecting orthodox Christian teachings on sexuality isn’t worth doing. I’m more inclined to the previous two explanations (never ascribe to malice what can be explained by ignorance, etc.) but I can’t totally rule this one out either. The open hostility to orthodox Christian sexuality and conservative Catholics displayed by the dominant culture and prominent church leaders is no doubt reflected in who is hired for these positions.

The fact that so many of the bills that are on the CCC’s list have only the most tenuous connections to Church teachings while major religious liberty issues are excluded is also an indication that these folks might be using the Church’s remaining moral authority to engage in standard left-wing advocacy unrelated to the Church’s real needs. It’s no secret that our friends on the left co-opt institutions to serve their own ends, so it wouldn’t be surprising at all that they’ve done the same with the Church’s worldly advocacy efforts.

UPDATE.2: Reader Heidi makes a very important point:

Anyone that says that this isn’t a problem for Christians hasn’t realized that there are psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, counselors, etc… that are orthodox Christians. They are licensed by their state. What precisely are they going to do when someone comes in for counseling and that person asks their opinion, and help, on something such as a sex-change operation, or same-sex attraction? What if that patient asks for help on overcoming those feelings (in other words, they are unwanted and they want to learn to resist those unwanted thoughts and feelings). This law would indeed impact how those licensed individuals can respond to that patient. This is something all Christians who pay attention should push back against, not just Bishops of any denomination (and yes, I do realize it’s helpful when church leaders speak up).

Understand this clearly: the bill not only bans “conversion therapy,” but would also require therapists and others to affirm LGBT desire and behavior. This is especially problematic when it comes to transgenderism, which is not well understood, but which would be protected under the language of this bill, so that the only possible thing a psychiatrist or other mental health professional could say to a gender dysphoric person is: “Yes.”

PLUS — good news! The California Catholic Conference has come out against the bill! 

The California Catholic Conference (CCC) has voiced opposition to the bill, and released a letter on its website urging Californians to contact their legislators to prevent it from becoming law.

The conference is concerned that the bill’s definitions are too broad, and seek to prevent adults from making decisions for themselves.

“AB 2943 would take something completely intangible – ‘sexual orientation change efforts’ – and add it to the CRLA,” the conference said.

Further, given that conversion therapy is already illegal for people under the age of 18 in the state, the California Catholic Conference questioned, “why would proponents wish to take away the freedom of adults to seek counselling” for issues regarding sexual orientation or behavior.

Good for you, bishops. Where are the Protestant and Orthodox leaders on this bill?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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