Catholic Bishops: New Violence Against Women Act Undermines Religious Liberty

March 7, 2013 - 1:55 PM

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanzhez)

(CNSNews.com) - Five leading U.S. Catholic bishops--who chair committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops--issued a statement on Wednesday opposing the new version of the Violence Against Women Act, which was approved by both the Democrat-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House, and that President Barack Obama is scheduled to sign today.

The new act expands its coverage beyond women to homosexuals, bisexuals and transgenders, and includes language refering to “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

“These two classifications are unnecessary to establish the just protections due to all persons,” the bishops said in their statement. “They undermine the meaning and importance of sexual difference. They are unjustly exploited for purposes of marriage redefinition, and marriage is the only institution that unites a man and a woman with each other and with any children born from their union.”

The bishops also objected to the fact that the new act does not include conscience protections for organizations providing care to victims of human trafficking. Because of this, they say, the law undermines religious liberty.

“Conscience protections are needed in this legislation to ensure that these service providers are not required to violate their bona fide religious beliefs as a condition for serving the need,” the bishops say. “Failure to have conscience protection for such service providers undermines a long-held value in our democracy—religious liberty.

The five bishops who issued the statement included Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; and Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, who is chairman of the Committee on Migration.

Here is the complete text of the statement these bishops issued:

“The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has a history of supporting the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and of providing ongoing support to victims of domestic violence through our social service programs. This support is consistent with Catholic social teaching that reveres the inherent and inviolable dignity of all human persons. In our pastoral statement When I Call for Help, the bishops wrote: “As pastors of the Catholic Church in the United States, we state as clearly and strongly as we can that violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified. Violence in any form — ‘physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal’—is sinful.”

“Unfortunately, we cannot support the version of the “Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013” passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate (S. 47) because of certain language it contains. Among our concerns are those provisions in S. 47 that refer to “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” All persons must be protected from violence, but codifying the classifications “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as contained in S. 47 is problematic. These two classifications are unnecessary to establish the just protections due to all persons. They undermine the meaning and importance of sexual difference. They are unjustly exploited for purposes of marriage redefinition, and marriage is the only institution that unites a man and a woman with each other and with any children born from their union.

“The Senate’s decision to incorporate into S. 47 a title reauthorizing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act also raises concerns because this title omits language to protect the conscience rights of faith-based service providers to victims of human trafficking. We strongly supported efforts to include such provisions. Conscience protections are needed in this legislation to ensure that these service providers are not required to violate their bona fide religious beliefs as a condition for serving the needy. Failure to have conscience protection for such service providers undermines a long-held value in our democracy—religious liberty. Absent those protections, S. 47 fails to prevent discrimination against faith-based providers of care, such as the USCCB, which for years has provided exceptional service and care to such victims. In the end, the victims of human trafficking are harmed because organizations such as the USCCB are unable to render services that reach them and serve their human needs.

“The USCCB firmly believes in protecting the well-being and safety of all people from violence, especially from violence in the home. Indeed, the legislation passed by Congress contains several commendable provisions which strengthen protections against domestic violence and human trafficking.

“However, because of our other concerns with the bill, we were unable to support the overall legislation. Now that Congress has acted to change the law, we urge future action to revisit these concerns in the months ahead.”