Media Responds to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was held in Baltimore last week. As expected, the Conference claimed that the Catholic Church is “suffering persecution” because of the passage of marriage equality and inroads made by advocacy groups for legal protections for LGBT people. GLAAD issued a Story to Watch, alerting our followers to the potential stories that could come from the conference. A number of essays and opinion pieces have been published in the wake of the USCCB’s claims and formation of the “religious liberty” campaign. Below is a collection of highlights from those responses.

Peter Montgomery, author of Catholics Fire Back at Bishops’ Anti-Gay Campaign for Religion Dispatches, highlights the Catholics for Equality press conference that was held last week. Catholics for Equality, a lay group advocating for LGBT equality, called the “religious liberty” campaign an attempt to distract attention away from those American Catholics who are relatively tolerant of LGBT issues and the ever increasingly severe anti-gay positions of Catholic hierarchy. The “religious liberty” campaign falls on the heels of Archbishop Silvano Tomasi’s opposition to the U.N.’s recognition of LGBT rights as human rights. The new anti-marriage equality website, also launched this week, makes it quite clear that Catholic hierarchy is vehemently opposed to legal protections for LGBT couples, including domestic partnerships and civil unions.

In What the USCCB’s New “Religious Liberty” Initiative Took from Evangelicals, Sarah Posner, also in Religion Dispatches, points out that the rhetoric coming out of the USCCB sounds eerily like rhetoric from Christian evangelicals. The USCCB and Christian Evangelicals have both issued similar edicts, accusing culture of trying neuter religion, pushing it “back into the sacristy.”

This has not been the first time that Catholics have used rhetoric similar to Christian evangelicals. The Manhattan Declaration, released in 2009, was congratulated for its ecumenism, coalescing the relationship between Catholics and Christian evangelicals. The document, now boasting nearly half a million signatures, claims that there is a need to ‘protect’ conservative Catholic and Christian evangelical religious freedom “from the scourges of LGBT rights, reproductive freedom, feminism, and secularism.”

The USCCB’s claims that the public square is “neutering” religion do not sit well with Bloomberg Media’s Michael Kinsley. In his article Catholic Bishops Issue Hallow Pleas for Sympathy, Kinsley argues that despite the claims made by the USCCB, Christians and Catholics seem to be everywhere you look. With such a presence, Kinsley argues that by taking such a hard-line stance against social issues, such as abortion and marriage equality, Catholic leadership is on the wrong side of history.

Rev. Susan Russell painted a more theological response to Md. Bishops Call on Catholics to Oppose Same-Sex Marriage, an article that ran in the Baltimore Sun on November 9, 2011. In Bishops Behaving Badly, which ran in the Huffington Post earlier last week, Russell scoffed at the notion that protections for same-sex couples, civil unions and marriages are a threat to religious liberty. This, says Russell, goes against the Ninth Commandment and bears false witness to the First Amendment.

And the fact of the matter is that Americans are growing more and more supportive of marriage equality and protections for LGBT people. Has Religion Been “Neutered” in the Public Square, published by Faith in Public Life, accuses the USCCB for failing to address other, arguably more important, moral challenges. Faith in Public Life purposes that perhaps there are other pressing matters at hand, such as the housing crisis and unemployment, yet Catholic hierarchy appears to be stuck on ‘protecting’ their religious liberty from marriage equality and LGBT protections.

A blogger for Faith in Public Life worries that “bishops are losing touch with the real-life challenges of Catholics in the pews.” He finds this to be especially troubling considering “the bishops’ proud history of laying the moral groundwork for landmark social reforms like minimum wage and insurance for the elderly, disabled and unemployed.”

GLAAD applauds the variety of responses to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which have posited positive words and images of faithful support for marriage equality, and questioned the need for this so-called “religious liberty” campaign. If you observe problematic coverage of the conference, be sure to report it to GLAAD.