You’ve heard the phrases “Show me the money” and “Shut up and take my money”. But here in Chicago, we have an even better one. Politicians are now telling Catholic officials to shut up and give other people money. Yes, you read that right. Considering the large number of people who constantly scream “separation of church and state!!” (whenever Catholic clergy make a comment about a current event), you’d assume their belief in absolute “separation of church and state” would lead them to loudly oppose the state telling the Catholic Church what to do with its money. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case.
The controversy stems from an issue I brought up last month. In my “Let’s play Hardball!” column, I mentioned how the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant & Refugee Rights (ICIRR) issued a statement in May endorsing same-sex marriage in Illinois. They did so in the midst of a heated political battle in the Illinois General Assembly that they ended up losing. They also did so with the full knowledge that one of their top financial donors, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, was adamantly against so-called same-sex “marriage”. In response, Cardinal Francis George stated the Archdiocese of Chicago was seriously considering no longer funding the ICIRR during the 2013-2014 year. After all, the ICIRR was now actively working against Catholic beliefs.
Naturally, the Cardinal’s statement didn’t sit well with several prominent politicians in Chicago who support both gay marriage and the ICIRR. Although the matter is totally out of their hands since it involves one private organization refusing to fund another private organization, they nevertheless decided to inject themselves into the debate. Cook County Commissioners John Fritchey and Larry Suffredin; Chicago aldermen James Cappleman (46th), Patrick O’Connor (4th), Proco “Joe” Moreno, and Danny Solis (25th); City Clerk Susana Mendoza; and retired Cook County Judge Maureen Durkin Roy all signed a letter to Cardinal George, calling on him to continue funding the ICIRR. In their letter, they claimed “We write to you as loyal and proud Catholics to urge in the strongest possible terms that you rescind this threat. This action is not worthy of the church we know, love and respect.” They also accused the Cardinal of punishing immigrants, although the Archdiocese of Chicago continues to fund numerous other immigrant organizations that aren’t against Catholic beliefs, including Latino Union, Resurrection Project, United African Organization, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, ARISE Chicago, Chicago Workers Collaborative, Interfaith Leadership Project and Most Blessed Trinity.
There are several problems with the politicians arguments. First, although the politicians who signed the letter are indeed baptized Catholics, it seems unlikely any of them are “loyal and proud Catholics” who “love and respect” the Church as they claim. Do they regularly attend church on Sundays and follow Catholic teachings? No. Alderman Joe Moreno’s stance is particularly hypocritical, since he decries Cardinal George for wanting to “punish” organizations who disagree with him, yet Alderman Moreno was one the most outspoken advocates of trying to stop Chick-Fil-A from opening new restaurants in Chicago, simply because the company President disagreed with him about gay marriage. In the Cardinal’s case, he is not trying to stop the ICIRR from doing whatever they want in Chicago, he is simply saying they will have to do it with others money and not the Catholic Church’s. Likewise, Commissioner John Fritchey certainly wasn’t being a “loyal Catholic” when he regularly sponsored legislation to kill unborn children as a state legislator in Springfield. These examples can continue, but the bottom line is that each of the politicians writing Cardinal George has directly opposed the Catholic Church on a fundamental teaching of Catholicism, and they certainly haven’t done anything to demonstrate their “pride” in the Catholic Church.
Second, the argument that the Catholic Church should continue donating to an specific Immigrant rights group because they support helping immigrants overall is ridiculous. President George W. Bush has publicly promoted a “path to citizenship” for illegal immigrants for many years. Would any of the letter signers be willing to donate the President Bush’s Presidential Library because of his advocacy for immigrants? Certainly not, because his position on other issues are totally at odds with what they believe in. Since they are strong supporters of gay marriage, would they donate to Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter, Liz Cheney, in her recently announced Senate campaign? She has publicly endorsed gay marriage and lobbied for various “gay rights” causes, such as the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Again, no, because Liz Cheney is vehemently against them on numerous other issues. Yet they don’t believe the Catholic Church should exercise the same judgment when weighing with groups to donate to, and whether the bad decisions of these organizations cancel out whatever good work they’ve done.
Third, in contrast to political causes championed by the Catholic Church that enjoy a wide variety of support across political lines (for example, anti-Obamacare rallies and pro-religious freedom rallies had both Republican and Democrat speakers and attendees), the politicians demanding Cardinal George fund the ICIRR represent a very small, intensely partisan group. Every one of the so-called “loyal Catholics” who signed the letter is a party machine Democrat from Chicago. For a supposedly important “Illinois” organization, there was no calls from suburbanites, collar county voters, downstaters, or from Republicans, Libertarians, independents, etc., that the Catholic Church should be funding the ICIRR. All of the politicians signing the letter are also vocal proponents of gay marriage, so none of them can make the case they support funding the ICIRR in spite of its stand on marriage, because of the “good work” it does on immigration. In short, the politicians arguing this position speak only for a fringe interest group, and not for Illinois citizens as a whole.
Fortunately, because of the unreasonable position of these politicians, Illinois citizens have made it clear they agree with the Cardinal’s decision. Even on the Chicago Sun-Times website (a self described “progressive” paper that strongly supports President Obama, gay marriage, etc.) the comments from readers about this latest development were running heavily in favor of Cardinal George. One comment noted that the position of the ICIRR and the politicians supporting them was “We don’t want your values … just your money.”, another comment read: “The Church can use it resources how it sees fit. If you don’t like it, don’t give. But it can give as it sees fit, and that includes subjecting the “giving” to whatever “conditions” it wants…standing by its values. Since [they] don’t have values, they have a hard time understanding the concept.” The reader further noted the hypocrisy of the politicians claiming the Catholic Church is using immigrants as a “political tool”, noting sarcastically “And of course, no…politician would even think of using Hispanics as a political tool.” A third reader added: “Pull the funding if they broke the agreement and give it to those who will comply with church teaching. Good work Cardinal George!”
Still, the real irony is lost on those who are quick to yell “Separation of church and state” whenever the Catholic Church says something they don’t want to hear. This is a perfect example of separation of church and state. A private religious group funds an organization with certain conditions, and as the donor, they set the terms. The state has no say in the matter and nothing suggests that the recipient must accept the money if they don’t like the terms. If a politician doesn’t like it and feel that “immigrants” are being shortchanged, there is nothing stopping them from giving the ICIRR money from their own pockets to make up the shortfall, or by leaving office to start their own charity fund for immigrants.
As a lay Catholic who really is a “loyal and proud Catholic”, I have to side with Cardinal George on this one as well. I do not do so because I blindly agree with everything he does as a Catholic leader in Chicago. (In the past month alone I have been heavily critical of how he has dealt with the pastor of St. Sabina; and his decision to demolish historic St. James Church in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood – to name just two examples). Rather, I agree with Cardinal George’s decision to cut funding to the ICIRR because it’s the right thing to do. Kudos to Cardinal George for announcing it, and we should all hope and pray he stands firm on the decision. Organizations that oppose Catholic values should not be telling us to shut up and give them money.