The former chief operating officer of
Catholic Charities has blasted the group's decision to end spousal
health coverage to avoid offering benefits to gay couples, the
Washington Post reported.
The social services arm of the
Archdiocese of Washington announced just days before a District of
Columbia gay marriage law went into effect that it would alter its
health coverage to exclude spouses.
Tim Sawina, who left the organization
last July after a 12 year career, called the move “wrong.”
“Some, including the archbishop, have
argued that by providing health care to a gay or lesbian spouse we
are somehow legitimizing gay marriage,” Sawina said in a letter to
the governing boards of Catholic Charities. “Providing health care
to a gay or lesbian partner – a basic human right, according to
Church teaching – is an end in itself and no more legitimizes that
marriage than giving communion to a divorced person legitimizes
divorce, or giving food or shelter to an alcoholic legitimizes
The church had lobbied heavily for an
exception to the law, at one point threatening to walk away from
providing thousands of people in the District with social services –
including feeding the poor and sheltering the homeless – if
lawmakers approved Independent Councilman David Catania's gay
“This change is the direct result of
not receiving an adequate exemption for religious organizations in
the same-sex marriage legislation,” church officials said in a
March 1 statement. The approach allows Catholic Charities “to
remain faithful to our Catholic identity,” officials said.
In addition to cutting off spousal
benefit to all new applicants, the social service organization also
ended its foster care program rather than serve gay couples.
Sawina also argued that the move to end
spousal benefits handicaps the group's recruitment efforts.
“More importantly, the greatest asset
of the agency – its staff – feel a profound sense of humiliation
and shame. Many are actively looking to leave,” he said.
“Catholic Charities will be forever handicapped in attracting new
staff with such a draconian benefit plan.”
In responding to Sawina's letter,
church spokeswoman Susan Gibbs said that Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl's
decision to cut spousal benefits has the overwhelming support of the
gay marriage law went into effect Wednesday. More than 100
couples applied for a marriage license on the law's first day, the AP
reported. But processing time and a mandatory waiting period mean
the first gay marriage won't take place until Tuesday, at the