Bishops say they could not support rewritten Violence Against Women Act

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Five bishops who lead committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a joint statement they could not support the rewritten reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law March 7.

The stumbling blocks for the bishops were the references to “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

“These two classifications are unnecessary to establish the just protections due to all persons. They undermine the meaning and importance of sexual difference,” the five bishops said in their March 6 statement, calling the language “problematic.” “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 said the USCCB had supported past versions of the Violence Against Women Act, noting that in its pastoral statement “When I Call for Help,” the U.S. bishops had written, “Violence in any form — ‘physical, sexual, psychological or verbal’ — is sinful.”

The five bishops who issued the statement and the committees they chair are: Archbishops Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, Committee on Migration; and William E. Lori of Baltimore, Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishops Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.

The bishops also expressed their displeasure with the exclusion of conscience protections for faith-based groups helping trafficking victims, as reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was folded into the bill.

“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,” the bishops said.

Without these protections, the bill “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,” they said. “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.”