3 Distinctions When Catholics Are Accused of “Discrimination”

holy water

holy waterIn recent years, there have been many claims that this or that Catholic group was discriminatory. Everything from “Pro-choice Woman Denied Catholic Wedding” to “Gay Teacher Fired” to “Autistic Denied Communion.” Some of these are discrimination and need changing, but not all are. We need to understand when the Church is simply fulfilling her mission, not discriminating.

What divides the real discrimination from protecting the faith? I propose three key distinctions: tendencies and acts, chosen and automatic acts, and private and public acts. These distinctions are simple but are lost in today’s discussion. I will explain each, then show how it applies, and conclude with real-life examples of non-discrimination.

Tendencies vs. Acts

All of us have sinful tendencies – some tend to sloth while others tend to greed. Some tendencies that stand out more: tending to homosexual activity, tending towards anger, or tending to alcoholism.

Acts, on the other hand, involve some movement of the body. In ethics, we also have mental acts like choosing to keep considering a sinful thought in our brain. However, those are not relevant to this discussion. Acts can be from grabbing candy to shooting a man.

Discrimination based on tendencies is always wrong. We all have fallen nature. If these tendencies don’t become acts, what we see is a virtue in conquering our lower selves.

Chosen vs. Unchosen Acts

Acts can be chosen or not. We don’t choose many acts, like breathing. Nonetheless, such acts are not crucial here. When people have strong tendencies, we need to know when they chose and when that tendency overcame them without a choice. For example, maybe the sights and sounds of Mass give someone a migraine, or maybe an alcoholic can’t stop after smelling beer.

Past the age of reason, unchosen immoral acts are usually the result of bad circumstances that the person chose. When possible, we should try to avoid such circumstances. I’ll forego a beer when eating with a friend who has alcoholic tendencies. If an autistic kid can’t take Sunday Mass without a meltdown, I can offer the first Communion at daily Mass.

On the other hand, we can ask people not to do those acts they choose. For example, the Church says you shouldn’t contracept, and you should pay your employees a just wage. We can ask these of employees and others.

Obviously, sometimes it is not so clearly black and white. Did someone with a weakness for alcohol choose that first sip?

Public vs. Private Acts

Dealing with public versus private acts, there are three ways acts are public or noteworthy. First, a formal public act of a legal character such as getting a legal wedding certificate or making a public statement is on the public record. Second, acts can be notorious or well-known in the community not just to a few people. Finally, although not public in the general sense, here we include acts that were part of the relationship with the Catholic organization, such as the in-class behavior of a teacher.

Often, a priest would only know private acts of confession and the seal protects that. Though many Catholic teachers might contracept, it is rarely a reason for dismissal as it is usually private. In general, private acts are not a reason to fire someone as they are private. However, a private answer on a pre-marital questionnaire may indicate the marriage wouldn’t be valid, and thus must be canceled. Those reasons should remain private unless the couple decides to make a public scene of the refusal.


If an act is (1) public, (2) chosen and (3) against Church teaching it is not discrimination to fire someone or to refuse a sacrament. This is simply protecting the Catholic faith. We’d all agree a basketball team could fire a player who decided to play soccer instead of basketball during games. He’s acting contrary to the nature of the team. Now two examples falsely called discrimination

A priest had scheduled a Catholic wedding but had to cancel it. He hadn’t asked too many questions about her job beforehand. Then he saw her name was in the local paper listed as a Planned Parenthood employee. The bishop said, “The whole Planned Parenthood agenda is not in accordance with the teaching of the Catholic Church. And consequently, if a Roman Catholic works for them, then they have to be prepared to accept the consequences of that decision.”

A parish fired a male choir director after he announced his engagement to a man. Many media reports said they fired him for being gay, but that was not the case. He worked there for 17 years before. The cardinal archbishop justified the firing. The cardinal noted the man chose, “Participation in a form of union that cannot be recognized as a sacrament by the church.” The court even recognized this wasn’t discrimination.

Both of these cases involve people making public chosen acts that clearly contradict Church teaching. If you want to have a Catholic wedding or employment in the Church, following Church teachings – at least in public acts – is a fair condition. We should fight discrimination but we need to distinguish it from acts to protect Catholic values.

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5 thoughts on “3 Distinctions When Catholics Are Accused of “Discrimination””

  1. Pingback: 3 Distinctions When Catholics Are Accused of “Discrimination” – Fr Matthew P. Schneider, LC

  2. Pingback: THVRSDAY EXTRA – Big Pulpit

  3. “All of us have sinful tendencies … ” you write. My son who is 32 is non-verbal, not able to use any technology to communicate, unable to move any part of his body voluntarily and every function of daily life must be taken care of . He has nor cannot have any sinful … if you do not agree, please enumerate what possible tendencies exist.
    Secondly, bigotry, under the guise of any religion, is still bigotry.

    1. “All of us” would refer to everyone who has reached the age of reason (which is not so much a strict age but a level of development.
      In such cases it is hard to understand what is going on is his head – how much rational control over his thoughts does he have? This is not an easy question to answer for those who have serious difficulties moving and communicating and is far beyond the scope of this article. All of us over the age of reason have tendencies towards sinful thoughts but it is not clear if he has reached this level interiorly as he is clearly unable to express it well exteriorly. We do know that some who were in persistent vegetative states could take in stimuli and control their thoughts even though they had no way to respond exteriorly (by their testimonies after the fact).

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