WASHINGTON — An online petition asking the White House to designate the Catholic Church as a “hate group” for its views on marriage is drawing criticism for generating unjust animosity.
The petition reveals an “underlying agenda,” which is not simply to prevent violent crimes, but to “stigmatize any disapproval of homosexuality at all and essentially to silence us,” said Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council in Washington.
He explained to Catholic News Agency on Jan. 3 that applying the “hate group” label to organizations that are morally opposed to redefining marriage is simply “name-calling designed to cut us out of the public debate.”
Initiated on Christmas Day, a petition on the White House website had collected 1,640 signatures by Jan. 3.
The petition — which is aiming for 25,000 signatures by Jan. 24 — argued that Pope Benedict XVI’s 2012 Christmas address to the College of Cardinals “demeaned and belittled homosexual people around the world.”
“Using hateful language and discriminatory remarks, the Pope painted a portrait in which gay people are second-class global citizens,” it charged.
“Pope Benedict said that gay people starting families are threatening to society and that gay parents objectify and take away the dignity of children,” the petition said. “The Pope also implied that gay families are subhuman, as they are not dignified in the eyes of God.”
It called for the Obama administration to recognize the Catholic Church as a hate group, as defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
However, Sprigg argued that the petition is “distorting” the Pope’s words, which do not actually include hateful or discriminatory language.
In his address to the cardinals, the Pope did not directly reference “gay marriage” or “homosexuality” at all. Rather, he defended the Church’s understanding of sexuality and “the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother and child.”
The Holy Father refuted the modern notion of sex as “a social role that we choose for ourselves,” rather than “a given element of nature” and “bodily identity that serves as a defining element of the human being.”
The complementarity of male and female is part of “the essence of the human creature” and is foundational to the nature of the human being and the family, the Pope explained.
Sprigg argued that the petition is misleading and “clearly has political purpose.”
“The federal government does not designate hate groups. It prosecutes hate crimes,” he observed, explaining that a clear distinction must be made between moral opposition to homosexual acts and violent crimes against homosexual individuals.
Such labeling can also be dangerous, Sprigg said. Ironically, the hate-group label can actually create hatred toward the group being designated, he explained.
He pointed to an incident last August in which a 28-year-old Virginia man entered the Family Research Council headquarters, made a comment about disliking the group’s politics and then opened fire, shooting a security guard before being disarmed.
The Family Research Council had previously been labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said at the time that such reckless labeling may have led the gunman to feel justified in carrying out the shooting.
Sprigg reiterated this idea, highlighting the importance of allowing people to express their differing views peacefully in a democracy.
Suggesting that organizations such as the Catholic Church and the Family Research Council are hateful simply because of their views on human sexuality promotes “a dangerous misconception,” he said.