Saturday, January 27, 2007

In the Northwest, Echoes of Levada

Seattle's bike-riding auxiliary, Bishop Joseph Tyson, testified at a state legislative hearing this week on a proposed Washington initiative to offer domestic partnership benefits to same-sex couples.

The strategy advanced by Tyson -- representing the state's Catholic conference -- and other opponents of the pending legislation wasn't the usual push to scrap the bill, but to "broaden" its provisions, extending the definition of partnership to relationships beyond that of unmarried couples, to prevent discrimination against an elderly parent, a sibling, housemate or another in residence.

Suffice it to say, it's deja vu all over again. The Washington debate on partnership takes place exactly a decade after the exact same compromise was hammered out in San Francisco, solving a heated impasse between the city government and the church there on the question of legal benefits for same-sex couples.

The dispute had the potential of ceasing government funding to the Bay Area's Catholic Charities, its largest private social service agency, and exiling the Catholic voice from an influence in policy-making. Citing the importance of health care to the building-up of a culture of life,
however, the city's then-archbishop pushed to have the benefits extended to "any legally domiciled member" of a household. The city signed off on the idea, and a crisis was averted.

As a result, Catholic Charities kept its funding and was able to continue its work, the archdiocese's savvy was acclaimed and solidified its place at the political table, and the then-archbishop's ability to work constructively outside the box was given the ultimate seal of Magisterial approval when the newly-elected Benedict XVI tapped the deal-maker, his longtime friend William Levada, to take his place as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith but three weeks after Cardinal Ratzinger's election vacated the post. The highest-ranking American in Vatican history, Levada was given his red hat last March.

Along with fellow Seattle auxiliary Eusebio Elizondo, Tyson, 49, was named a bishop in Benedict's first batch of US appointments following his election. The story's just another reminder that the 900,000-member archdiocese, the second-largest in the West, is well worth watching.

AP/Dustin Snipes