SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CNS) — Catholic bishops in Illinois announced Nov. 14 that they were dropping their lawsuit against the state for requiring Catholic Charities agencies to provide their services to same-sex couples.
The agencies also will end their adoption and foster care programs, which have been in place for 50 years.
In a joint statement Nov. 14, the bishops of Joliet, Springfield and Belleville dioceses said the decision was reached “with great reluctance.”
The bishops said the decision not to pursue further appeals was a necessary one since the state law made it “financially impossible for our agencies to continue to provide these services” and the courts also refused to grant a stay allowing the adoptions and foster care programs to continue while appeals were pending.”
Catholic Charities in the Joliet, Peoria and Springfield dioceses, as well as Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois in Belleville, have been involved in legal proceedings with the state since Illinois recognized civil unions June 1. The Peoria Diocese had withdrawn from the litigation in October.
At issue was the agencies’ long-standing practice of referring prospective adoptive and foster parents who are cohabiting — regardless of sexual orientation — to other agencies or the Department of Children and Family Services. The state interpreted the policy as discriminatory to same-sex couples under the new Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, and a Sangamon County Circuit Court judge ruled Sept. 26 the state could begin canceling its foster care and adoption contracts with Catholic Charities.
The bishops’ Nov. 14 statement noted that since they need to close offices and lay off employees, further appeals would be moot.
They also pointed out that the Catholic Church has successfully partnered with Illinois for 50 years in providing foster care and adoption services.
“While the state has forced the Catholic Church out of state-supported foster care and adoption services, the losers will be the children, foster care families and adoptive parents who will no longer have the option of Catholic, faith-based services,” the bishops said.
They said they are “sad to lose the dedicated employees who have served our Catholic foster care and adoption services so faithfully for so many years.”
Peter Breen, an attorney for the Thomas More Society representing Catholic Charities agencies, said the end of Catholic Charities’ foster care and adoption programs came since state officials refused to abide by protections for religious social service agencies written into the Civil Union Act.
Bishop Thomas John J. Paprocki of Springfield added his own comment to the bishops’ statement, pointing out that “despite the loss of foster care and adoption services, our Catholic Charities in the Diocese Springfield in Illinois will continue to address the basic human needs of the poor in central Illinois in other ways.”
“The silver lining of this decision is that our Catholic Charities going forward will be able to focus on being more Catholic and more charitable, while less dependent on government funding and less encumbered by intrusive state policies,” he added.
Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of Joliet also added his appreciation for the work of Catholic Charities. “It is their commitment, rather than tax dollars controlled by government officials, that makes Catholic Charities truly Catholic and charitable.”
A statement from the Belleville Diocese Nov. 10 announced that Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois will be separating from the diocese.
“Unable to remain faithful to the moral teaching of the Catholic Church while adhering to the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, the 64-year-old social service agency chose to disassociate from the diocese,” the statement said.
Gary Huelsmann, executive director of Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois, said the solution is best for the children “by providing for their continuity of care and allowing for the retention of the caring, dedicated and professional staff employed by the agency.”
Steven Roach, executive director of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Springfield, said his agency would work cooperatively with the Department of Children & Family Services in Illinois to “ensure that a transition plan will be put in place that minimizes the disruption to the lives of our foster parents and children.”
He also said the agency will work diligently to “secure employment opportunities” for staff members from the adoption and foster programs.
In the coming months, Roach said the Catholic Charities agency will undergo “a significant reorganization” with the goals to “strengthen our Catholic identity, maintain our community presence across the diocese and become less reliant on government funding.”
The Diocese of Rockford and its Catholic Charities offices stopped offering state-funded adoptions and foster care services when the legislation took effect. Catholic Charities of the Chicago Archdiocese stopped offering state-funded foster care services in 2007 because it was unable to obtain liability insurance for the program.