Foster care fight ends Peoria Catholic Charities’ work with state
By Kevin J. Jones
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.- Catholic Charities of Peoria is withdrawing from Illinois state-funded social services because state laws and public policy have “increasingly clashed” with Church teachings and the partnership is no longer a “viable option,” Bishop Daniel Jenky announced Oct. 6.

“Withdrawing from the ongoing litigation and these services is not a decision that was made lightly,” the bishop said.

The Diocese of Peoria has fought since June to have the courts affirm the legality of Catholic Charities’ “longstanding practice” of referring unmarried couples to other licensed child welfare agencies to process foster home applications.

On June 1 the state’s civil unions law went into effect, establishing legal privileges for same-sex and opposite-sex couples in civil unions. Despite the law’s purported protections for religious freedom, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services said it was ending its contract with Catholic Charities because of the agencies’ alleged refusal to obey the law.

Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Illinois Catholic Conference, told CNA on Oct. 6 that to his knowledge no other Catholic Charities agencies in the states would make a similar move. Rather, they are still pursuing legal remedies to the state’s decision to end the foster care contracts.

Catholic Charities in the Dioceses of Belleville, Springfield and Joliet are involved in the litigation and the wider controversy over whether Catholic Charities can continue to cooperate with the state in a changing legal and political climate.

Bishop Jenky said Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria has partnered with the state for nearly a century because Catholic teaching requires Christians to serve “the most poor and vulnerable.” But increasing conflicts mean this partnership cannot continue, he said.

Patricia Gibson, chancellor and general counselor for both Catholic Charities and the Diocese of Peoria, said Catholic Charities will be withdrawing from all state contracts “in the next few months.”

The prevention of disruption to foster care services for children and families is the primary concern of both the agency and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, she said.

The department will partner with a new nonprofit entity, the Center for Youth and Family Solutions, to transition the cases. Catholic Charities has agreed to cooperate with the transition, but it and the diocese will have no connection with the new entity.

“These abused and neglected children deserve a solution that will minimalize disruption in their lives,” Gibson said. “While I am saddened to see Catholic Charities withdraw from this valued good work, I hope that this transition will provide stability for each client family as well as bring peace of mind to the committed staff in these programs.”

Bishop Jenky said that Catholic Charities of Peoria will continue its “rich tradition of service” in 26 counties of central Illinois.

“The agency will continue our witness of God’s love throughout the Diocese by expanding our longstanding core services to the poor, the needy, and the vulnerable,” he said.

Catholic Charities of Peoria will continue its emergency assistance to the poor, food assistance to the hungry, support and outreach for the growing Hispanic populations, immigration services, senior support, and disaster response services.

The agency will also continue its pro-life and pro-family counseling and social justice advocacy throughout the diocese.

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