As a new bill aims to bar federal funding of adoption services that do not place children with gay couples, an Illinois Catholic leader warned a similar law there downsized faith-based agencies.
The Every Child Deserves a Family Act was introduced May 7 in the U.S. House, with bi-partisan backers. Under the bill, adoption agencies receiving federal funding may not delay or deny foster parenthood on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.
Nor would federally-funded agencies be able to require “different or additional screenings, processes, or procedures” for same-sex couples or individuals seeking to adopt a child.
A similar measure was enacted in July 2011 in Illinois. At that time, the state children and families department ended its contracts with Illinois Catholic Charities because the agencies’ practice of placing children only with married couples discriminated against unmarried and homosexual couples.
As a result, “the nature of all the Catholic Charities agencies have changed, and obviously the biggest thing you'd notice is the smaller number of employees,” Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, told CNA May 16.
“They all had significant numbers of people that were being funded by state contracts to do foster care and adoption,” he explained. “In some ways, the presence of Catholic Charities is reduced, in that obviously there are fewer employees working.”
“But on the other hand...what happened now is they're doing things they didn't do in the past. They're engaged in more creative service delivery, they're doing it with less money, and with more volunteers, and I think you could say there's a move back towards the community and to parishes.”
Gilligan said that prior to the de-funding in Illinois, Catholic agencies were “beholden” to “the state's way” of providing social services.
He added, however, that “ it's a sad commentary that an organization can't abide by what everybody knows to be true – that children are best raised in a home with a mother and a father – and get state funding to supplement those activities.”
The Every Child Deserves a Family Act is meant to “decrease the length of time that children wait” to be placed in a foster home “by preventing discrimination” of prospective parents, enlarging the pool of potential foster parents.
The bill notes that in 2007, 51,000 children were adopted, but another 25,000 “aged out” of the foster care system, which put them at a high risk for poverty and incarceration.
It also states that “professional organizations in the fields of medicine, psychology, law, and child welfare have taken official positions in support of the ability of qualified gay, lesbian, bisexual, and unmarried couples to foster and adopt.”
In Illinois, Catholic adoption agencies either closed altogether, or became non-affiliated with the Church.
Gilligan called it unfortunate that American society is experiencing “a movement away from policies that prioritize children being at home with a mother and a father.”
He found, however, a silver lining in the de-funding of Catholic Charities in Illinois.
“The fact of the matter is there are a lot of needs in our communities, and Catholic Charities and the Catholic Church has always sought, and will continue to seek, ways to provide comfort and services to people in need. Whether its through the state or individuals or some other means, we'll try to meet those needs as best we can.”
Since the loss of public funding in Illinois, Gilligan has noticed “a movement back towards what Dorothy Day was espousing – good works done by individuals.”
Day was a social activist, tireless advocate for the poor, and co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. The sanctity of her life is under investigation as part of her cause for canonization.
Gilligan noted that “that's how we experience the poor, on an individual basis.”
“Maybe sometimes when we create these bureaucracies we distance ourselves from serving the poor, and maybe this is the Holy Spirit working through the Church: we have an obligation to know the poor personally.”
“Bigger is not always better,” he reflected. “The way we serve the poor is noteworthy, and to the degree that an individual can personally experience serving the poor, I think it helps that individual truly understand what that other person is experiencing.”
“Sometimes when we create those larger bureaucracies we lose that personal appeal, and I think at least in Illinois, that is what's going on.”