.- Bishops in three Illinois dioceses announced Nov. 14 that they have dropped their lawsuit against the state and will shut down their adoption and foster care programs, after a civil union law required them to provide their services to same-sex couples.
“The decision not to pursue further appeals was reached with great reluctance, but was necessitated by the fact that the State of Illinois has made it financially impossible for our agencies to continue to provide these services,” said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, and Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of Joliet.
“Since we now need to close offices and lay off employees, further appeals would be moot,” the bishops said.
Catholic Charities branches from the dioceses of Belleville, Springfield, Peoria, and Joliet had filed a lawsuit in June against the Illinois Attorney General's Office and the state’s Department of Children and Family Services to prevent them from ending state contracts for foster care and adoption programs with the charities.
The department told the agencies that it was ending their contracts over their alleged refusal to obey the 2011 Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act, which established legal privileges for same-sex and opposite-sex couples in civil unions.
Peter Breen, an attorney with the Thomas More Society, which represented the charities in their lawsuit against the state, called the news “tragic.”
In a Nov. 14 statement, Breen said the situation “stands as a stark lesson to the rest of the nation that legislators promising 'religious protection' in same sex marriage and civil union laws may not be able to deliver on those promises.”
In their remarks, the bishops noted how the Church has “successfully partnered with the State for half a century” and lamented the fact that the “the losers will be the children, foster care families and adoptive parents who will no longer have the option of Catholic, faith-based services.”
“We are sad to lose the dedicated employees who have served our Catholic foster care and adoption services so faithfully for so many years,” the bishops added. “We are grateful to them and reluctantly bid them farewell with our prayers and best wishes.”
Bishop Paprocki clarified that despite the loss of foster care and adoption services in his diocese, “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,” he said, “while less dependent on government funding and less encumbered by intrusive state policies.”
The news of the decision to close the programs follows the Nov. 11 announcement by the Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois that will it separate from the Belleville diocese and offer adoptions and foster-care services to same-sex couples.
The Catholic Social Services agency, which had been operating at the Belleville diocese since 1947, said that it will now be called Christian Social Services of Illinois.
Gary Huelsmann, the agency’s executive director, called the move a “solution” that will be “best for the children” as it ensures “their continuity of care.”
The Diocese of Belleville said in a Nov. 11 statement that the agency was unable “to remain faithful to the moral teaching of the Catholic Church” while adhering to the state's civil union law enacted in June.
Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Peoria announced in October that it will withdraw from all state contracts and transfer its staff to a new non-profit organization with no affiliation to the Catholic Church.
The new organization, titled the Center for Youth and Family Solutions, will take on the caseload of foster children from Peoria Catholic Charities starting Feb. 1.
Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Illinois Catholic Conference, summarized what he believes to be the underlying problem in remarks to CNA on Nov. 11.
What “you're seeing at the state level in Illinois, what you're seeing at the national level in Washington, D.C., is a consistent promulgation of policies and laws that are making it very difficult for faith-based agencies that believe that marriage is between one man and one woman,” Gilligan said.