US Catholic Faith in Real Life

IL Catholic Charities loses 1st round on adoption and foster care: Now what?

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

As was completely expected, Sangamon County (Illinois) Judge John Schmidt ruled yesterday that Illinois DCFS can sever its decades-old relationship with Catholic Charities on the grounds that Catholic Charities will not serve same- or opposite-sex couples in civil unions (about 5 percent of civil union pairs are opposite sex), as a new state law requires: "No citizen has a recognized legal right to a contract with the government," he wrote, according to the Chicago Tribune. Catholic Charities hopes to now appeal on the grounds of religious freedom rather than property rights.

But even if Catholic Charities manages to secure a stay of the ruling while it makes its case on religious grounds, even that seems sure to fail. The religious protections included in Illinois' "Relgious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act" covers only the religious recognition of the unions themselves; in other words, churches have no legal obligation to solemnize civil unions (any more than they have the obligation to solemnize a civil marriage, as in the case of a remarriage). It seems unlikely that any judge will rule that a state is obligated to give a religious entity a contract.

Many Catholics want to argue this one on "religious freedom" grounds, but they are in effect arguing that one of the tenets of Catholicism is that we are morally obligated to discriminate against same-sex couples in certain circumstances, which seems bizarre to me. I have previously argued for another approach to this issue if Catholic Charities wants to continue to partiicipate in the state program, but I think many in the church are being overly scupulous here. Here's why.

First, the church teaches that genital contact between members of the same sex is morally wrong all the time. Whether you agree with it or not, there's no getting around that teaching. Second, the church teaches that the "natural" institution (rooted in natural law) of marriage is between one man and one woman only; we are on shaky historical and anthropological ground here, of course, but at least in the Christian church, that has always or almost always been the case.

But--and there's a big but here--there is nothing morally wrong with two people of the same gender living together, creating a household together, creating legal instruments that protect that household (a civil union), or even raising children together. (If you think there is, you must think monasteries are immoral, which, don't forget, used to raise foundling children.) While the church may teach that it is preferable for a child to be raised by both its biological parents, it is not morally necessary. Catholic Charities places children in homes with a single parent, for example, and it has no way of making sure that said single person will not some day share their home with someone else, with or without the benefit of marriage.

In other words, since the sexual relationship of the applying couple is not an issue in fostering or adoption, only the stability of the relationship, I don't see why Catholic Charities could not continue to participate in the state program, bracketing the sexual component of a relationship. It may not be the ideal--what in this world is?--but it would allow the church to remain involved in this important work, serving both children and prospective parents.

Related: A way forward for Catholic Charities on adoption?

Catholic Charities, IL DCFS at loggerheads over adoption

Judge says Illinois not required to renew Catholic Charities' contracts