For more than 100 years, Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Rockford, Ill. has been caring for orphaned children. Much of their work came to an end on Wednesday when the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act took effect.
Policymakers did not include a religious exemption, so Catholic Charities halted its state-funded foster care and adoption services because the new law may have forced them to place children with unmarried or cohabitating couples (heterosexual or homosexual). The Heritage Foundation, on its blog, pointed out that, “Faith-based adoption agencies are potentially vulnerable to increased liability if they continue to follow their moral convictions and refuse to place children in homes headed by unmarried couples.”
“As you may know, the Catholic Church does not condone same‐sex unions or unmarried cohabitation between individuals of the opposite sex,” said diocesan communications director Penny Wiegert at a press conference last week. “We believe in the natural order of marriage and the Sacrament of Matrimony between one man and one woman. We also believe and promote the optimal God‐given privilege of every child to be reared in a safe and loving family with a committed and loving male father and female mother whenever possible.”
She continued, “Catholic Charities and other religious agencies implored the State of Illinois to allow their agencies to refer civil union couples to other adoption and foster care agencies so as to not violate the moral teachings of their faith.”
Tragically, she said, that did not happen.
The immediate result of the new law will be the transfer of 191 foster care families and approximately 350 children to other adoption agencies in the state. The diocese will close more than half its offices (four of seven) and lay off 58 caseworkers and employees.
“Our caseworkers do this work not just because it’s their job, but because it is their calling,” said director of Catholic Charities Frank Vonch, at the press conference. “The children and families they serve are just an extension of their commitment to our mission, which serving children is at its basic core, so it is a very grave loss for them as well as for everyone involved with charities.”
He went on to say, “While we understand leaving this work will be very painful for our client families, employees, volunteers, donors and prayerful supporters, we can no longer contract with the State of Illinois whose laws would force us to participate in activity offensive to the moral teachings of the church – teachings which compel us to do this work in the first place.”
In addition to ending its state-funded foster care and adoption services, which included counseling services, the diocese will discontinue state-funded parenting classes and its extended family support program. Non-state funded services, including private adoption, will be continued.