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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 15, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 28
Illinois Governor terminates contracts with Catholic charities, says they must obey civil unions law
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Illinois Governor terminates contracts with Catholic charities, says they must obey civil unions law

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn blames Roman Catholic authorities for his administration's decision to cancel its contracts with Catholic charities and social service agencies.

'They made a choice,' said Quinn, himself a Catholic. 'They have a law in Illinois. It's the civil unions law. I signed it into law. We're not going back. Any organization that decides that because of the civil unions law that they won't participate voluntarily in a program, that's their choice.'

Illinois' Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) notified Catholic social service providers in four downstate dioceses on July 8 and July 11 that their state contracts would be terminated because the Catholic church refused to abide by the state's new civil unions law.

Letters to the Catholic agencies said their contracts were terminated because 'your agency has made it clear that it does not intend to comply with the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act.'

'That law applies to foster care and adoption services,' each letter stated. In other words, same-sex couples in civil unions must be treated in the same way as married opposite-sex couples with respect to adoption or foster care. 'Thus, there is no meeting of the minds as to the [fiscal year 2012] Foster Care and Adoption Contracts.'

On July 12, Circuit Court Judge John Schmidt temporarily blocked the state from terminating its contracts with the Catholic agencies.

Abrupt termination of the contracts could affect children's well-being, Schmidt said, despite the state's assurances that 1,997 foster children in Catholic Charities-supported homes would not be adversely affected.

Cutting ties with Catholic Charities in the dioceses of Joliet, Peoria, Springfield, and Belleville means the state will place the children with other foster-care agencies, DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe said.

'We have a strong community of private-sector, not-for-profit child welfare agencies that stand ready to take these cases,' Marlowe said.

The Archdiocese of Chicago is not affected because it cancelled its contracts with the state in 2007, after losing its insurance coverage as a result of the Church's child abuse scandal.

Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Rockford voluntarily ended their publicly funded foster care and adoption services in June. The Youth Service Bureau of Illinois Valley, a secular agency, expanded and took over all of the Rockford Catholic Charities' cases, staff, and real estate.

Judge Schmidt scheduled a further hearing on the issue for August 17.

Gov. Quinn signed his state's civil unions bill into law on January 31, and the law went into effect June 1.

As soon as the law took effect, Catholic Charities in the dioceses of Joliet, Peoria, and Springfield sued the state to continue their practice of placing children only with married opposite-sex couples or single, non-cohabitating adults.

They said they would refer same-sex couples to other child-welfare agencies.

In March, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Gov. Quinn's legal team, and DCFS began researching the Illinois Human Rights Act, the Civil Union Act, and the Illinois Constitution to determine whether they barred agencies from considering sexual orientation as a factor in foster care and adoption.

At a meeting in June, lawyers for the attorney general's office and DCFS reportedly told Catholic Charities that couples in civil unions must be treated the same as married couples when it comes to providing foster care services.

'We cannot enter into a contract for services with anyone who has publicly, affirmatively stated that 'we will not follow the law in delivering those services,' DCFS spokesperson Kendall Marlowe said. 'These agencies have chosen this course, and we must now plan to transition these cases with the least disruption for the children we serve.'

Two other church-based agencies, Lutheran Child and Family Services and the Evangelical Child and Family Agency, have also had policies that require foster care parents to be married.

LCFS has renewed its contract with the state and promised to abide by state law. Marlowe said the state will seek a similar promise from ECFA.

The Quinn administration's decision drew praise from the civil unions law's chief House sponsor, state Rep. Greg Harris.

'They're totally within their rights to determine who can or cannot be married under their church law or who can be married by a priest or rabbi or in their facilities, but this is different,' Harris said of the religious groups.

'But here, they're coming to the state to get contracts to provide government services on behalf of the state. They can't pick and choose which Illinoisans they think are worthy of those services.'

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