Judge says state not required to renew Catholic Charities’ contracts

By Catholic News Service
Sunday, August 28, 2011

Peoria, Ill. (CNS) — An Illinois county circuit judge ruled Aug. 18 that the state of Illinois may refuse to renew its foster care and adoption services contracts with Catholic Charities in the dioceses of Belleville, Joliet, Peoria and Springfield. The decision could potentially impact thousands of children and hundreds of Catholic Charities employees.

Bishops in the four dioceses are asking Schmidt to reconsider his ruling and to issue a stay of the decision in the meantime. They had not yet decided if they would appeal the ruling if Schmidt stands by his decision, as of press time.

In a strongly worded response hours after the ruling, Peoria Bishop Daniel Jenky said he was “extremely disappointed” to learn of the decision by Judge John Schmidt of the Sangamon County Circuit Court. It came one day after a hearing in Springfield on an ongoing dispute between Catholic Charities in the four dioceses and the state over the legislative intent of the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, which took effect June 1.

“Clearly the intent of the civil union law was not to force the state to end these contracts and force the transfer of thousands of children’s cases,” said Bishop Jenky. Catholic Charities is one of the lead providers of foster care services in the state, he noted, and said the state and the agency have been “valued partners for decades.” Bishop Jenky said: “We continue to believe we can adhere to our religious principles and operate within Illinois law.”

The legal issue stems from Catholic Charities’ long-standing practice that prospective adoptive and foster care parents who are cohabiting — regardless of sexual orientation — be referred to other agencies or the Department of Children and Family Services. Lawyers for the Illinois attorney general’s office argue that policy now violates state anti-discrimination laws that accommodate gay and lesbian couples in civil unions.