Chicago, Ill., Oct 20, 2012 / 05:23 pm (CNA).- The Catholic Charities agencies of Illinois are trying to meet society’s needs “in a different way” in their first year without the state contracts that supported their adoption and foster care services.
“It’s been an interesting year,” Robert Gilligan, Executive Director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, told CNA Oct. 17. He said agencies are “continuing to adapt very well.”
The agencies are “smaller” but are “continuing to try to meet the needs of the most poor and vulnerable in our midst.”
Last year Illinois Catholic Charities were forced to close their adoption and foster care programs.
In July 2011 the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services ended the contracts under the state’s new civil unions bill. The department said the agencies’ practice of placing children only with married couples discriminated against unmarried and homosexual couples. Lawsuits and legislative efforts attempting to preserve the decades-old collaboration between the Catholic agencies and the government failed.
The state contracts with the Catholic agencies totaled over $30 million annually and helped care for about 2,000 foster children.
The contracts’ end had major consequences.
Catholic Social Services, the Catholic Charities agency in the Diocese of Belleville, split from the diocese to become Christian Social Services. It now accepts couples in civil unions as foster parents.
Catholic Charities of Peoria, which received $14.8 million of its $24 million budget from the state, went from nearly 400 employees to fewer than 20. Most of its employees left to work for the Center for Youth and Family Solutions, which took over the foster care cases of nearly 1,000 children.
Peoria’s Catholic Charities is restructuring to operate without any funding from the state.
Liesa Dugan, Communications Coordinator for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria, said there is “positive news” in the transition because the agency is reevaluating how to best serve the diocese’s communities.
“This reevaluation will result in a great renewal of Christ-centered service, uniquely providing assistance in each of our communities,” she told CNA Oct. 17. “We continue to be blessed with donors and volunteers dedicated to helping us grow in our mission to serve people of all faiths.”
Even though Catholic Charities agencies can no longer aid children in need of foster care and adoption,
Gilligan said they are focusing on other areas.
“There are a lot of needs in society,” he said. “Catholic Charities, as part of their mission, strove to try to meet those needs.”
“As we thought they would, they’ve been reaching out to their various communities. They’ve been creative. They’re raising money.”
One diocesan agency has expanded its capacity to help resettle migrants and serve their needs. Another agency has reached out to its diocese’s parishes and Catholic high schools after learning that counseling services were needed.
Another Catholic Charities agency sought and received a grant from Wal-Mart.
“They are now using that money to purchase a couple of vehicles where they go around and deliver food to people who are in need,” Gilligan said.
While some critics, including some Catholics, have questioned whether the Catholic agencies should be using taxpayer money, Gilligan endorsed the practice.
“In and of itself, taking money from the state to assist in helping the most poor and vulnerable is a good thing, and it continues,” he said. “But as we saw in the case of Catholic Charities, sometimes the state is encroaching upon our religious beliefs.”
“Where we can, we take public money. And if we can’t, and it seems like increasingly that is the situation, we don’t do it.”
Most of the diocesan agencies in the state are taking public money, Gilligan said.
However, he noted that the charities are not simply social service agencies.
“We provide services to the poor because it’s part of our Catholic mission,” he said.