Catholics and foster kids in Illinois

I complained last week — surprise, surprise — about an NPR report on Illinois’ new civil unions law. Alas, this post is going to start in mid-sentence and not make a whole lot of sense if you missed that original post. So read it already.

The latest development in the dispute over whether Catholic Charities can keep receiving public funding to provide foster care and adoption services in Illinois came this week.

The top of today’s Chicago Tribune story:

SPRINGFIELD – Catholic Charities won the right to keep serving nearly 2,000 foster children in Illinois for at least another month, as a judge refused Tuesday to let the state cut ties with the agency that has balked at placing children with gay and unwed couples.

The temporary decree struck at the heart of one of the most contentious debates since Illinois made civil unions legal.

Despite the state’s arguments that no contracts exist because state officials already declined to renew them, Judge John Schmidt ruled in Sangamon County Circuit Court that contracts between the state and Catholic Charities of Joliet, Peoria and Springfield through June 30 would remain intact.

Now, I voiced concern that NPR saved all its warm fuzzies for the side of the debate opposed to Catholic Charities’ position.

I’m not sure how the Tribune played the story in its print edition, but its online presentation gives a big ole warm fuzzy to a couple fostering children through Catholic Charities — in the form of a cheerful main photo and the end quotes:

From Becky Wilhoit’s perspective, Schmidt’s ruling buys the three sisters — ages 6, 7 and 9 — in her home a little more time to heal before they return home.

Thrust into the foster care system just six months ago, the girls’ caseworkers and counselors haven’t yet gained their trust to pinpoint roadblocks and help them overcome their challenges, said Wilhoit, 39, of McLean. Transferring them from Catholic Charities could turn back the clock, she said.

It’s enough to make Wilhoit and her husband, Stan, reconsider their calling to be foster parents 18 years ago.

“It’s a very small issue to shut an entire agency down that’s doing so much good in a community,” said Becky Wilhoit, an evangelical Christian who is not Catholic. “We specifically chose Catholic Charities as the agency we wanted to work with knowing they were religious and that they had resources to provide what we needed for our family. We know other agencies in the town can’t provide that for us. It becomes an issue for us to continue fostering.”

I chuckled at the need to explain that an evangelical Christian “is not Catholic.” Then again, given our repeated emphasis in this space on how difficult it is to define “evangelical Christian,” maybe I should appreciate the clarity, even though I’m not sure that explanation tells me anything about the family’s religious beliefs. But I digress.

Overall, the Tribune story — which is just the latest update on this case by that newspaper — seems to take a pretty straightforward approach and allow all sides to state their case (well, as much as possible in a daily news report). For a national perspective, check out this Washington Post religion blog item.

I was particularly pleased that the Tribune allowed Catholic Charities to explain why it does not believe its request to refer gay and lesbian parents to other social service agencies violates the new civil unions law:

An attempt by Catholic Charities to pass protective legislation failed in the Legislature during the spring, and the group threatened to close its foster care and adoption services if the law was not changed. But Brejcha argued the legislative debate for the civil union law shows legislators considered services provided by Catholic Charities as protected.

“The law says it doesn’t regulate or interfere with religious practice,” Brejcha said. “Religious practices (were) defined on the floor of the Illinois Legislature as including the rendition of social services. That’s what the Gospel and the Sermon on the Mount are all about. Frankly, we’ve been incredulous.”

Contrast that with how the Chicago Sun-Times reported — as fact — on Catholic Charities’ unwillingness to obey the new law:

A DCFS spokesman would only say Tuesday that the agency is reviewing the order. Gov. Pat Quinn and other state officials have said that the decision to terminate the relationship with Catholic Charities was based on the organization’s unwillingness to comply with the new state law.

“Any organization that decides that because of the civil unions law that they won’t participate voluntarily in a program, that’s their choice,” Quinn said Monday.

Still unclear to me is this issue raised by reader Lynn in our previous discussion:

An important question which seems to be missing from the article, and all articles which I have read on this topic, is whether Catholic Charities would be allowed to operate adoption agencies according to their religious beliefs if they did so without government funding. Is Catholic Charities giving up because they don’t think they could financially support adoption agencies without government support? Or does the anti-discrimination regulation apply to all agencies, even those which are privately funded?

Perhaps that question has been addressed in other media reports and I missed it. If so, I’d appreciate it, kind readers, if you’d provide a link in the comments sections.

Flickr photo: Marlene Gucwa, a foster family trainer for Catholic Charities, watches her adopted daughter Consetta play with her adopted granddaughter McKenzie. (Photo by Rebecca Saunders/Catholic Sun)

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Jerry

    I chuckled at the need to explain that an evangelical Christian “is not Catholic.”

    I know that Terry did not like that phrase in 2007, http://www.getreligion.org/2007/06/what-is-an-evangelical-roman-catholic/ but people do call themselves evangelical Catholics http://www.evangelicalcatholic.com/ http://www.e-ccet.org/ http://www.evangelicalcatholicchurch.org/ http://youngevangelicalandcatholic.blogspot.com/ and on and on.

    In Roman Catholicism, the term Evangelical Catholic refers to Catholics in complete communion with the Catholic Church who exhibit, according to Alister McGrath, the four characteristics of evangelicalism. The first is a strong theological and devotional emphasis on the Bible. Secondly, Evangelical Catholics stress the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the cause of salvation for all mankind. A personal need for interior conversion is the third defining mark, and, consequently, the fourth is a deep commitment to evangelization.

    Evangelical Roman Catholics see these evangelical emphases as part of the long tradition of Catholic Christianity. Evangelical preaching movements such as St. Dominic’s, who was called the Vir Evangelicus (evangelical man), are a common point of reference. To Catholics, the term ‘evangelical’ refers to its etymological root – the Greek word evangelion – which means ‘good news’ or ‘Gospel’. To Catholics, being evangelical is understood in the context of the tradition of the Catholic Church and in a Catholic interpretation of Scripture, and not in the doctrinal and ecclesiological upheavals of the Protestant Reformation.

    The Roman Catholic Church is experiencing an exciting lay response to the great evangelical witness of the recent popes and their encyclicals, especially Pope Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelization in the Modern World),

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelical_Catholic#Evangelical_Roman_Catholicism

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Bobby: I think that in most states an agency needs a state license to run an adoption agency. The issue of funding comes afterward.
    According to news accounts here in Ma. the state would grant a license to Catholic Charities to run an adotion agency only if it ceded its morals and practices to the state. Thus, funding here became moot, but Catholic Charities had to still leave a form of charity the Catholic Church has done for 2,000 years.
    In otherwords the state is gutting the First Amendment here on behalf of Gay Power through the use of its licensing powers.

  • Marie

    An important question which seems to be missing from the article, and all articles which I have read on this topic, is whether Catholic Charities would be allowed to operate adoption agencies according to their religious beliefs if they did so without government funding. Is Catholic Charities giving up because they don’t think they could financially support adoption agencies without government support? Or does the anti-discrimination regulation apply to all agencies, even those which are privately funded?

    LDS Family Services is sort of the Mormon Version of Catholic Charities. This is a very broad comparison, but I mean it in the sense that Family Services deals with adoption services among other things. I do not know if they facilitate foster care as well. Like Catholic Charities they do not place children in homes with unmarried or homosexual couples. I point this out because this agency does not receive government funding. Has anyone heard any new regarding whether or not they will continue operations. If they are, then that is a sign that it may be possible for Catholic Charities to continue at least part of their service if they choose to work without government funding.

  • dalea

    Part of the confusion this issue creates is that the subject is actaully two things that do not have a necessary relationship. There are adoptions without fostering, there is fostering without adoption, and there are combinations. The press coverage does not explain this.

    The simple adoption where the birth mother hands over a newborn and gives up all rights to the child probably can be done without governmental funds. But the more complicated situations probably can’t.

    When children are in foster care, the state pays foster parents for providing the care. There are state, local, city and federal funds in the mix. Which changes the picture. When foster parents adopt their foster children, public money is always involved.

    Adoption and foster care are really separate issues and need to have different coverage. The articles before us are confusing because they lump very different things together.

    Left out is one of the concerns of LGBT people in the issue. Which is the treatment of lesbian and gay children in foster care run by anti-gay religious groups. When an organization will not let LG people adopt or foster, how do they treat gay children in its care?

  • Julia

    In Illinois, prospective adopting parents are required to become licensed foster parents in order to have a child placed with them by an agency.

    Even when there is a private placement there all kinds of requirements of reporting to the state and the parents must be qualified as foster parents, before accepting the child.
    In unusual or sudden cases, they may be given a certain amount of time to qualify, but the child might be temporarily be placed with already licensed foster parents.

    Neither kind of situation results in payments from the state to the prospective parents while they are acting as foster parents until the adoption is final. However, there may be payments to the foster parents if there is a special situation like a hard-to-place child; in which case there may be a subsidy during the minority of a child.

    Actual foster parents take in children from time to time without the intention of adopting them, and are pay for their services.

    Prospective adopting parents must meet the same criteria as regular foster parents as a safety precaution to protect the child from negligent or abusive care-takers. It’s the use of the same terminology for both types of care-takers that causes confusion.

  • Julia

    Evangelical Catholics. I think the appropriate adjective would be (e)vangelical or evangelizing and not Evangelical.

    Pope Benedict has recently created a new department in the Vatican Curia called “The New Evangelization” to deal with the secularizing of formerly Christian nations. Dioceses around the world are setting up such committees and programs at the local level.

    http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/homepage/news/detail/articolo/citta-vescovi-secolarizzazione-town-bishops-secularism-la-ciudad-obispos-secularizacion-465/

    Here’s how Cardinal Ratzinger described it back in the year 2000 before becoming Pope.

    Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
    Address to Catechists and Religion Teachers
    Jubilee of Catechists, 12 December 2000

    http://www.ewtn.com/new_evangelization/Ratzinger.htm

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    …balked at placing children with gay and unwed couples.

    Unless Illinois’ new law is much more sweeping than I thought it was, gay couples are still by definition unwed there. A picky, perhaps.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Left out is one of the concerns of LGBT people in the issue. Which is the treatment of lesbian and gay children in foster care run by anti-gay religious groups. When an organization will not let LG people adopt or foster, how do they treat gay children in its care?

    Leaving aside the pejorative “anti-gay,” the position of the religious groups you describe is that there is no such thing as a gay child. So they don’t see any inherent difference between that child and any other and will treat them all with the same care.

  • Jimmy Mac

    If you take the Queen’s shilling, then you must do the Queen’s bidding.

  • Peggy R

    I have had the same question about media reports here in IL as to whether adoption services take money as well as licensing from the state. It is not clear whether CC loses licenses to complete adoptions by this law.

    I defer to Julia’s knowledge about adoption process. We adopted while in another state, internationally at that.

    The reports I have seen have specified that the foster care contracts are what are ended–and stayed by the judge. There is funding in foster care as that is a service that agencies and families perform on behalf of the state. There is silence on adoption contracts/licensing. I don’t know what state funding is needed by adoption agencies. I’d prefer CC do adoptions on its own terms w/o state funding.

    The legislative intent, even expressed on Equality IL’s site, was that foster care and adoption services were not to be affected by this law. Also, civil unions are not marriage, the public was told. The legislature intended to fall short of marriage, even if only a little. So, why hold agencies to the standard of treating unions and marriages alike? That is disengenuous.

  • http://demographymatters.blogspot.com R.F. McDonald

    Joel:

    “Leaving aside the pejorative “anti-gay,” the position of the religious groups you describe is that there is no such thing as a gay child.”

    … and therefore, if a child is gay, it’s the child’s fault, or society’s, and corrective measures must be imposed?

  • Suzanne

    Plenty of children get adopted out well into their teens, which is also a prime time for teens to come out.

    Dalea’s point is well taken: What is the policy of Catholic adoption agencies for dealing with a child who tells them that he or she is gay or lesbian?

    Some reasonable acommodation for those kids should be part of any agreement between a religious based agency and the state.