Catholic Charities and the best interests of the foster child


Judge John Schmidt didn’t have to ponder very hard to decide that the state of Illinois is within its rights to terminate its orphan and foster care contracts with Catholic Charities in Southern Illinois. As he wrote, “The fact that [Catholic Charities] have contracted with the state to
provide foster care and adoption services for over forty years does not
vest [them] with a protected property interest. No citizen has a recognized legal right to a
contract with the government.”

Nor should the fact that a religious organization has a free exercise right to behave according to its own standards of morality (up to a point) make it eligible for a state contract if those standards conflict with the state’s rules for equal treatment. Who would object to the state declining to contract for foster care services with a religious body that refused to put children of one race under the care of parents of another? The state of Illinois now recognizes same-sex civil unions as partnerships with the same legal rights as married couples. It is only fair that it should restrict public funding of child-care services to agencies that recognize them too.

But let’s consider the precise nature of Catholic Charities’ non-recognition. It has nothing to do with a judgment about the children’s needs for of a husband-wife pair, since the agency will place children with single adults. And actually it’s not (only) about legitimating same-sex relationships. CC in Southern Illinois also won’t place children with opposite sex couples who aren’t married. The issue has to do with placing children in the care of adults who are “together”–i.e. who can be presumed to be having sex–outside the bonds of what the Catholic Church recognizes as wedlock. As if a single adult who may or may not be sexually active is a better bet to provide stable parental care than two adults sufficiently committed to each other to want to care for a child jointly.

Back in April, when Illinois was moving toward passing its civil unions law, the head of the state’s Catholic Conference told the Catholic News Agency, “They’re really hurting the children–at the end of the day, that’s
who is really getting hurt. If we have layoffs, that will be painful, but the real losers–if we can’t continue providing this care–are the children.” What I can’t help wondering is why, when it comes to foster care, Catholic Charities can’t manage to treat civilly united same-sex couples and unmarried opposite-sex couples the same way they treat single adults. Aren’t the children worth it?