Showdown Looms in Illinois
Civil-Union Law Threatens Catholic Charities
BY Matthew A. Rarey
May 22-June 4, 2011 Issue | Posted 5/13/11 at 4:34 PM
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Catholic leaders in Illinois are scrambling for a last-minute fix to prevent a showdown between the state and Catholic Charities of Illinois.
They want lawmakers to amend the state’s civil-union bill, set to take effect June 1, in order to assure that child welfare agencies such as Catholic Charities can continue turning down applications from cohabiting couples, whether homosexual or heterosexual.
“We want to see legislative action occur quickly so we can preserve our adoption and foster-care services for the thousands of children and families we serve,” said Carolyn Matheson, director of advancement for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria. “The spin is that we’re anti-gay, but that’s not true. We’re against cohabitation, regardless of sexual orientation, which is in keeping with Catholic teaching. We’re not denying anybody the right to adopt or serve as foster parents, but we’re not going to process such applications ourselves.”
She is wary of how the issue will play out.
“Hypocritically, the same people who say we’re discriminatory are discriminating against us for remaining true to Catholic moral teaching. We’ll stand firm, but our deepest concern is that, come June 1, we’ll see ourselves with a lawsuit. Unfortunately, it’s vulnerable children and families who will suffer, especially since Catholic Charities is the only child-services provider in many areas.”
Five Catholic Charities branches associated with Illinois dioceses are responsible for about 20% of the state’s foster-care cases — approximately 3,000 — in addition to facilitating a far smaller number of adoptions.
Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Chicago, however, stopped providing such services in 2007, mainly due to prohibitively expensive liability insurance.
But Illinois’ new civil-union law will prohibit agencies accepting state funds from discriminating against same-sex couples. The law’s advocates, mainly homosexual-rights lobbies and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, are adamant about enforcing this provision.
According to Mary Dixon, the ACLU’s legislative director, “When a private organization — even a private religiously affiliated organization — performs what is really quintessentially a government function, such as screening foster homes for licensure or caring for the wards of the state, it must abide by the laws that bind the government. If the religiously affiliated organization does not want to abide by these laws, it should exercise its choice not to accept those government duties.”
An organization that has contracted to provide a service for the state must treat everyone equally while providing that service, she told an Illinois Senate committee. Anything short of that would be “state-sanctioned discrimination.”
Until taken to task by the state — and, in effect, forcing it to abandon its child-services operations — Catholic Charities of Illinois will continue referring cohabiting applicants to other agencies.
Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, has spearheaded efforts to lobby lawmakers for an exemption for faith-based child-service providers.
An amendment to the civil-union law that would have effected such an exemption, however, failed to pass a Senate committee in April. The same legislator who sponsored that amendment also sponsored the bill in the State Senate last year.
David Koehler, a Democrat, said, “It was not my intent to make any group work against its own religious beliefs.” But his amendment was vehemently opposed by the homosexual-rights lobby, whose attitude to compromise is typified by the headline Gay Chicago News afforded its reportage of Koehler’s amendment: “Anti-gay lobbyists take another stab at weakening civil unions.”
‘Time to Negotiate Is Over’
Gilligan said it will be hard to convince lawmakers to change their minds before the General Assembly adjourns on May 31. He blames politicians financially beholden to the homosexual-rights lobby and afraid of getting on the bad side of its public-relations machine.
(For example, Gov. Pat Quinn and Senate President John Cullerton, both Catholic, in 2010 received $20,000 and $5,000, respectively, from the homosexual-rights group Equality Illinois, a main proponent of the civil-union law.)
He also blames politicians for merely reflecting a culture steeped in moral confusion.
“To be influential in politics, you need to be well-organized and you’ve got to have money. The gay community has both, and they are very effective,” he said. “They’ve got the sound bites, and they’re winning the culture war, persuading people that any form of support for traditional values — for example, that children need the permanency of a loving home with a mother and father — falls under the moniker of discrimination. Just talk to your neighbors and families and see how this sort of confusion has permeated mainstream culture.”
Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield foresees a legal showdown.
“Because of the aggressive nature of the stance being taken by the anti-religious elements backing this new law, we expect litigation,” he said. “The ACLU and company are promoting an ideology which would force us to do these placements or force us out of the business,” which is practically unnecessary because “there are many opportunities for single-sex couples to work with secular agencies.”
Similar anti-discriminatory laws in Great Britain have led to Catholic adoption agencies cutting Church ties or abandoning the business altogether, the last agency having capitulated on May 4. (See related story on page 4.)
“The state is taking an aggressive stance toward foster care and adoption, and they are not allowing any accommodation for religious belief at this point,” said Bishop Paprocki, who has privately lobbied politicians and publicly taken at least one to task: Gov. Quinn, who said his “religious faith” justifies granting the privileges and protections of marriage to same-sex couples. “Both legislative and administrative officials in the executive branch are pushing Catholic Charities to do foster care and adoptions with same-sex couples and cohabiting couples. But our position is a matter of religious belief. We believe this is protected under the First Amendment.”
Peter Breen, executive director and legal counsel of the Thomas More Society, a pro-life law center, said his group stands ready to provide legal assistance in case of litigation.
“I expect we’d be in the thick of it, both because we’re experienced in litigating conscience issues and we happen to be headquartered in Illinois. Incredibly important constitutional principles and general principles of religious freedom are at stake. And the time to negotiate with the powers that be in the government is over.”
Breen pointed to the intense lobbying efforts of Church officials to dissuade politicians from passing the law. Despite public pronouncements and private appeals from bishops, including Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, however, the Democrat-controlled General Assembly passed the law during a lame-duck session last December. One Republican voted in favor, and one Democrat merely counted himself as “present” for the vote.
Breen said it is worth noting that most major elected officials in Illinois — including Quinn, House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton and Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the speaker’s daughter — are Democrats who are Catholics. Yet Quinn — who in 2010 accepted $428,000 from a radically pro-abortion political-action committee whose head he later named to the state’s Human Rights Commission — champions the civil-union law. He has promised to attend the first civil-union ceremony, in which 30 couples on June 2 will be accorded the same rights and benefits as married couples — except the right to “marry” — in the eyes of Illinois.
“The only way we can win this battle is by litigation and a direct appeal to the people of the state of Illinois” — 25% of whom identify themselves as Catholic — “including our parishioners and other people of good will,” Breen said. “We cannot win the assault against traditional marriage without winning hearts and minds. So our main task is to boldly and clearly teach what the civil government is doing to the Church. At the Thomas More Society, we often quote Justice [Louis] Brandeis in our briefs: ‘Sunlight is the best disinfectant.’ If the government is attacking the Church, people need to know in terms simple, clear and direct.”
As for politicians who call themselves Catholic while passing laws in defiance of Catholic moral teaching — and in spite of the private counsel of clerics — Bishop Paprocki said their “accountability ultimately is before God.” In terms of accountability here on earth, he said, “I think we need to take into account that they’re most directly accountable to voters. We bishops make clear Church teaching, and if someone strays, we address it in private pastoral conversations. As for public accountability, that’s where the Catholic faithful have the major responsibility.
“It’s really not fair when Catholic voters elect politicians opposed to Church teaching, then look to the Church for reproval. Bishops are not in a position to order politicians how to vote, but we try to form their consciences on the basis of Church teaching. If Catholic voters would be clearer in terms of what they expect from Catholic politicians, that’s the clearest form of accountability.”
Matthew A. Rarey writes from Chicago.
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