Rockford, Ill. (EWTN News) — The Diocese of Rockford, Ill., is ending its publicly funded adoption and foster-care services, citing the lack of religious-conscience protections in a state law that established same-sex civil unions on June 1.

The State of Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act does not allow child welfare agencies to restrict their adoption and foster-care work to married heterosexual couples, even in cases where these agencies partner with religious groups.

Rather than face lawsuits or violate Catholic teaching, the diocese will permanently stop all state-funded adoptions and foster-care placements.

At a May 26 press conference, diocesan communications director Penny Wiegert said Catholic Charities “implored the State of Illinois” to allow a compromise, under which their agencies could refer homosexual partners and unmarried heterosexual couples to other adoption agencies.

“Tragically, that did not happen,” said Wiegert. “The state Legislature failed to pass an explicit amendment exempting religious entities from the application of the civil-unions law in its state-funded adoption and foster-care programs.”

“Because of this failure and the anticipated legal challenges it will present to our free exercise of religion, the Diocese of Rockford is forced to discontinue all state-funded adoption and foster care operations, as of June 1, 2011,” she stated.

The discontinuation also means that Catholic Charities will no longer oversee its 350 current foster care and adoption cases. Its 42 caseworkers and 24 other employees have been notified that their positions will cease to exist, as Catholic Charities completes the work of transferring the cases to other agencies during the next three months.

Other states’ laws establishing civil unions and homosexual “marriage” have forced Church agencies to restrict or discontinue adoption and foster care work in Boston and the District of Columbia. The Catholic Church in the United Kingdom no longer participates in adoption or foster care due to requirements in that country’s same-sex “civil partnership” law.

Ellen Lynch, general counsel for the Rockford Diocese, said the decision was “emotionally painful,” but legally and morally “the right decision to make.”

Wiegert stressed that the Church “cannot compromise” its work “by letting the state define our religious teachings.”

The lack of conscience protections in the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act, she said, “leads one to believe that our lawmakers prefer laws that guarantee freedom from religion” rather than “freedom of religion.”

All of Catholic Charities’ non-state funded services, including private adoptions, will continue after the transition.

Illinois’ other five dioceses are “still evaluating their options” in light of the new law, according to Illinois Catholic Conference executive director Robert Gilligan.

He told EWTN News that Church officials were “trying to make a decision in the best interest of the children we serve through adoption and foster care,” with the “emphasis being placed on the child’s needs.”