Same-Sex Marriage Law Puts Hold On Diocesan Ministries in Illinois

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CNS) – The Catholic Charities agencies in the Illinois dioceses of Peoria, Springfield and Joliet have filed suit seeking legal clarification of whether they can continue to place foster children with only married couples and single non-cohabiting individuals now that the state’s civil unions law has taken effect.
Signed by Gov. Pat Quinn, who is Catholic, the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act authorizes the state to recognize civil unions for same-sex couples, giving those couples all the rights spouses have, such as parental and adoption rights. The law took effect June 1.
It includes a clause saying the law does not interfere or regulate religious practice, meaning institutions would not be required to sanction a same-sex union.
The Catholic Church upholds the sanctity of traditional marriage as being only between one man and one woman. The church also teaches that any sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful.
The three dioceses filed the suit in Sangamon County Circuit Court June 7 to ask for a legal declaration confirming “that current Illinois law protects the right of a Catholic agency not to place children with unmarried cohabitating individuals,” Peoria Bishop Daniel R. Jenky said in a letter to the priests, religious and laypeople of his diocese.
“Given that there are 57 other agencies in the state, a religious exemption for us would inconvenience no one,” he said.
The Catholic Church’s “right of conscience and religious freedom to hold to our own religious beliefs regarding the sanctity of marriage, while still being able to provide critical services for the poor, the abused, and neglected, is now being undermined by our own state government,” Bishop Jenky said.
“We have to stand up against the secular attack on our mission,” he added.
The Peoria, Springfield and Joliet dioceses have suspended their adoption and foster care services until they receive a ruling. On May 26, the Diocese of Rockford announced that its Catholic Charities offices would no longer offer state-funded adoptions and foster-care services once the civil unions law took effect.
According to the Catholic Conference of Illinois, the state’s six Catholic dioceses, which include the Chicago Archdiocese and the Belleville Diocese, provide about 20 percent of the adoption and foster-care services in Illinois and had facilitated the placement of about 3,700 abused and neglected children with loving families over the past 10 years.
According to Bob Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops, the six dioceses were working together to create a joint response to the law.
He told the Catholic New World, Chicago’s archdiocesan newspaper, that a recent conference call involving five of the six yielded what appeared to be a consensus to have their employment policies ensure that people who work for them understand they are working for the Church, and are expected to conform to church teaching.
The Illinois Catholic Health Association, which includes Catholic hospitals and other health-care institutions, sent a memo to its members May 9 suggesting that they offer “employee plus one” benefit packages instead of “employee and spouse” benefit packages starting June 1.
Such a package would “provide any employee the opportunity to buy into a benefits package that would provide health coverage for themselves and one other person living with them. This person could be a sibling, relative, etc., the exact relationship would not need to be disclosed,” the memo said.
The association said the memo was only a recommendation that would apply only to health-care institutions, not to dioceses, Catholic Charities agencies or educational institutions.