SPRINGFIELD Catholic Charities in the dioceses of Springfield, Joliet and Belleville are dropping their lawsuit against the state and will no longer offer foster care and adoption services.

SPRINGFIELD -- Catholic Charities in the dioceses of Springfield, Joliet and Belleville are dropping their lawsuit against the state and will no longer offer foster care and adoption services.


The decision came after both circuit and appeals courts decided not to stop the state from transferring Catholic Charities cases to other child welfare agencies while the lawsuit was pending.


“Even if the court were to decide in our favor, the children will be gone,” said Peter Breen, an attorney with the Thomas More Society, which represented Catholic Charities. 


Breen also said the state is late in paying Catholic Charities for services already provided.


“The diocese of Springfield is getting payments six to seven weeks late,” Breen said.


Bishops in the affected dioceses, including Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield, issued a joint statement about the decision.


“The decision not to pursue further appeals was reached with great reluctance, but was necessitated by the fact that the state of Illinois has made it financially impossible for our agencies to continue to provide these services and the courts have refused to grant a stay for these operations to continue while further appeals are pending,” the statement said.  “Since we now need to close office and lay off employees, further appeals would be moot.”


 


Will work with state


Steven Roach, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Springfield diocese, said in a statement the agency will work with the state Department of Children and Family Services to “ensure a transition plan that will be put in place that minimizes the disruption to the lives of our foster parents and children.”


Roach thanked the foster care and adoption staff for their work and said the agency “will work diligently to secure employment opportunities for them with the agencies designated to receive our cases in the transition.”


Roach declined further comment.


DCFS terminated its foster care and adoption services contracts with Catholic Charities because Catholic Charities would not place children in the homes of unmarried couples, including those in civil unions.  DCFS said that is a violation of the civil unions law.


Catholic Charities said placing children in homes of unmarried couples violates its religious principles.


“The Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act only passed after specific assurances that the law would not impact the work of religious social service agencies,” Breen said.  “Specific protections for these agencies were written into the law, but unfortunately, Illinois officials refused to abide by those protections.”


Circuit Judge John Schmidt ruled that the state is not obligated to continue awarding contracts to the agencies for those services, despite a 40 year-contractual relationship between Catholic Charities and the state.  Schmidt’s ruling did not delve into the religious freedom issue.


Children the losers


“The Catholic Church has successfully partnered with the state for half a century in providing foster care and adoption services,” the bishops’ statement said.  “(T)he losers will be the children, foster care families and adoptive parents who will no longer have the option of Catholic, faith-based services.”


DCFS representatives could not be reached for comment Monday.


Paprocki said Catholic Charities will continue to provide other services.


“Despite the loss of foster care and adoption services, our Catholic charities in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois will continue to address the basic human needs of the poor in central Illinois in other ways,” he said in a statement.  “The silver lining of this decision is that our Catholic charities going forward will be able to focus on being more Catholic and more charitable, while less dependent on government financing and less encumbered by intrusive state policies.”


Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.