Fourth Catholic Charities agency joins lawsuit against Illinois

The Diocese of Belleville announced July 26 that it will join three other Illinois dioceses in a lawsuit against the state, after its adoption and foster care programs face being shutdown over a recent civil unions law.

Gary Huelsmann, director of Catholic Social Services affiliated with the Belleville diocese, said on Tuesday that halting these programs goes against “the best interest of the many children we serve and will deny vital choices for foster parents and children.”

The Belleville diocese joins Catholic Charities groups from the dioceses of Springfield, Peoria, and Joliet in fighting the attempts of the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to stop the charities’ foster care and adoption programs.

Catholic Charities’ dispute with the state centers on the recently-enacted Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act, which gave legal status to same-sex partnerships or unmarried opposite-sex couples.

The four dioceses maintain that their Catholic Charities offices remain free, under that law, to place foster children only with married couples and single individuals without live-in partners.

In June 2011, Catholic Charities sued the state of Illinois, seeking to confirm its status as a foster care agency under the new legislation.

Illinois’ Department of Children and Family Services had stated in a July 8 letter that it was ending its relationship with Catholic Charities in the dioceses over the Church ministries’ alleged refusal to comply with the civil union law.

On July 12, Judge John Schmidt issued a preliminary injunction extending the foster care contract between Illinois and Catholic Charities, which the state refused to renew after it expired in June.

The injunction ordered that business between the state and Catholic Charities should proceed as it did prior to the contract’s expiration.

However, both the Chicago Tribune and the Associated Press soon after reported that the state would be stopping referrals, despite the Judge Schmidt’s contract extension.

Shortly before a July 18 hearing that would have tested the legality of the state’s move, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan reversed course and agreed not to go forward with the plan to discontinue referrals to Catholic Charities, while continuing to pay the organization under its existing contract.

Catholic Charities will continue to provide foster care and adoption services until a hearing scheduled for August 17, which will decide the merits of the diocesan charities’ complaint against the state.

In recent years, the Catholic Charities of Illinois have been ranked at or near the top when measured against the performance other comparable state agencies.

The four dioceses’ adoption and foster care programs have over 2,000 children in placement with foster families as well as 1,933 families under their supervision.

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