Catholic Charities and Gay Adoption


Head Start Leader: What number is this, Jeffrey?

Child: Six?

Leader: Six, good job.

BOB FAW, correspondent: Thousands of children in Illinois have been helped the last five decades by Catholic Charities. In Joliet, for example, the agency runs this Head Start program. It also shelters and nourishes children in need. Of 15,000 in the state’s foster care program, the agency takes care of more than 2000. Now though, as director Glenn Van Cura knows, Catholic Charities is in a bitter legal dispute with the state because when it comes to fostering or adopting children, the organization will take married and single people but will not accept same-sex or unmarried couples.

Wedding ceremony: I now pronounce you husband and husband and wife and wife.

post01-catholiccharitiesGLENN VAN CURA (Executive Director, Catholic Charities Diocese of Joliet): The idea between a man and a woman and marriage is a sacred bond, and cohabiting, gay or straight—that’s not that sacred bond. It’s not stable.

FAW: It’s in violation of church doctrine?

VAN CURA: Right.

ROBERT GILLIGAN (Executive Director, Catholic Conference of Illinois): We will continue to say that children are best raised in the situation where there is a loving home and a mother and a father, and that will be true as long as we’re able here to articulate it. It’s the truth, and that’s what the church is about is trying to speak the truth to these very sometimes controversial social questions.

FAW: Last year Illinois enacted a law recognizing same-sex unions. Now couples like Michelle Mascaro and Corynne Romine have the right to foster or adopt children.

MICHELLE MASCARO: The church can decide whether or not they want to marry a couple. That’s a church religious right, but the state has created ways for families to come together, and they’ve said, you know, that you can come together through adoption, and it doesn’t matter what that family constellation looks like. Are you fit to be a parent?

post02-catholiccharitiesFAW: Does it anger you, what’s—because that clearly is…..

CORYNNE ROMINE: It doesn’t make me feel second-rate, because I’m not. It does make me angry, yes.

Mascaro (speaking to children): Okay, David, it is going to be your turn…

FAW: Michelle and Corynne have adopted three children, David, Joseph, and Emma. Because Emma was adopted through a religious agency, the two women felt they had to hide their true relationship.

MASCARO: And they might say no, you can’t have this baby who was our baby. You know, she came right from the hospital home with us.

FAW: Catholic Charities says it’s a matter of religious freedom and that if civil law and church doctrine collide doctrine takes precedence and gives it the right to discriminate. Bob Gilligan is with the Catholic Conference of Illinois, which is the public voice of the Catholic Church in the state.

(speaking to Robert Gilligan): When it comes to gay couples, then, they are excluded. Is that not discrimination?

post03-catholiccharitiesGILLIGAN: There is a form of discrimination there, sure. We don’t accept the application of an admittedly unmarried or same-sex couple.

FAW: Now the state of Illinois is in the process of cutting off the nearly $4 million it funnels annually to Catholic Charities because it says discrimination against gay or unmarried couples who want foster children is illegal and short-sighted. Kendall Marlowe is with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

KENDALL MARLOWE (Deputy Communications Director): I grew up in a family that took in foster children, and I’ve been a foster and an adoptive parent myself as an adult, and if I’ve learned anything it’s that what helps a child succeed is that unconditional love and guidance, and in both my experience and in the research literature that has been produced on this issue, there’s no indication that sexuality, sexual orientation has anything to do with parenting.

FAW: Child advocate from the ACLU Benjamin Wolf insists Catholic Charities’ policy harms children.

BENJAMIN WOLF (Associate Legal Director, ACLU of Illinois): We need everybody. It’s hard enough to provide good homes for abused and neglected children without imposing additional discrimination on the pool of foster parents.

post05-catholiccharitiesVAN CURA: There’s not one example that they can show that a child has not been placed in a home.

GILLIGAN: They’re not excluded. There’s 47 other private child welfare agencies in the state. There’s many other agencies that they can go to.

MASCARO: It’s not okay to say to people like us if we lived in a part of southern Illinois or in Peoria to say, oh, you can go to some other agency, because Catholic Charities has the lock on it. They’re the only agency out there.

FAW: Despite the fervently held beliefs on each side, the legal situation is anything but clear-cut. Catholic Charities, for example, argues that the Illinois law on religious freedom permits the agency to discriminate.

GILLIGAN: The title of the bill is the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act. Where’s the freedom? Where is the protection for religious entities? It’s in the bill itself. There’s a section in there that says that the bill should not infringe upon religious practice, religious ministry.

MARLOWE: Every faith-based organization in the state of Illinois has the full capacity and the full right to pursue their religious freedom. The question is what happens when you are paid with taxpayers’ money, state money, to provide state services? And in those cases we have to insist that those agencies comply with Illinois law.

post04-catholiccharitiesFAW: Catholic Charities of Illinois has placed thousands of children in homes over the past 50 years. Eighty percent of its foster-care budget comes from the state. Even if it loses that money, says Bob Gilligan, Catholic Charities will continue with adoption and foster care.

GILLIGAN: It’s part of our mission, it’s part of our teachings, it’s part of what we do as Catholics. But we have to do it in honoring our own tenets and our faith that call us to do this. If we can’t do it in a faith-filled mission, then we can’t do it using public money. We’ll do on our own terms.

MARLOWE: We don’t want to see them leave this work. But if that is what’s going to happen, the Illinois child welfare system that they helped build is more than capable of taking on this transition. There are other agencies bound by the exact same regulations that Catholic Charities is that are ready to step up and take on this work.

FAW: Gay adoptive parents like Michelle and Corynne think that history is on their side, that eventually Catholic Charities’ policy of exclusion will go the way of earlier social practices, like the 1950s when black Americans were denied public accommodations.

MASCARO: It harkens back to just say you can’t eat in this lunch counter, go eat at one down the street. We know that in every other aspect that’s not right. It’s not legal. It’s not sanctioned in this country. Why is it still allowed or could it be allowed in adoption? This is an abuse of what they perceive as their religious freedom.

WOLF: There were agencies 30 years ago, 20 years ago, that didn’t want to place children in homes of interracial couples. I mean, the world is changing.

FAW: So the issue in Illinois, now focused on gay couples, comes down to this: when anti-discrimination laws and church doctrine clash, which should prevail?

GILLIGAN: This is an emerging conflict in our society. As you enact antidiscrimination laws, to what degree does a religious institution have to comply with it? We do a lot of things in the public square. Is the Catholic Church in compliance with all the rules and policies and laws of the state if we won’t do certain things against our conscience? It’s a good question.

FAW: And as the definition of the modern family continues to change, will church doctrine also have to change?

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Bob Faw in Chicago.

  • Nelly Maseda

    Great segment on the need for children, without parents, to be adopted by loving couples.
    However, it ended with a wonderful same sex couple allowing their children to ride a bike without a helmet.
    Just an observation.
    Keep up the great programming.

  • Humanist

    There is no evidence that God exists and there is no printing press up in the sky. So, there goes the religious argument against gay marriage and adoption of children by gay people. What we all need as human beings on this tiny planet is love, respect and security.

  • Channah

    You do not want to even hear what I think of the Catholic Church. But, I am tired of them trying to control our government and laws by what they believe. They are loosing many members, and it is easy to see why.

  • drdanfee

    Thanks loads for providing this transcript wherein we get to read comments from a variety of points of view. Single voiced statements usually conform pretty patly to a certain pre-determined party line, and that only preaches to the choir, as the saying goes. My understanding of the Catholic narrative still troubles me. I read (and hear, then reports or interviews are video or live in media) a considerable amount of verbal dodging and ducking going on. Church spokespeople continue to wrap flat earth negative beliefs about committed same sex couples who are sometimes already successful parents of other children, and/or who typically have passed some rather strenuous screening and evaluation as potential adoptive parents as less able, less parentally committed, and inferior by definition to the straight married couples the charity service prefers, rigidly per church doctrine. If that criteria were the only possible viable adoptive parenting option, surely it would also exclude single parents? Yet CC still blithely served single adoptive parents, and I would guess, de facto encourages or invites single people to hide the fact that they might be a gay man or gay woman so as to leave the placid surfaces of religious categories undisturbed by real world people wanting to commit to being real world adoptive parents. There is something definitional about this verbal sparring that comes across as way too facile, and disrespectful as well, to everybody involved in these issues. Then insult seems added in hidden, secretive religious injuries when the verbal-administrative procedures first involve playing according to what looks and sounds like sleight of hand manuevers, only to be verbally wrapped up in shiny paper and called .. ‘a faith filled mission.’ If we bother to look beneath this wholesome sounding wrapping, what we clearly find is a disturbing mix of overt, outright falsehoods which invite us all to believe, assume, and judge adoption placement under Illinois law, according to untrue conclusions about the bad parenting outcomes that both single parents and same sex parents (both single and partnered) are supposed to always get for children in dire circumstances. Sitting with this narrative or faith-filled explanation gets more and more uneasy feeling, the longer one ponders. Eventually it feels like we are just a few steps away from being invited to conclude that, say, only Catholic married straight couples in good church standing need bother applying; and though officially that is not the line the church program wishes to draw, we really are not getting a clear, honest explanation about why letting (say) an atheist or Muslim or Protestant or Buddhist or whatever couple or single parent candidate adopt a child is not also being demonized per existing Catholic doctrines. After all, per existing Catholic doctrines, any and all of the rest of the non-Catholics are doomed right to hell (barring some unforeseen extra mercy from God in the final analysis), just like committed same sex parents are doomed. it all ends up sounding like a toxic and illogical mix of good child welfare policy and state law (based so far as possible on empirical studies over several decades) with non-empirical religious negatives which are not only difficult to otherwise hypothesis test, but which have been disconfirmed so far as parenting goes, in those studies which did hypothesis test the claims that same sex parents simply are not by definition … healthy parents. Bottom line: Catholic Charities has a lot of empirical homework to do in child welfare policy and practice, and it needs to better explain to all of us how propagating falsehoods about same sex couples is, on the contrary, true, good, and not least of all, in the sufficient good interests of the children who cannot be adopted. drdanfee

  • BGB

    It’s nice to see some points from multiple perspectives. Knowing that the state receives money from the federal government (to support foster care) I wonder if federal religious freedom laws would put the state at risk of losing the federal funding.

  • Fr Hugh Purcell FIMLS

    No part of this discussion asks the question of what is best for the child in the long term?

  • RHO

    BGB is correct the state of Illinois is protecting their federal funding for foster care programming.

    I applaud Catholic Charities and the Catholic Church for standing by their beliefs and convictions when others would take the money and run!!

  • John Roco

    What is happening in Illinois is small in comparison to HR 1681 sponsored by Pete Stark (D-CA) currently with 70 co-sponsors in the federal house of representatives, which would eliminate Catholic Charities foster care and adoption across the United States.

  • Kristen

    hannah says:
    October 2, 2011 at 5:53 pm
    You do not want to even hear what I think of the Catholic Church. But, I am tired of them trying to control our government and laws by what they believe. They are loosing many members, and it is easy to see why.

    It’s obvious that you know NOTHING about the Catholic Church. We are gaining many, MANY members because of our beliefs and the fact that those beliefs do not change with the wind. No one should be required to do anything their religious convictions are at odds with.

    And for those so uninformed about the Faith, the Church does NOT deny evolution. The theology behind that statement is, I am sure, to complicated for many to understand. And I doubt most would either read it in its entirety or believe what I say. It is WAY more convenient for you to continue your diatribe in ignorance.

  • Beth

    Although I am not a Catholic, I support Catholic Charities’ right to refuse to send children to same-sex and non-married couples. It’s their organization and they should be allowed to run it the way they want to, according to their beliefs.

    If federal or state funds are withheld from Catholic Charities, I will be sending them donations to help make up for the loss.

    Someone will probably comment that I must be a “backwoods Bible thumper” but might just be surprised to know that I’m a member of Mensa and an honors graduate of Emory University, with 40 years experience working with the public in both state and federal government, as well as in churches and charitable agencies such as Habitat for Humanity. I do know what I’m talking about.

    And yes, I DO believe in God, and in the Bible. God bless and protect the children. . . .

  • Michelle

    Religious organizations should have BFOQ rights pertaining to their religious beliefs. This means that charitable organizations run by a religious community should not be forced to do something against their religion just because it is legal for the general public in the United States. They should have the right to choose not to do things which are against their religion.

    Just because something is legal in the United States, a choice that citizens in the United States are allowed to choose to do — this does not mean that certain religious based charities (especially when such choices would be against their religion) must also choose to engage in such transactions and by so doing deny their religion. As part of the freedoms in the United States, religious based charities can choose, and should continue to be able to choose, not to engage in transactions which are against their religion even if such transactions are legal in the United States.

    This is freedom of religion. May you never be forced to do anything against your faith.

  • Michele Comis

    If there is truly religious freedom in this country, why do we continue to try to tear down the beliefs held by various
    peoples. Let the separation of church & state alone. Let people have the freedom to believe in whatever faith
    they choose. Stop making laws to control religious beliefs and non-beliefs. The good done by many charitable
    organizations will be lost if this country continues in this manner.

  • quentin

    interesting.. focus on the needs of the children must be priority number one.. A volunteer organization that understands that goal and refuses to yield to the societal whims of the day, well good job! and thank you catholic charities and all those who support them. Good job for practicing your faith. And remember, no one should be surprised if practicing your christian faith results in persecution. What is surprising is the belief that government can do it better.. In the hurry to slam Christianity the underlying premise that the care for children, disabled, and old was something that governments naturally do just doesn’t fly. That is probably why there were soooo many hospitals when Christ walked the earth and there were only a few people to heal and save, Follow your faith… and if you have none well try to fake it to make it.. Focus on the needs of the children is the number one priority. Not the desire of full grown adults.. Those adults can form their own charitable organization to help and they can focus on their own needs instead of the children that is the greatness of the united states of america. GOD bless us all.

  • Ryan


    Love your response! What is wrong with people? Trying to deny us the right to religious freedom…

    I can say the same thing of people who are pro-abortion. They discriminate against unborn HUMAN babies and call them a mistake, or less-than-human, or garbage to be disposed of. Why is that discrimination allowed? Should their voices not be heard just like the “black Americans [who] were denied public accommodations” as was stated in the video? It’s because these are relgious issues, and we have a right to practice them. Catholic teaching says a marriage is between a man and a woman, and thus does not recognize same-sex unions and will not give them children; it says that abortion is murder and will not preform them. Someone who doesn’t believe that is legally allowed to do it, but you cannot force someone how is morally against it to do it. GOD BLESS AMERICA!

  • Ryan

    Why aren’t my comments showing up? Is there some kind of wait period before the comment is displayed?