Catholic Charities withdrawing from state-funded contracts

Photo Caption: “Public policy and state laws have increasingly clashed with church teachings in such a way that we no longer can maintain this partnership as a viable option,” said Bishop Jenky.

By: By Tom Dermody

Citing increasing clashes between Illinois law and church teaching, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, of Peoria announced Oct. 6 that Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria is withdrawing from all state-funded social service contracts.

To prevent disruption to the 1,000 foster care children and families now served by Catholic Charities of Peoria, plans call for those state-funded contracts to transition by Feb. 1, 2012, to a newly formed nonprofit entity called The Center for Youth and Family Solutions. The Diocese of Peoria and its Catholic Charities will have no connection to the new entity.

Catholic Charities in the dioceses of Joliet, Peoria, and Springfield, as well as Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois in Belleville, have been involved in legal proceedings with the state since Illinois recognized civil unions on June 1.

At issue is the agencies’ long-standing practice of referring prospective adoptive and foster parents who are cohabiting — regardless of sexual orientation — to other agencies or the Department of Children and Family Services. The state interprets the policy as discriminatory to same-sex couples under the new Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, and on Sept. 26 a Sangamon County Circuit Court judge ruled the state could begin canceling its foster care and adoption contracts with Catholic Charities.

Catholic Charities of Peoria’s decision to withdraw from ongoing litigation and from all state-funded social service contracts came after months of deliberation and prayer, said Bishop Jenky.

“I have a responsibility as bishop to assure that Catholic Charities operates consistently with the teachings and values of the church,” he said in the Oct. 6 statement, reprinted in full below. Recalling the agency’s nearly 100-year history of serving the poor and vulnerable, he said it was in keeping with that mission that Catholic Charities partnered with the state to provide services to those most in need.

“Public policy and state laws, however, have increasingly clashed with church teachings in such a way that we no longer can maintain this partnership as a viable option,” said Bishop Jenky.

Spokespersons for both Catholic Charities of Peoria and the DCFS said the solution involving the new nonprofit entity will ensure the continuity of care for each child.

“In the midst of the ongoing debate in the legislature, the media, and the courts, the primary concern for both Catholic Charities and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has been to prevent disruption to the services provided to the children and families being served by the foster care system,” said Patricia Gibson, chancellor and general counsel for both Catholic Charities and the Diocese of Peoria.

“While I am saddened to see Catholic Charities withdraw from this valued good work, I hope that this transition will provide stability for each client family as well as bring peace of mind to the committed staff in these programs,” added Gibson.

The foster care contracts total about $15 million and affect more than 200 Catholic Charities employees, who are invited to transition with the contracts to the new, independent Center for Youth and Family Solutions. It will be overseen by a five-person community board.

Both Bishop Jenky and Gibson emphasized that the mission of Catholic Charities will continue, and even expand in other areas, relying exclusively on private funding.

“The agency will continue our witness of God’s love throughout the diocese by expanding our longstanding core services to the poor, the needy, and the vulnerable,” said Bishop Jenky. Among specific areas he listed were food assistance to the hungry, support and outreach to the growing Hispanic populations, immigration services, needs of seniors, disaster response services, pro-life and pro-family counseling, and social justice advocacy.

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Editor’s note: The following press release was issued by the Catholic Diocese of Peoria on Thursday, Oct. 6:

BISHOP OF PEORIA ANNOUNCES CATHOLIC CHARITIES WITHDRAWING FROM STATE FUNDED SOCIAL SERVICE CONTRACTS

After careful deliberation and with much prayer and discernment, the Most Reverend Bishop Daniel Jenky, C.S.C., reached a decision this week that Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria will be withdrawing from state funded social services with the State of Illinois.

Bishop Jenky commented, “I have a responsibility as Bishop to assure that Catholic Charities operates consistently with the teachings and values of the Church. Indeed, it is the gospel call to serve the most poor and vulnerable that has provided the foundation for the work of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria for nearly a century. It was in keeping with those teachings that Catholic Charities partnered with the state to provide services to those most in need. Public policy and State laws, however, have increasingly clashed with church teachings in such a way that we no longer can maintain this partnership as a viable option.

“The Diocese has been fighting since June for affirmation from the courts that Catholic Charities was operating legally under Illinois law in their longstanding practice of referring unmarried couples to other licensed child welfare agencies to process their foster home application with the state,” Bishop Jenky continued. “Withdrawing from the ongoing litigation and these services is not a decision that was made lightly.”

“In the midst of the ongoing debate in the legislature, the media, and the courts, the primary concern for both Catholic Charities and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has been to prevent disruption to the services provided to the children and families being served by the foster care system,” said Patricia Gibson, Chancellor and General Counsel for both Catholic Charities and the Catholic Diocese of Peoria.

“Catholic Charities will be withdrawing from all state contracts to the State of Illinois in the next few months,” Gibson further stated.

In order to ensure continuity of care for each child, DCFS has indicated that they will be working with a new nonprofit entity, The Center for Youth and Family Solutions, to transition the cases from Catholic Charities of Peoria in order to ensure the most seamless transition possible for clients and staff associated with these programs. Catholic Charities has agreed to cooperate with this transition. The Catholic Diocese of Peoria and its Catholic Charities program will have no connection whatsoever with this new entity.

Gibson explained, “These abused and neglected children deserve a solution that will minimize disruption in their lives. While I am saddened to see Catholic Charities withdraw from this valued good work, I hope that this transition will provide stability for each client family as well as bring peace of mind to the committed staff in these programs.”

Bishop Jenky insists, “Make no mistake; Catholic Charities will continue its rich tradition of service in the 26 counties of Central Illinois. The agency will continue our witness of God’s love throughout the Diocese by expanding our longstanding core services to the poor, the needy, and the vulnerable. Catholic Charities will continue to provide critical services such as emergency assistance to the poor, food assistance to the hungry, support and outreach to the growing Hispanic populations, immigration services, needs of seniors, disaster response services, pro-life and pro-family counseling, and social justice advocacy throughout the diocese.”

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This story will be updated online in the coming days and further details will appear in the Oct. 16 print edition of The Catholic Post.

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