Following a report that Philadelphia’s Catholic Social Services agency (CSS) does not place foster children in the care of same-sex couples, that city’s Department of Human Services (DHS) decided that it will not sponsor future placements of children through CSS, which receives funds from the city.
A few weeks ago, DHS had temporarily suspended their connection with CSS while they examined the situation. The CSS policy, which bars LGBTQ people from participating in the foster system, violates the city’s contract policy and the 1963 Fair Practices Ordinance, both of which ban discrimination based on sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation. This controversy comes at a time when Philadelphia is attempting to recruit at least 300 families to foster children–the most urgent need the city has seen in a decade.
Philly.com quoted Heather Keafer, a DHS spokesperson, who said that the 233 children already placed by CSS and another faith-based organization will remain with their foster families, but that no new cases will be assigned to the agencies.
Kenneth Gavin, chief communications officer for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has expressed interest in rebuilding the church’s partnership with the city–but said the archdiocese will not do soby abandoning what it says is a faith principle. Gavin maintains that CSS is an “institution founded on faith based principles… As such, CSS would not be able to consider foster care placement within the context of a same-sex union.”
This is not a new battleground; similar prohibitions on Catholic charities in Boston, Illinois, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. have existed as early as 2006. Such cities’ Catholic charities, in refusing to comply with an evolving definition of marriage, have lost their licenses or funding, causing some to shut down.
Refusal to comply with government standards does not necessarily happen at the charity level. In the case of Boston’s Catholic Charities, the members of the board unanimously opposed the bishop’s request to exclude same-sex couples as potential adoptive parents. Seven board members resigned when the Archbishop sought exemption from the law. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has fought hard for religious exemptions, stating: “Religious liberty is more than freedom of worship; it includes our ability to make our contribution to the common good of all Americans without having to compromise our faith”.
Last year, the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2017 was introduced to both the Senate and the House of Representatives. If passed, the bill would prohibit local governments that receive federal funding for child welfare services from “discriminating against” service providers that deny certain services based on “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions”. Though the bill has not moved in Congress, the Philadelphia Inquirer notes that similar state legislation exists in places such as Michigan that protect agencies from working with LGBT people.
–Julia Basnage, New Ways Ministry, April 22, 2018