Employees at Catholic Charities in Buffalo, New York, are protesting their local bishop’s decision to end the agency’s adoption and foster care services over anti-LGBT non-discrimination protections, a controversy erupting just as that same bishop faces increasing calls for resignation over his handling of abusive priests.
Nearly 100 employees at the local Catholic Charities sent a letter to Bishop Richard Malone expressing their concern with his decision to end such services. The bishop’s decision is due to a New York’s Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, which Malone does not wish to follow as he believes people in same-gender marriages should be neither adoptive nor foster parents. Buffalo News reported:
“Dozens of employees have signed a pointed open letter urging the bishop to reverse his decision, arguing that gay and lesbian couples can be good parents and that the agency can respect church teachings without turning its back on those who need its help.
“‘We choose the side of love, and ask for you to do the same. It is both within your power and your religion,’ the letter states, according to a copy provided to The Buffalo News.
“A small group of Catholic Charities employees began circulating the letter in the days after learning of the diocese’s decision to close down the adoption and foster care program. . .The letter states the agency should not shut down that program at a time when there are a great number of children in need of stable homes. LGBTQ couples can provide loving care to those children, it states, noting the agency already has allowed single LGBTQ people and unmarried couples to adopt.”
The letter’s author, who has remained anonymous, told Buffalo News that the effort was not an attack on Malone or Church teaching. The signatories believe “there is room within church teaching to allow these services to continue without discriminating.” They wrote in the letter:
“The research is clear that gay parents are good parents. What is not clear is why the church would take the present action to allow more children to go without families rather than recognize a loving family for what it is. It is antithetical to Catholic values to deny a child a loving home when one is available. The Church could choose to recognize this, comply with state law, and still remain true to its beliefs. . .
“While we do not expect, nor are we asking, for you to go against official teachings of the church, we do believe that there is a choice to be made that can both acknowledge the law and affirm the Catholic faith. We the undersigned ask that you reverse the decision to end the foster care and adoption program. We choose the side of love, and ask for you to do the same. It is both within your power and your religion.”
Catholic Charities’ leadership responded to the employees’ letter in a statement, calling the situation “unique” and saying the decision to end adoption and foster care services comes from the belief that “if we couldn’t serve all members of our community through this program, we would serve no one.” Officials also claimed that sexual orientation “is not a barrier to any other services we provide.” The Buffalo diocese has stood by that statement. (The full text of the Catholic Charities statement can be found in the 11th paragraph of the Buffalo News story.)
Malone and other church officials’ decision comes after a same-gender couple applied to be parents, according to Buffalo News. Their choice means the 34 children in Catholic Charities’ custody will be transferred to other social service agencies, while Catholic Charities will fire six staff members and lose roughly $900,000 in program revenue. One board member, Julie Snyder, has already resigned, while another, Christina Orsi, has been removed from Catholic Charities’ website.
This controversy over adoption and foster care services at Buffalo Catholic Charities has arisen as Malone faces mounting calls for his resignation, including from some Church ministers and local politicians. Buffalo News reported:
“According to the WKBW report, Malone assigned [Father Arthur] Smith last year to a Depew parish, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta Church, despite repeated allegations that Smith had engaged in improper conduct with children and adults in his role as a priest. According to the TV report, Malone was fully aware of accusations against Smith and that he had been treated at a psychiatric facility.
“And although he was aware that Smith in 2013 had been relieved of his duties at a Clarence nursing home after two men made allegations of improper sexual advances, Malone wrote a glowing letter of recommendation for Smith to an organization that provides priests to act as ‘chaplains’ on oceangoing cruises, the TV report said.”
If the allegations against the bishop and his handling of abusive priests prove to be true, then it would be Malone, not LGBT people, who has endangered the safety and well-being of children by reassigning an abusive priest. If the allegations are proven false, the bishop still has to provide a rationale based on empirical evidence that children should not be placed with LGBT parents.
Employees at Catholic Charities Buffalo should be lauded for taking a stand, affirming that LGBT people can be good parents, and refusing to be complicit in discrimination. While the signatories are likely correct that Malone will not reverse his decision, he most certainly should. But even if technically ineffective, the public witness these employees have offered is far more important than the outcome. This situation shows that lay people are willing to speak out for justice and equality in the church. Such willingness is likely to increase with the passing of time.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 7, 2018