After an Illinois judge ruled last week that the state Department of Children and Family Services can legally sever their long-standing foster care and adoption relationship with Catholic Charities, it did not take long for the state's Catholic leadership to speak out against a decision they see as "sad" and disappointing.
Bishop Daniel Jenky of the church's Peoria archdiocese lashed out against the decision and said he was "sad to observe that important elements of the political establishment in the state of Illinois are now basically at war with the Catholic community and seem to be destroying their institutions" in a statement.
Springfield Bishop Thomas John Paprocki also expressed disappointment with the the decision of Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt, which he said marked "a sad day for the children of Illinois."
"The message from the state of Illinois is simple: Organizations that only place children in accord with their religious beliefs are barred from state contracts – Catholics need not apply," Paprocki continued.
But Judge Schmidt and the state of Illinois saw matters differently. Last month, Governor Pat Quinn said Catholic Charities "made a choice" to ignore the state's non-discrimination laws with its practice of denying adoption or foster care placements for same-sex couples in civil unions. Quinn added the state is "not going back" to entering into contracts worth $30 million with the agencies should they continue that practice.
And while Schmidt's decision steered clear of the issue of religious freedom, his ruling focused on whether Illinois had violated the agencies' property rights by declining to renew the contracts in question, as the Chicago Tribune reported. Schmidt, on those grounds, noted: "No citizen has a recognized legal right to a contract with the government."
Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which joined the lawsuit in July on behalf of the children in DCFS custody and a Champaign lesbian couple interested in adopting in the future, applauded the court's decision as moving the state "closer to the day when all Illinois citizens who wish to serve as foster parents are given that chance, regardless of their sexual orientation."
"Excluding prospective lesbian and gay parents solely because of their sexual orientation deprives children of loving parents, extends their time waiting for a permanent home, and is unlawful under Illinois law," said ACLU Illinois' LGBT project director John Knight in a statement. "The State of Illinois must assure that decisions about foster and adoptive homes for children are based on professional standards about what is best for children and not other irrelevant factors such as the sexual orientation or marital status of the foster parents."
Long-time Chicago gay activist Rick Garcia was also "thrilled" by the decision and described it in a statement as "a victory not only for fairness and decency but also [one that] sends the message that discrimination is unacceptable even if done in the name of religion."
Meanwhile, Thomas More Society, the Chicago-based law firm which represented Catholic Charities in the suit, has not ruled out an appeal and indicated they are "reviewing the ruling and considering next actions."