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Illinois Catholic Charities Leave Diocese, End Civil Unions Dispute

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Tuesday Nov 15, 2011
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Earlier this month, Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois took the radical step of separating itself entirely from the church. Going non-denominational means the social-service agency can allow gay and lesbian couples to adopt as well as provide foster-care services -- positions opposed by the Roman Catholic Church.

"What you’re seeing at the state level in Illinois, what you’re seeing at the national level in Washington, D.C., is a consistent promulgation of policies and laws that are making it very difficult for faith-based agencies that believe that marriage is between one man and one woman," Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Illinois Catholic Conference, told the Catholic News Agency on Nov. 11.

After a 46-year partnership with the Belleville diocese, the Catholic Social Services agency will change its name to the Christian Social Services of Illinois. Gary Huelsmann, the organization’s executive director, said that the change is a "solution" and it will be "best for the children," the news site reported.

The Diocese of Belleville claimed that the Catholic Social Services agency was unable "to remain faithful to the moral teaching of the Catholic Church," by following Illinois’ civil union law, which was set into motion this summer.

"The message in Illinois from the state government -- and increasingly from the national government -- is that you (religious groups) cannot interact with the state" and receive public funds from it to assist "the most poor and vulnerable among us," Gilligan said. "That’s a tragedy because our country has a long history of interaction with faith-based organizations for social services."

The Catholic Social Services of Bellville, Springfield, Peoria and Joliet joined forces to file a lawsuit against the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Children and Family Services. The goal of the lawsuit is to stop the Illinois from canceling state contracts for foster care and adoption programs with the charities.

The state wants to end their contracts with the religious organizations because they refuse to obey an act that gives gay and lesbian (as well as straight) couples legal rights who are in a civil union.

The Associated Press reported today, however, that the Catholic Charities would stop its legal battle with the Illinois departments and end all contracts with the state. In a statement, the organization said they came to the decision "with great reluctance."

"Since we now need to close offices and terminate employees, further appeals would be moot," said the dioceses officials in a statement.

Several gay rights activists are pleased with the outcome of this case and are calling the victory a step forward in the right direction for equality.

"Finding a loving home for the thousands of children in the foster/adoption system should be the priority, not trying to exclude people based on religious dogma," Anthony Martinez of the Illinois gay rights group, The Civil Rights Agenda, said. "Dropping this suit is a step in the right direction for what is best for all the citizens of this great state."

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