Catholic adoption and foster care agencies in Pennsylvania are continuing to close their doors as Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CSS) continues a legal battle with the city of Philadelphia over the agency’s policy of not placing children with same-sex couples.
The Diocese of Greensburg announced Oct. 1 that it had closed its adoption and foster care program, which had been operating since 1954. The Greensburg program also provided adoption services for the Pittsburgh diocese.
“Due to a purely political attack on our ability to perform our adoption work, while at the same time being permitted to exercise our religious freedom, we have been frozen out of the major source of contracts related to these two fields of work,” said Monsignor Raymond Riffle, managing director of Catholic Charities of Greensburg.
The City of Philadelphia received an allegation in March 2018 that two of the Department of Human Services’ approximately 30 contracted agencies would not place children with same-sex couples as foster parents. After the department investigated, it stopped referring foster children to those agencies.
One of those agencies was Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CSS), that had been working with foster children since its founding.
Run by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, CSS has noted that no same-sex couple has ever sought certification through the agency and been denied. If such a couple were to do so, the agency says it “would refer the couple to one of 29 other agencies in Philadelphia—several within blocks of Catholic’s headquarters.”
Referrals are common, the agency notes, and are routinely carried out for reasons including geographic proximity, a specific agency’s medical or behavioral expertise, language needs, or a specialization in pregnant youth or other types of foster situations.
CSS is now suing the city of Philadelphia, arguing that the city’s decision to stop foster referrals violates their religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution.
Lawyers representing CSS noted that earlier this year, the city of Philadelphia put out an urgent call for 300 new families to become foster parents, due to a shortage of beds for children in the foster care system.
CSS has served approximately 120 foster children in about 100 homes at any one time and been in operation in the city for more than a century.
In April, the Third Circut Court of Appeals ruled that city contractors— including CSS— in Philadelphia must place foster children with same-sex couples.
The U.S. Supreme Court could decide to hear the case as soon as Nov. 22, though it previously declined to review it.
Local media report that the Greensburg diocese, along with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Catholic Charities Counseling and Adoption Services of the Diocese of Erie, sought a religious exemption from the state policy in 2018 but were denied.
According to TribLive, Greensburg Catholic Charities facilitated 167 adoption and foster care placements for both dioceses through its state contract, and also handled 158 adoption and foster care cases outside the state system, through a Harrisburg-based program known as Women in Need.
Adoption and foster care agencies have had to close in recent years for similar reasons in Massachusetts, Illinois, California and Washington D.C.
In Buffalo, New York, Catholic Charities recently ceased adoption and foster care work due to rules that would have forced the organization to violate their religious beliefs. Catholic Charities had done work with adoption in Buffalo for nearly a century before the rule change.
TribLive reports that as of now, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Harrisburg is still an adoption provider for the state, along with St. Joseph’s Center of Scranton.
The Supreme Court was asked to take up the case in July, after declining to hear the case last year.
Andrea Picciotti Bayer, legal advisor for the Catholic Association, told CNA that it is possible that the court could make a decision on whether to hear the case Nov. 22, though it’s a “total long shot.”
“The State of Pennsylvania has now joined the city of Philadelphia in demanding that faith-based agencies choose between meeting...the needs of vulnerable children and violating their deeply held religious beliefs on marriage and family,” she commented.
“Our hope is that the Supreme Court will review the case brought by Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia and find that the Constitution does not allow such invidiousness against faith-based organizations, so that champions of children like CSS can continue finding loving homes for needy kids in a manner consistent with Catholic teaching,” she said.