Friday, August 19, 2011

Can Catholic Charities Remain "Catholic" and "Charitable" While Accepting Government Contracts?

This is something that has bothered me ever since I first looked into Catholic Charities of San Francisco's adoptions fiasco--the fact that by far the largest portion of Catholic Charities CYO's revenue is in the form of government contracts.

Today, the Chicago Tribune reported on Judge John Schmidt's ruling that the state of Illinois is not obligated to renew its foster care contract with Catholic Charities of Illinois. The sticking point, of course, was that the state now requires that foster children be placed in same-sex households--something Catholic Charities will not do:

"In discussions after the civil union bill went into effect in June, Catholic Charities told the state that accommodating prospective foster parents in civil unions would violate Catholic Church teaching that defines marriage between a man and a woman.

Pointing to a clause in the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act that they believe protects religious institutions that don't recognize civil unions, the agencies said they would refer those couples elsewhere and only license married couples and single parents living alone.

But lawyers for the Illinois attorney general said that exemption only shields religious clergy who don't want to officiate at civil unions. The policy of Catholic Charities violates state anti-discrimination laws that demand couples in civil unions be treated the same as married couples, they said"

Well, if that's the current law, then that's the current law, and Judge Schmidt seems to say it is. It would also seem to indicate the need for Catholic Charities to disentangle itself from the government. I looked at the financial statement for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, just to see to what level they are a government organization. I'd though Catholic Charities CYO of San Francisco was bad-- for the fiscal year ending in June 2010 they got over 73% of their revenue in the form of government/contract revenue.

But CCCYO is nothing compared to Catholic Charities of Chicago. Out of a total revenue of over $171 million for FY 2010, over $148 million, or 86.6% is from "fees/grants from government agencies." In other words, 86.6% of Catholic Charities of Chicago's revenue is not charitable donations at all--it comes from the taxpayers.

Catholic Charities (in Chicago or San Francisco or wherever) could remain Catholic, and accept government contracts, so long as the government was sufficiently in agreement with Catholic teaching. But once a government is in opposition to Catholic teaching, Catholic Charities either has to abandon Catholic teaching, or forgo government contracts. (The perverse genius of CCCYO consisted in its first abandoning Catholic teaching, and then foregoing the government contract anyway.)

The Chicago Tribune article also quoted one foster parent, who seems to understand the situation more clearly than the lawyers for Catholic Charities of Illinois: "'If the state doesn't respect our morals, then we don't want to do work for them,' Casey Teckenbrock said." That seems right to me. Catholic Charities can be true to their name by forgoing government contracts. Then they will have no worries about being Catholic, and they will be forced to once again become a charity. But in disentangling themselves from the government the biggest hitch will be what to do with all their staff: according to GuideStar, Catholic Charities of Chicago has 1,452 full-time and 1,221 part-time employees.

Posted by Gibbons J. Cooney