This article’s title adorned the banner behind Bishop Thomas John Paprocki as he spoke to a gathering in the Cathedral Atrium after Mass on June 24 (above) to celebrate religious freedom, a weeklong event of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Issues of religious freedom are many in Illinois and beyond, according to Bishop Paprocki who sits on the Bishops’ standing committee on religious freedom.
“While more children are waiting to be placed in families, faith-based child welfare providers are being targeted for closures because of their religious convictions, as we know all too well here in our diocese. For decades, Catholic Charities in Illinois provided these services,” said Bishop Paprocki.
For more than 30 years, Steven Roach, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, has helped place thousands of children, some who were victims of abuse, in foster care and adoptive homes. That ended abruptly in 2011 when, the late Sangamon County Judge John Schmidt, ruled in favor of the state‘s petition to strip Catholic Charities of its contracts with the state child welfare agency because it would not place children in the homes of unmarried couples, including those in civil unions in violation of the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act.
“After a righteous fight, it came to pass, that the state said to Catholic Charities to ‘get out,’” said Roach who was the featured speaker at the June 24 event. “It was a sad day and thousands of children and parents were impacted.”
Roach and the bishop told their audience of a bill (HR 1881) moving its way through Congress that could go a long way in preventing what happened to Catholic Charities in Illinois would not happen again. If passed and signed by the president, the religious liberty of child welfare service providers, including adoption and foster care agencies would be protected. Similar legislation has been introduced and passed in several states.
“Intolerance for religious views has real consequences … . We need to pray and act to keep political ideology from harming the best interests of children,” said Bishop Paprocki.