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Gov. Quinn cuts foster-care contracts with Catholic Charities over civil unions dispute

Gov. PQuinn speaks Chicago SouthlChamber Commerce lunch Tinley Park ConventiCenter Tinley Park Ill. Monday July 11 2011. | Joseph P.

Gov. Pat Quinn speaks at the Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce lunch at the Tinley Park Convention Center in Tinley Park, Ill., on Monday, July, 11, 2011. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 12, 2011 4:50AM

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn defended his administration’s decision to butt heads with his own religion Monday in a dispute over the Catholic church’s refusal to place any of the nearly 2,000 state wards it cares for with same-sex couples.

On Friday and Monday, the Department of Children and Family Services notified Catholic Charities organizations in four suburban or Downstate dioceses that the agency intended to terminate their foster-care and adoption contracts with the state because of the church’s unwillingness to abide by Illinois’ new civil unions law.

“They made a choice,” Quinn said of the dioceses. “They have a law in Illinois. It’s the civil unions law. I signed it into law. We’re not going back. Any organization that decides that because of the civil unions law that they won’t participate voluntarily in a program, that’s their choice.”

Cutting ties with Catholic Charities in the dioceses of Joliet, Peoria, Springfield and Belleville means the state will place 1,997 children now cared for by those groups with other foster-care agencies, DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe said.

Catholic Charities in the dioceses of Joliet, Peoria and Springfield sued the state in June in order to preserve their long-held practice of placing state wards only with married heterosexual couples or single, non-cohabitating adults and to refer same-sex couples seeking to adopt to other child-welfare agencies.

The Catholic organizations have asked a Sangamon County judge to temporarily block the DCFS termination of foster-care and adoption contracts until the legal case is resolved. A decision on an injunction could come at a hearing Tuesday in Springfield.

Peter Breen, a Thomas More Society lawyer who represents the three dioceses in the dispute, called the state’s termination of the diocesan foster-care and adoption contracts with DCFS “surprising and shocking.”

“It just seems reckless to take almost 25 percent of the state’s foster children and rip them out of the agency that’s been caring for them. They’ve been caring for Illinois children for over 100 years,” Breen said.

Breen estimated Catholic Charities in the Joliet diocese provides foster-care services on behalf of the state to “a few hundred” children in DuPage and Will counties, which are within the Diocese of Joliet.

The Quinn administration’s decision drew praise from the civil unions law’s chief House sponsor, state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago).

“They’re totally within their rights to determine who can or cannot be married under their church law or who can be married by a priest or rabbi or in their facilities, but this is different,” Harris said of the religious groups. “But here, they’re coming to the state to get contracts to provide government services on behalf of the state. They can’t pick and choose which Illinoisans they think are worthy of those services.”

The Archdiocese of Chicago isn’t involved in this dispute because it quit offering foster-care and adoption services on behalf of the state in 2007 because of problems in attaining liability insurance, Marlowe said.

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