Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia has been caring for foster children and placing them in homes for a solid century. But the city abruptly announced in March last year the agency can't do that any longer.
Much like the rest of the country, Philadelphia faces a challenge in finding homes for these children. In March, the city put out an urgent call for 300 new foster homes. At the same time, however it demanded Catholic Social Services endorse same sex relationships or get ousted from its contract to do foster care for the city.
"Catholic Social Services has been serving the city of Philadelphia for over a hundred years, and they've been doing that consistent with their religious mission since then. But the city has said, 'If they want to continue working, they have to endorse same-sex relationships,' which is the one thing they're not able to do, consistent with their ministry," Nick Reaves, an attorney with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CBN News.
This is happening despite the fact no same-sex couples have complained about Catholic Social Services' stand.
Reaves said of Philadelphia's officials, "They're closing down this effective agency without any complaints, without any same-sex couple coming to Catholic seeking to adopt."
Becket and Philadelphia law firm Conrad O'Brien PC are asking an appeals court in Pennsylvania to put an end to the city's new policy. Lawyers at the Becket Fund pointed out Catholic Social Services helped 2,200 foster children in the previous year alone, so banning this agency is going to harm many children and the foster families who need the agency's help caring for those kids.
"The city's actions are creating a severe human cost. Available foster homes are sitting empty," theyr argued in their appeal.
They suggested the policies come at a time when more children than ever desperately need foster homes.
"There's a big problem in Philadelphia. Over 6,000 children are in the city's care and in foster homes and group homes. And the city in March put out a call for 300 new foster families," Reaves explained.
So he contends Philadelphia's ultimatum that effectively kicks Catholic Social Services out of the foster care business is doing real harm to children who need homes and those adults who'd offer those homes if they had Catholic's backing.
"It's hurting families like plaintiff Sharonell Fulton, who's fostered over 40 children in the past 25 years," Reaves said of that ultimatum. "And she's said she'll be devastated if Catholic closed."
That's because the agency does much more than just place children in homes.
"Catholic Social Services trains, supports and provides ongoing advice and help to families like Ms. Fulton's. They have social workers who are on call 24/7. And Ms. Fulton has said her Catholic faith led her to become a foster parent, and Catholic's support has been invaluable to her in providing this important service to children," Reaves explained.
In a statement released by Becket, Fulton asked, "What justice is there in taking stable, loving homes away from children? If the city cuts off Catholic Social Services from foster care, foster moms like me won't have the help and support they need to care for their special-needs kids."
She continued, "I have relied on Catholic Social Services for support for years, and the city is taking away this help and causing harm and heartache to countless families like mine."
Even if a homosexual couple came to Catholic Social Services to help foster children, it doesn't mean the agency would thwart their effort.
"They're able to refer those families to other agencies," Reaves said. "And there are actually 30 foster care agencies in the city, four of them within two blocks of Catholic. So there really isn't any problem there."
So Becket and its lawyers defending Catholic Social Services contend that rather than preventing any actual harm to gay couples, the city is only hurting other people.
As Reaves put it, "I think what we would tell Philadelphia is that there is room for multiple different agencies in the city, and what we need is more foster care families, not fewer. So we're working to help Catholic Social Services continue to provide its invaluable service to children in need."
"There's a clear foster care crisis and 35 beds are sitting empty today because the city won't work with an effective foster care agency," he added.
This isn't a problem only in Philadelphia. While Catholic Social Services is fighting back in that city, Catholic foster care agencies in Boston, Washington, DC and other towns in Illinois and New York have closed down.
But Catholic Social Services will fight on and won't back down, because they say the one thing they can't do is endorse relationships that aren't consistent with their religious beliefs.