Three U.S. bishops had high praise May 18 for two U.S. governors who they said were “keeping kids first.” The bishops were Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, who chairs the bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, who chairs the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
The governors were Mary Fallin of Oklahoma and Jeff Colyer of Kansas, both of whom had signed — within days of each other — laws ensuring that faith-based adoption and foster-care providers can carry out the services they provide in accordance with their moral beliefs. These states, the bishops noted, join Virginia, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alabama and Texas in adopting policies that “do not exclude any providers or prohibit anyone from adopting but merely ensure the inclusion of faith-based providers.” At the federal level, this legislation exists as the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act.
It has been a familiar refrain over the last decade or so, as laws establishing same-sex marriage and civil unions emerged at the state level and restrictions were placed on licensing and contracts for entities who provide social services to families — entities like Catholic Charities, which facilitates services like adoption and foster care. This has resulted in some of the oldest adoption agencies in the country closing up shop when left with no legal protection against violations of conscience. Most recently we have seen the challenge the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has had to bring against the city of Philadelphia around the issue of placing foster children. What’s sad about this development is that it’s not the Church that pays a price — it’s those who benefit from the services. Hence the bishops’ language about “keeping kids first.”
Archbishop Kurtz, in an interview in the May 20-26 issue of OSV Newsweekly, framed this starkly, noting, “We’ve had so many problems that are growing, especially because of the opioid crisis, with children who desperately need a home.”
Faced with urgent human crises that fray the social fabric, the last thing our laws should do is hamstring an important partner, one with unparalleled years of experience, infrastructure and quality of care. To squint past the “forest” of Catholic social service in search of a more enlightened, ideologically pure “tree” is not to put kids first. It is putting social services at the disposal of an agenda. A similar episode played out at the federal level in 2011, when the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services lost a contract for services to counter human trafficking, despite the USCCB’s grant proposal scoring higher than others who ultimately received funding, all because the Migration and Refugee Services does not provide “the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care.” That is, they follow Church teaching on contraception, sterilization and abortion.
Catholic social teaching envisions a society in which individuals, communities, businesses, religious entities and the government share responsibility for promoting the flourishing and well-being of all people. When our focus is here, the freedom of all people — not just religious freedom — is advanced, allowing them to become the people God made them to be. This is why we join the bishops’ enthusiasm for the decisions of states to do more to fostering this ecosystem of solidarity that, among other things, keeps kids first.
OSV Editorial Board: Don Clemmer, Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott Richert, York Young