Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Will the court intervene in Catholic desire to keep handling foster children?

Are we going to be in a long-running political fight between Illinois state government and the Catholic Church’s structure across the state?

It will be interesting to see what a Sangamon County judge (that’s the Springfield area, for those whose knowledge of the state ends at 119th Street) does on Tuesday, because a blatantly-partisan act by that court could set the stage for a political war between the governor and the Cardinal.

EVEN THOUGH TECHNICALLY, the Chicago Archdiocese isn’t involved in this latest action. I’m sure there are Catholic officials in Chicago who are more than eager to see their religious brethren across Illinois to prevail.

At stake is the fact that the Catholic church is upset that the state government earlier this year went ahead and approved the law that permits gay couples to engage in civil unions – which provide many of the legal benefits that traditionally-married couples already get.

The church has said it does not plan to recognize such couples as having any special legal union, which would mean that it would refuse to consider them if they were interested in becoming adoptive, or foster, parents.

That led to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services late last week to inform Catholic Charities that it will no longer permit the Catholic-affiliated to have anything to do with children,.

THE NEARLY 2,000 kids now being cared for by programs affiliated with Catholic dioceses across the state will be transferred to other organizations – most of which will be secular in nature.

Catholic officials have responded to civil unions by filing a lawsuit in Sangamon County Circuit Court that seeks to force the state to keep using Catholic-affiliated adoption programs to help place children in homes.

A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday. There’s no guarantee as to what will happen at that time. But officials sympathetic to the church side of this legal fight are hoping that some sort of injunction is issued by a judge to force the status quo to be maintained until the larger legal issue is resolved.

Then again, perhaps the court will do nothing of substance, and state officials will get a second legal victory this week (following the unanimous Illinois Supreme Court decision Monday that kept video poker legal to fund a massive construction program for the state).

NOT THAT THE Catholic Church has any chance of striking down the civil unions law that took effect last month, and has resulted in some 1,600 gay couples being issued licenses by counties across the state for civil unions during the law's first full month in effect.

This is about people trying to use organized religion to reject portions of our society that they don’t want to agree with. They want to be able to behave as though Illinois doesn’t recognize anything legitimate about a gay couple because it offends their sensibilities.

For those people who claim that their religious beliefs are somehow being compromised, I’d say that’s nonsense. This is about nothing more than partisan politics and ideology.

The fact that the proponents of this Catholic challenge are filing their court case in Springfield confirms that – in my mind.

FOR THIS LEGAL action was filed on behalf of the Catholic dioceses of Joliet (which covers the suburbs in Will and DuPage counties down south to Kankakee), Peoria and Belleville, along with the Illinois capital city.

The court (and political) systems in those first three cities have Democrat ideological leanings. While I realize that courts don’t knee-jerk (in most cases) rule in cases based on what the local political people desire, the fact is that it does have an influence.

Those courts might very well have tossed out the legal action to ensure that the state political powers-that-be in Springfield remain sympathetic.

But Springfield remains locally a solidly Republican establishment, including its court system. If any of those dioceses has a chance of getting the court to issue a quickie ruling in its favor while the greater legal issues are pending, it is Sangamon County.

I SUPPOSE THE Joliet Diocese could have taken the lead, but chosen to file the lawsuit in DuPage County court (located in Wheaton) – which still leans Republican, although not as intensely as it used to. But I could just as easily see the counter-measure to transfer the case to Joliet and Will County court.

Personally, I detest the idea that partisan politics and religion get co-mingled so closely. What comes next? Catholic-affiliated hospitals refusing treatment to those who don’t fit some church bureaucrat’s vision of an “ideal” person?

Which is why I wouldn’t mind it in the least if the church got out of the adoption business, if it has such a hang-up in complying with Illinois law.

It wouldn’t be the biggest stretch. The reason this isn’t a Chicago case is that the Archdiocese (which covers Cook and Lake counties) gave up on dealing with foster children and adoptions back in 2007 for reasons that had nothing to do with gay people or civil unions.

THE DIOCESE BASED in Rockford also got out of the child business earlier this year – with an Ottawa-based agency taking over such programs for northern Illinois.

Perhaps that is the lead the other dioceses should take. That is, if they can’t see their way to accept the fact that civil unions are here to stay in Illinois (until the day comes that Illinois follows the lead of New York and gives in to gay marriage proper).


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