The 4th installment of our series on Maternal and Early Childhood Issues looks at the role the Wolf Administration has played in curtailing Catholic adoption efforts in Pennsylvania.
A woman we’ll call Kelly talked with me about her adoption a number of years ago through Catholic charities. She learned details of what happened as she got older. Kelly says it could have worked out any better.
Kelly’s story was a familiar one for decades, but one that is happening less and less in many states across the country, as officials have placed restrictions on adoption agencies that contradict their long-held beliefs.
Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf several years ago joined Democratic governors in other states to require adoption agencies to place children with same-sex parents in order to get funding. That requirement by Governor Wolf would be in direct contrast with the long-standing Catholic belief that a marriage is between a man and a woman. It is that parental combination, Catholics believe, that is the best way to raise a child.
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference appealed to the Wolf Administration for a religious exemption. It was denied in 2018, basically causing most adoption efforts by Catholic organizations in PA to grind to a halt. Similar regulations have been shutting down Catholic adoption agencies across the U.S. ever since Boston Catholic Charities did so in 2006.
The efforts by the PCC to remove this burden continued on both the state and federal level. We sent an appeal to the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington to grant us a religious exemption. We worked closely with U.S. Congressman Mike Kelly on getting federal relief. A number of state senators sent a letter to President Trump asking him to provide relief for our efforts.
We’re hoping that a recent Supreme Court ruling involving foster care services by Catholic Charities in Philadelphia. Fulton vs. the City of Philadelphia started when the city said it would no longer contract with Catholic Social Services because CSS would not certify same-sex couples to be foster parents In response, two foster mothers—Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch—and the CSS sued the city, arguing that severing the contract violated their religious freedom. Fulton and Simms-Busch, the mothers who are plaintiffs, claim it was their Catholic faith that inspired them to be foster mothers.After losing in two lower courts, they petitioned the Supreme Court, which first agreed to hear the case in February 2020.
Over a year later the Court ruled that the city’s refusal due to the agency’s same-sex couple policy violated the Free Exercise Clause. Great news and a big win for religious liberty.
The PCC is hoping the principal will carry over into adoptions, but the damage may have already been done.
In 2019 the Diocese of Greensburg closed its adoption and foster care program after 65 years because of the decision by the Wolf Administration. Adoptions were halted by Catholic agencies in other parts of the state. Will the adoption work done by these organizations ever return to what it once was? We can only hope and pray.