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Catholics Drop Foster Care Program in the District

James Wright | 2/24/2010, 9:23 p.m.

The Archdiocese of Washington, which manages Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington decided to stop its foster care and public adoption program in the city due to a recently passed law approving gay marriage. Courtesy Photo
One of the oldest foster care programs in the District of Columbia that has historically served Black children and their families ended its relationship with the District government due to a recently passed law.

The Archdiocese of Washington, which manages Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington decided to stop its foster care and public adoption program in the city due to a recently passed law approving gay marriage. The District did not grant the Archdiocese an exemption to its approval of same-sex marriage, which violates the laws and traditions of the Catholic Church.

Ed Orzechowski, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Charities, said that the action was necessary in order to keep the Catholic Church within its teachings.
"Foster care has been an important ministry for us for many decades," Orzechowski said.

"We worked very hard to be able to continue to provide these services in the District. We regret that our efforts to avoid this outcome were not successful. I am grateful to our dedicated staff and foster families who have been a part of our family. The difference each staff member makes for a child in need of a loving home is immeasurable," he said.

Susan Gibbs, communications director for the Archdiocese, said that efforts were made to work with the city government throughout the legislative process for the same-sex marriage law but to no avail. The foster care program and its caseload were transferred to the National Center for Children and Families (NCCF) in Bethesda on Mon., Feb. 1.

Gibbs said that it was an unhappy day for the Archdiocese and for the city's children.

"We have been providing these services for the city for 80 years," she said.

"We know that the National Center for Children and Families will do a good job and there are 15 other providers in the city. However, we are sad that this had to happen."

Catholic Charities, which operates more than 20 social service programs in the District, does not expect its other programs in the city to be affected by the gay marriage law.

In addition to the District, the organization helps individuals and families in need living in Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George's and St. Mary's Counties in Maryland, according to its Web site.

Information on the Catholic Charities Web site indicates that more than 124,000 people received aid in the form of housing, food, legal aid, physical and mental health and other services, regardless of race, nationality and religion.

The foster care and adoption programs had been two among the 63 social service programs that the D.C. government paid Catholic Charities $22.5 million to run. Of that amount, $2 million went to the foster care program.

The Web site also indicates that the support is delivered by 82 programs in 60 geographically diverse locations with more than 4,500 staff and volunteers.

With regards to the foster care program, the overwhelming majority of its foster care children are Black and Latino, Gibbs said.

Throughout its history in Washington, until the 1970s, Catholic Charities was one of the few private social service agencies that served the needs of Black families. Like many other practices in the pre-civil rights era in Washington, foster care and adoption services were segregated by race because of the laws.

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and David Catania (I-At-Large) have said repeatedly since the debate on same-sex marriage that faith-based organizations may not get exemptions from the city because it would require an exception to the city's human rights laws, and they were not willing to look into that for the Archdiocese of Washington.

The Archdiocese's stand has gained the support of leaders of other denominations.

"In their arrogance to gain political favor with one segment of the population, the mayor and the Council have legally crippled the faith community with a law that prohibits us from serving those to whom God has called us to minister," according to a statement issued by the Missionary Baptist Ministers' Conference of D.C. and Vicinity.