Catholic Charities in Illinois has closed down all its foster-care operations rather than comply with new regulations allowing same-sex couples to adopt. The bishops’ lawyers are out, contesting that they have a First Amendment right to freedom of religion, and hence do not have to abide by state regulations; which sounds mildly plausible, until you hear that in fact they are receiving government money to run these foster-care centers:
… much of its revenue comes from the government. Catholic Charities affiliates received a total of nearly $2.9 billion a year from the government in 2010, about 62 percent of its annual revenue of $4.67 billion. Only 3 percent came from churches in the diocese (the rest came from in-kind contributions, investments, program fees and community donations).
It’s hard for me to conceive how Catholic Charities came to be a majority-taxpayer-funded operation. It makes fairly risible the idea that we should get rid of the welfare state and let charitable organizations do it all: It sounds like if the government pulled its supporting funds, the entire Catholic Charities edifice would collapse. The parishes – the actual people in the pews – have almost no connection at all (three percent!).
Dan Savage points out that you can’t take people’s money and not let them have a say in how it’s used. And despite the lawyers getting involved and the bishops grexing, that’s ultimately what is happening: the churches are refusing the money and the rules that go with them, and shuttering the charities.
Which leaves us with the issue of priorities. CC’s regulations do not require any particular religious affiliation (“We welcome prospective parents of all religious, racial and ethnic backgrounds who have a financially secure and stable family life.”), presumably because they recognize the value of a child being cared for, no matter what the religious beliefs of the foster parents. But a same-sex couple is excluded, even if they are Catholic. They will close down the entire system before they allow such a thing. The priorities displayed here do not reflect well on the bishops and do not immediately suggest themselves to common sense.
I am reminded of Chesterton’s assault on the Tolstoyans, who he felt represented the modern danger of fundamentalism perfectly – the problem of “reasonable insanity,” i.e. the operation of reason to the exclusion of our native moral sense. (Ironically, he considered the Catholic Church a bulwark against all this). I will let him speak:
If anyone wishes to form the fullest estimate of the real character and influence of the great man [Tolstoy], … he will find it best expressed in the news that has recently come from Canada, that a sect of Russian Christian anarchists has turned all its animals loose, on the ground that it is immoral to possess them or control them…. To the languid contemporary politician and philosopher it seems doubtless like something out of a dream, that in this iron-bound, homogeneous, and clockwork age, a company of European men in boots and waistcoats should begin to insist on taking the horse out of the shafts of the omnibus, and lift the pig out of his pig-sty, and the dog out of his kennel, because of a moral scruple or theory. It is like a page from some fairy farce to imagine the Doukhabor [anarchists] solemnly escorting a hen to the door of the yard and bidding it a benevolent farewell as it sets out on its travels…. A sect of men start with no theology at all, but with a simple doctrine that we ought to love our neighbor and use no force against him, and they end in thinking it wicked to carry a leather handbag, or to ride in a cart. A great modern writer who erases theology altogether, denies the validity of the Scriptures and the Churches alike, forms a purely ethical theory that love should be the instrument of reform, and ends by maintaining that we have no right to strike a man if he is torturing a child before our eyes. He goes on, he develops a theory of the mind and the emotions, which might be held by the most rigid atheist, and he ends by maintaining that the sexual relation out of which all humanity has come, is not only not moral, but is positively not natural. This is fanaticism as it has been and as it always will be.
So it is with a group of nuns and priests closing down an orphanage because they don’t like the abnormal sex life of a few otherwise acceptable couples who show up hoping to adopt a child. Common sense here says merely that the love the prospective parents are offering trumps any uncertainty about the effects of homosexuality just as it has been already determined to trump differences of religious creed. If it can be shown to be a bad idea, later on, for children to be in homosexual households, then by all means, present the data and make the case and change the policy.