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Editorial: Catholic Charities' unfortunate but appropriate decision

This is unfortunate, but given the Catholic Church’s commitment to its teachings and New York’s commitment to marriage equality, the outcome isn’t surprising: On Thursday Catholic Charities announced that it will close the foster parent and adoption services it offers.

The crisis arose recently when a same-sex couple applied to the Catholic agency to become adoptive foster parents. Presuming the couple met all other legal requirements, Catholic Charities would have had no choice but to agree and, for better or worse, it was not willing to do that. As a result, it announced that it will end the program.

The good news is that the children won’t be wrenched from their foster families. Catholic Charities will transfer oversight for these foster children to a different agency.

Families in the midst of an adoption face an unhappier outcome. They must begin the process again with a new agency.

It is a shame that the church cannot find a way to bridge this chasm, which will eventually open in every state. Does placing a child with a same-sex couple necessarily mean that the church endorses same-sex marriage? Surely there are differences between approving of such unions and simply acknowledging the fact of them. And isn’t any child better off with a loving family that wants to provide its support?

Nevertheless, this is where Catholic Charities of Buffalo is today. Church and state came into conflict and, in a case such as this, the state appropriately holds sway. New York has legalized same-sex marriage and is committed to equality.

“New York State law is clear,” said Office of Children and Family Services spokeswoman Monica Mahaffey. “Discrimination of any kind is illegal and in this case OCFS will vigorously enforce the laws designed to protect the rights of children and same sex couples.” The position is both clear and correct.

It is similar to the controversy that surrounded the state’s requirement that insurance plans offer birth control options. While it would have been inappropriate, and surely unconstitutional, to apply that mandate to any church, institutions such as schools and hospitals fall into a different category, even when they are run by religious institutions.

Thus, Catholic Charities had only two choices: comply or discontinue this service. Given the church’s inflexibility on issues it sees as fundamental to its faith, it opted for the latter, as did sister organizations in Boston in 2006 and in Illinois in 2011.

Catholic Charities helps to arrange only about five adoptions per year, most of which involve children who are released from foster care.

But it has 55 certified foster homes, with 34 children in 24 of them. For those children and the families that have taken them in, there will be adjustments. The adults in the homes must work with a new agency and new caseworkers. The children will lose caseworkers who sometimes have been a more enduring presence in their lives than foster families.

This problem came at a difficult time for the church, as the Buffalo Diocese confronts the terrible facts of child sexual abuses committed by priests and the cover-ups that protected them.

It has handled this matter in a way that it sees as consistent with its beliefs while trying to minimize disruptions. We hope that is the outcome for the children, families and the community.

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