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As Catholic Charities pursues unity among staff, third member leaves board

Top Catholic Charities of Buffalo administrators want their employees to stay united and focused on the agency's mission – and that means using agency computers only for authorized purposes and talking to the media only if they have the agency's permission.

Those instructions, outlined in an internal memo obtained by The Buffalo News, came one week after nearly 100 Catholic Charities workers sent a letter to Bishop Richard J. Malone protesting his decision to end the agency's adoption and foster care program because of the church's position on same-sex marriage.

The repercussions of that decision continued to play out last week, with a third departure from the agency's board of trustees. Faren Gault Wilson, an official at the University at Buffalo, is the latest to leave following the announcement of the program's closing.

In its Aug. 23 announcement, Catholic Charities officials said they were driven by the conflict between church teachings and state law that bars adoption and foster care agencies from discriminating based on sexual orientation. A gay couple had applied for acceptance in the program, spurring this decision.

Catholic Charities ending foster, adoption programs over same-sex marriage rule

Eight employees in the program will be out of jobs at the end of the year, according to the agency and workers.

Catholic Charities said the program has 55 certified foster homes, with 34 children in care in 24 of those homes. Those children will stay with their parents, but under the auspices of another agency.

Catholic Charities initially said it arranges an average of five adoptions each year, but spokeswoman Rose Caldwell on Friday said private agency adoptions and adoptions of foster children combined have averaged 10 or 11 annually over the past decade.

Several letters to the editor published over the past two weeks in The Buffalo News criticized the agency's decision. Some writers vowed not to donate anymore to the 95-year-old organization, which in 2017 served an estimated 153,000 people in the eight counties of Western New York.

Aggrieved agency employees collected 95 signatures on an open letter that they emailed on Aug. 31 to Malone, other diocesan officials and the Catholic Charities board. They urged Malone to reverse his decision, arguing gay and lesbian couples can be good parents and the agency can both respect church teachings and fulfill its mission.

Publicly, the diocese responded by reiterating the reasoning behind the decision. Agency leaders acknowledged employees' passion for their work and emphasized the organization doesn't discriminate based on sexual orientation in delivering its services.

That was the only response from Catholic Charities leaders until Thursday, when CEO Dennis Walczyk and Sister Mary McCarrick, the agency's diocesan director, sent a memo to the organization's employees.

"The challenges continue for Catholic Charities as an organization and for you as employees," according to the memo, which also acknowledged the emotional and ethical effect of the adoption and foster care decision and the "helplessness" many workers may feel.

But, the memo added, "We will best serve our clients and one another if we are unified in our approach, our responses, our messages and our actions."

That means following the organization's policies and procedures, according to Walczyk and McCarrick, who went on to quote from two sections of the employee manual.

One section bars unauthorized interviews with news reporters and requires all such media contacts to be coordinated through Caldwell. Several agency employees have spoken anonymously or provided documents to The News in recent weeks.

The other section bars the use of Catholic Charities computers, cellphones and other devices and technologies, including agency-provided internet and email access, except for official business. That follows the creation and circulation of the open letter, as employees sought signatures from their colleagues and transmitted it to its recipients.

"This was an internal memo that speaks for itself," Caldwell told The News in an email. "It was an effort to open the lines of communication and to remind our employees why we do what we do."

End of Catholic Charities' adoption, foster care ripples through community

As for the board of trustees, Gault Wilson's departure leaves 16 remaining members.

The assistant director of affirmative action in UB's Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Gault Wilson was one of the newest members of the Catholic Charities board. Her election to that post was announced just one week before the agency revealed its decision to end the foster care and adoption program.

Her departure follows that of Julie R. Snyder, a vice president at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Western New York, and Christina Orsi, UB's associate vice president for economic development.

The former members declined comment or did not respond to messages seeking comment on their departures.

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