By Rev. Kirk Laubenstein
I don’t mean to sound trite but here’s the truth, Catholic Charities is on the wrong side of history. Its decision to eliminate the foster care and adoptive services program after almost a century because a queer couple wanted to adopt a child is discrimination masquerading as religious liberty. Such harmful policies are a scourge on our community, and the continued support of our tax dollars should depend on a drastic alteration of how Catholic Charities operates in the future.
Catholic Charities is the steward of public dollars totaling in the tens of millions. These public resources support basic human needs, as well as provide services to some of the most vulnerable populations in our region. Aside from foster care and adoptive services, publicly funded programming includes children’s health, counseling and mental health, domestic violence, immigration, workforce and education, as well as housing and a myriad of other services.
The 2015 New York State LGBT Health and Human Services Need Assessment details startling statistics related to the LGBTQ community. Forty-five percent of LGBTQ respondents in Western New York reported incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty line; in 2014 that was $23,340 for one person or $31,460 for two people. The LGBTQ community is often living in poverty and this action pushes them further to the margins.
Born out of the same institutionalized queer and transphobia that led to the closure of Catholic Charities' foster care and adoptive services program, the community, as well as its workers, needs the insurance that another discriminatory and immoral decision will never happen again. Therefore, Catholic Charities must commit to passing a non-discrimination policy based on sexual orientation and gender identity, or no longer seek public dollars for any of its programs.
Finally, the leadership of Catholic Charities must respect the inherent dignity of workers. The impacts of the decision to close the foster care and adoption program have been far-reaching but there are many that are being felt internally that are being less talked about, including the fact that at least 10 employees will lose their jobs as part of the closure. That’s not right, and Catholic Charities has a moral obligation to make it right by providing economically and professionally comparable positions to all its workers who find themselves in such a precarious situation headed into the holidays.
It’s time for Catholic Charities to get on the right side of history, or in faith-based terms, for them to do what Jesus would do, and here’s what he would do: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Rev. Kirk Laubenstein is executive director of the Coalition for Economic Justice.