A group of Catholic Charities workers is protesting the move by Bishop Richard J. Malone to close down the agency's adoption and foster care program because the Catholic Church doesn't recognize same-sex marriage.
Dozens of employees have signed a pointed open letter urging the bishop to reverse his decision, arguing that gay and lesbian couples can be good parents and that the agency can respect church teachings without turning its back on those who need its help.
"We choose the side of love, and ask for you to do the same. It is both within your power and your religion," the letter states, according to a copy provided to The Buffalo News.
A small group of Catholic Charities employees began circulating the letter in the days after learning of the diocese's decision to close down the adoption and foster care program. Two people involved in the effort agreed to speak to The News on condition they not be named, saying they didn't want any individual spokespeople to detract from the communal nature of the protest.
The issue has already led to a departure from the board of trustees at Catholic Charities. Julie R. Snyder, vice president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York, submitted her letter of resignation on Friday. In addition, the name of board member Christina Orsi, associate vice president for economic development for the University at Buffalo, no longer appears among the roster of board members listed on the Catholic Charities website.
As of Friday morning, the group had collected 95 signatures on the letter, primarily by forwarding it to one employee at a time within the agency, and planned to email it to church officials on Friday afternoon.
The employees behind the effort said they were surprised and saddened by the program's closing.
"I think the mission, vision and values of our agency, and even of our program, profess that Catholic Charities does not discriminate for any reason," said an organizer of the effort who works in the adoption and foster care program and asked not to be named. "This decision was contrary to that understanding of our agency and how we operate."
Catholic Charities announced the decision on Aug. 23, saying it was 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 recently applied for acceptance in the program, triggering this reckoning.
Meanwhile, Catholic Charities on Friday released a statement in response to the letter circulated by its employees.
"A letter released to the media from a number of Catholic Charities' employees speaks to their passion for and dedication to the agency's mission to serve people in need in our community, and reflects not only the diversity of our agency culture but of our community," the statement read. "This was a unique situation. We decided to end the foster care and adoption program because if we couldn't serve all members of our community through this program, we would serve no one. We want to reiterate that sexual orientation is not a barrier to any other service we provide."
There are eight employees in the program who 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. The agency arranges an average of five adoptions each year.
Workers within the program found out about the decision at a meeting with senior leadership on Aug. 21, two days before the agency notified the rest of its employees by email.
A listening session held Monday left employees with the impression that the decision came from the bishop and that senior Catholic Charities management had little say in the matter, according to one employee who attended.
One employee drafted a letter and started circulating it with the help of like-minded colleagues. The writer, who does not work in the foster and adoption program, said Catholic Charities' mission is to serve people of every background.
"We don't want it to be taken as an attack on the bishop, or the church's teaching. We just want to express how we feel about it and ask him to reverse the decision," she said. "Because we think there is room within the church teaching to allow these services to continue without discriminating."
The letter states the agency should not shut down that program at a time when there are a great number of children in need of stable homes. LGBTQ couples can provide loving care to those children, it states, noting the agency already has allowed single LGBTQ people and unmarried couples to adopt.
The employees say they're not sure how the bishop or senior diocesan officials will react when they attempt to present the letter. They say they're not optimistic the bishop will reverse his decision. But they said it was important to let him and the wider public know that many Catholic Charities employees oppose the decision.
"It is antithetical to Catholic values to deny a child a loving home when one is available," the letter states. "The church could choose to recognize this, comply with state law and still remain true to its beliefs."
A diocesan spokesman issued a short written statement by email Friday afternoon in response to the letter:
"Bishop Malone defers to the original statement from Catholic Charities which clearly spells out that 'the teaching and position of the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world recognizes marriage only as a union between a woman and a man.' "