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Will Catholic foster care be next?

The Supreme Court will soon hear a case called Fulton v. Philadelphia in which the Archdiocese of Philadelphia challenges the city’s action in forcing Catholic Social Services out of foster care because the Catholic agency won’t place foster children with same-sex couples.


Does the Catholic Church have a right to follow its convictions about sexual morality in its own institutions without being penalized by government? In its June decision declaring “gay” and “transgender” to be protected categories under federal law barring sex-based discrimination, the Supreme Court left that question unanswered.

But probably not for long.

Sometime next fall—the date hasn’t been announced yet—the court will hear a case called Fulton v. Philadelphia in which the Archdiocese of Philadelphia challenges the city’s action in forcing Catholic Social Services out of foster care because the Catholic agency won’t place foster children with same-sex couples.

The facts in the case are obviously different from those in the Supreme Court’s recent LGBTQ decision on job discrimination (Bostock v. Clayton County). But the clash of interests involved was clearly foreseen by Justice Neil Gorsuch in his majority opinion in Bostock. Conflicts between religious liberty and LGBTQ claims, he wrote, raise “questions for future cases” that the Supreme Court would soon face.

The heart of these conflicts is clear in the Philadelphia dispute. Catholic Social Services, an arm of the local archdiocese, has been involved in foster care since 1917, long before the city became involved. But today the city controls foster care and contracts with private agencies to recruit foster parents and place children. In 2017-2018 the Catholic agency was responsible for 120 of these youngsters.

Before the present conflict, no same-sex couple had asked Catholic Social Services to be allowed to provide foster care. But after the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story on the Catholic agency’s policy, the city responded by pressuring it to drop the policy and, when that didn’t work, refused to send it children for placement, thus forcing it out of the field. The dispute landed in court, with the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling for the city—a decision the Supreme Court is being asked to reverse.

The issues in this case reach far beyond Philadelphia. In asking the Supreme Court to accept it for review, Catholic Social Services put it like this:

Here and in cities across the country, religious foster and adoption agencies have repeatedly been forced to close their doors, and many more are under threat. These questions [about the religious liberty rights of church-related agencies] are unavoidable, they raise issues of great consequence for children and families nationwide, and the problem will only continue to grow until these questions are resolved by this court.

The Supreme Court’s June decision affirming LGBTQ rights under anti-discrimination law isn’t the only one with a potential bearing on the Fulton case. No less relevant, one would think, was its ruling two weeks later supporting the Little Sisters of the Poor in refusing to pay for contraception as part of the health insurance coverage of employees in their homes for the elderly. And, significant perhaps, the Supreme Court was there reversing a decision of the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals—the same court that ruled against Catholic Social Services in the Philadelphia case.

However this dispute turns out, the larger pattern of conflict and confrontation at work here mirrors efforts—backed by most national media and the many politicians who pander to the dictates of misnamed progressivism—to advance LGBTQ interests in an ever-widening circle of settings. The Supreme Court helped set the machinery in motion in its 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage. Then came last month’s Bostock ruling. Will Catholic foster care be next? And what comes after that?

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About Russell Shaw 282 Articles
Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from 1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books, including Nothing to Hide, American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America, Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity, and, most recently, The Life of Jesus Christ (Our Sunday Visitor, 2021).


  1. I wonder how many children are removed from the care of single young mothers in order to meet social services quotas for fostering and adoption by certain groups?

  2. I wonder how long it will be until “progressive’ state bureaucrats recognize a new opportunity for criminalizing Catholic doctrine. Some secular Foster agency very soon will realize that since the state still has supervisory control over foster children, they can declare it illegal for Catholic parents to raise foster children in the faith since it entails teaching them respect for human life, the sanctity of sacramental marriage, that sex is determined by genetics and physiology, not by inclination, and many other putative “hate crimes.”

  3. The irony is this: although a bishop may forbid a catholic agency from giving children to gay couples, the majority of the Catholics working for the agency would gladly give them the kids.

      • Our family has been doing foster care for twelve years and we adopted our two daughters from the system. If I wanted to be part of an agency where the employees are faithful to the catholic doctrine on homosexuality, I would need to go to an agency founded by Evangelicals. Here is an example of something that happen in Canada, things are not much different in the US.
        November 10, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – A Christian couple in the Canadian province of Alberta have been told by local Catholic Social Services and the provincial government that they are unfit to adopt children because they accept Biblical teaching regarding the immorality of homosexual acts, according to their attorneys at the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms… Catholic Social Services informed them that they would reverse their recommendation to approve the couple for adoption, because they wouldn’t be able to “help” a child who “has sexual identity issues.”

        You could also look at the Pew survey and compare the views on homosexuality between Catholics and evangelicals.

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