Pope creates fund for workers in Rome struggling in wake of pandemic

A woman speaks on the phone in front of a shuttered tourist agency in Rome’s famous Piazza Navona June 1, 2020. Pope Francis has created a fund to help those left struggling economically in Rome in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. CNS photo/Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — With so many people left unemployed or in a precarious position because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pope Francis launched a fund aimed specifically at helping people in Rome struggling economically in the wake of the crisis.

“This fund is meant to be a sign that can urge people of goodwill to offer a concrete gesture of inclusion, especially toward those who are seeking comfort, hope and a recognition of their rights” and dignity as workers, wrote the pope, who is the bishop of Rome.

The pope invited priests, citizens, institutions and organizations to donate to the fund, called “Gesu Divino Lavoratore” (“Jesus the Divine Worker”) and he announced he had made an initial allocation of 1 million euro ($1.12 million) to the Rome diocesan Caritas.

The project was announced June 9 by the Vicariate of Rome.

Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the papal vicar for Rome, said the initiative was just the latest sign of the pope’s loving care and concern for the people of Rome. The cardinal said in a press release June 9 he hoped everyone would do their part and come together to renew the city and create “a real and genuine alliance for Rome.”

In a letter to Cardinal De Donatis, the pope said he was aware of how the pandemic has led to ongoing pain, sorrow and suffering, “seriously undermining the social fabric of our city.”

So many people have shown great generosity and solidarity from the beginning of the pandemic, he said, but it has not been enough.

Government institutions, community leaders and groups representing businesses and workers are all called to listen to the desire of many citizens to work together for the common good “and to transform it into policies and concrete action for the good of the city,” the pope wrote.

“I care greatly about protecting the dignity of people who have been hit the hardest by the effects of this pandemic, especially those who risk remaining excluded” from government programs or other formal channels of support and, therefore, require some kind of support so they can get back on their feet, he wrote.

“My thoughts also go to the great multitudes of day laborers and transient workers, those with contracts that have not been renewed, those paid by the hour, interns, domestic workers, small-business owners, self-employed workers, especially those in the hardest hit industries” and connected enterprises, he wrote.

Many of these people are mothers and fathers struggling to put food on the table for their children and to provide just the bare necessities, he added.

Pope Francis invited all of the priests in the diocese to be the first to contribute to the fund and to be “enthusiastic supporters” of the need for sharing, beyond just what is easy to part with, in their community.

“I would like to see blossom in our city the solidarity of the person next door,” he said, and an attitude reflecting the spirit of a “sabbatical” or “sabbath” year in the Old Testament — when debts were forgiven and disputes ended — and by asking for payment according to what the borrower can manage, not what the market demands

Tanzanian Catholic diocese works to protect girls from abuse

Young women are seen in the garden at the Jipe Moyo center in Musoma, Tanzania. Jipe Moyo, a program of the Musoma Diocese, cares for children who have been living on the street or have been abused. CNS photo/CNS photo/Sean Sprague, courtesy Maryknoll

When she was only 8 years old, Ghati was sold by her older brother to a 55-year-old man, who put the orphan on a motorcycle and rode to his house near Musoma, Tanzania. There, the man raped her.

After two weeks of daily assaults, Ghati escaped while the man was working in his fields. On the path to the local village, she met a young woman and appealed for help. The woman, who had legal training, advised Ghati to return to the man’s house and wait until she could come for her that evening. When the woman arrived that night, she brought the police, who confronted the man. “Oh, no,” the man said. “She’s just my house girl.”

“But you call me your wife,” Ghati said. The man was arrested and eventually sentenced to prison.

Ghati, a pseudonym to protect her identity, was taken to the city of Musoma, on the shore of Lake Victoria, and placed in a shelter under the care of the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa.

“What the center does is support vulnerable children,” said Sister Annunciata Chacha, director of the shelter called Jipe Moyo, a Swahili term meaning To Give Heart. Jipe Moyo, a program of the Musoma Diocese, cares for children who have been living on the street; children who run away from domestic violence; children who flee from female genital mutilation (FGM), which is sometimes called female circumcision; and girls escaping from child marriages.

“We provide shelter, school materials, food, medicine, clothing, shoes, everything,” Sister Chacha said.

Jipe Moyo shelters 70 minors, most of whom are girls, some as young as 2 years old, who’ve been orphaned or abandoned. One 5-year-old girl was found sleeping on a garbage dump after being kicked out of her house by her stepmother. More than a dozen boys at the center were rescued from the streets. Jipe Moyo also supports more than 50 children at area boarding schools. A few have gone on to college.

The center’s location in north central Tanzania is no coincidence. The Mara region of Tanzania, of which Musoma is the capital, has some of that country’s highest rates of child marriage and female genital mutilation, even though both are technically illegal in Tanzania.

In the Mara region, 55% of marriages involve minors under the legal age of 18; many of those involve girls as young as 12 or 13, said Elizabeth Mach, a Maryknoll lay missioner who works as assistant director of the office of planning and development for the Musoma Diocese. That figure compares with 37 percent of marriages involving minors nationally in the East African country.

Similarly, 44% of girls in the Mara region are subjected to genital mutilation, compared with 15% nationally, Mach said.

“So we have child marriages, we have domestic abuse, we have kids running from FGM, we have trafficking of kids, we’ve got everything, and it all comes under that one big umbrella of gender-based violence,” said Mach, a nurse who has spent 44 years in East Africa with the Maryknoll Lay Missioners. Much of her work, especially in the last decade, centers on helping women and combating gender-based violence.

Mach said part of the reason for the high rates of female genital mutilation and child marriages in the Mara area is ethnic and cultural: The dominant ethnic group in the area, the Kuria people, have traditionally practiced FGM as a rite of passage for young girls, making them eligible for marriage. This leads to early marriages and girls as young as 12 becoming pregnant. That results in a high mortality rate for these would-be mothers. For survivors, it can mean painful, long-term and potentially life-threatening health problems.

“Body-wise, they are not ready at all” for pregnancy, she said.

Among other ethnic groups in Tanzania, such as the Luo and the Sukuma peoples, the practice of cutting is not part of their cultures, she said.

“They don’t do FGM, but the abuse of girls and the use of girls sexually is very, very high,” she said.

However, gender-based violence, mostly against women in various forms, is not limited to Tanzania or to East Africa, Mach said. It occurs around the world, including in the United States, where underage marriage remains an issue. According to a 2017 PBS Frontline report that surveyed state marriage records between 2000 and 2015, children as young as 12 or 13 had been allowed to marry in various U.S. states. And the World Health Organization estimates that, annually, 3 million girls around the world face genital mutilation in 30 different countries.

At Jipe Moyo, 17-year-old Mwita said she ran away from home to avoid female mutilation, which her stepfather was insisting she undergo.

“My mom didn’t want me to pass through that stage, but the tribe says that every child must pass that stage,” said Mwita. “So when I tell my mom I won’t do it, she refused to hear me because she knew she would be beaten or even divorced.”

Distressed at the prospect of being cut, Mwita confided to her school headmistress, who, with the school social worker, brought the girl to Jipe Moyo. Today, Mwita is continuing her studies and hopes to become a doctor. Her mother occasionally visits her, but only in secret for fear of being beaten by her husband. Mwita has no contact with the rest of her family.

Even when both the mother and father are against cutting their daughters, the parents can be overruled by other males in the family, such as an uncle or grandfather, Mach said. She cites the case of three girls whose parents brought them to Jipe Moyo. “They were 6, 7 and 9 at the time, and they were brought in to us for protection because the father said, ‘I cannot protect my own children.'”

Mach credits Musoma’s Bishop Michael Msonganzila with leading the effort to counter female genital mutilation in the area.

“When he was just being installed as bishop in 2008, he made a stand against female genital mutilation,” she said. The bishop called on elders in the Mara region to end the practice, and he inaugurated rescue camps to prevent girls from being cut while home during school breaks in November and December.

The first rescue camp in 2008 had 53 girls, Mach said. Last December, more than 600 girls were under protection.

Sister Chacha said despite the horrors Jipe Moyo’s children have escaped, the situation is slowly improving in the area, in part because of educational efforts of the diocese, including educating students and teachers through in-school seminars and outreach workshops for village and community leaders.

Mach credits “the bishop. It’s our priests. We have some great young priests. We have some great young sisters. We have some great young women who are working in our projects.”

But, she added, credit really belongs to girls such as Mwita and Ghati who are standing up and saying “no” to female genital mutilation and to child marriages.

“These girls are standing up and they’re going against their parents, they’re going against their culture. They’re the brave ones,” she said.

As Quebec nuns die of COVID-19, government vows to help

A man walks across the “Rosary Bridge” in 2017 at the shrine of Cap-de-la-Madeleine in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec. It’s been reported that six sisters of Saint Anne and six Ursulines from Trois-Rivieres have died of COVID-19 so far in 2020. CNS photo/Philippe Vaillancourt, Presence.

MONTREAL (CNS) — The government of Quebec announced it will pay close to CA$5.2 million ($3.9 million) to religious communities in the province so that they can offer bonuses to members of their staff who work in their infirmaries.

Marguerite Blais, Quebec’s minister responsible for seniors and caregivers, announced June 8 the financial assistance “will be provided to these communities on an emergency basis.” She added the bonuses would be retroactive to March 13, 2020.

The announcement came after Sister Celine Dupuis, co-provincial of the Sisters of Saint Anne, said six of their nuns had died of COVID-19 in Lachine, Quebec; this was five more deaths than what the official government data shows.

In Trois-Rivieres, halfway between Montreal and Quebec, seven Ursuline sisters have died of COVID-19. Other orders also have been affected.

“It’s a lot in a short time,” said Sister Cecile Dionne, superior general of the Canadian Union of the Ursulines. “It is a difficult context, which we share with all our brothers and sisters in humanity. All families experience it. For some, it is their father, their grandmother. For us, it’s our sisters.”

Marjaurie Cote-Boileau of the seniors and caregivers ministry noted the money would “not go directly to religious communities, but to their caregivers.”

“The sisters take care of vulnerable people,” she said. “They are important to our government.”

Since the beginning of the health crisis, religious congregations in Quebec have repeated that they have been forgotten by the government as they take care of their members who are over 70 years old and that their convents and houses are, for the most part, not recognized as residences for the elderly.

Since the announcement of bonuses offered to public sector staff, religious communities, unable to provide comparable wages and conditions, have reported losing employees.

Under the new arrangement, attendants who work in the communities’ infirmaries will receive a bonus of $4 per hour worked. Nurses and nursing assistants will receive a premium of 8% per hour worked. The other categories of personnel, excluding managers, will receive a bonus of 4% per hour worked, said Cote-Boileau.

The Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Anne has 300 religious sisters in Canada, the United States and Haiti. In Quebec, there are 180 Sisters of Saint Anne. The vast majority live at the motherhouse in Lachine.

Two-thirds of Canada’s religious sisters, brothers and priests live in Quebec. In 2014, the Canadian Religious Conference calculated that 94% of Canadian religious were over 60 years of age.

In Quebec, 56 infirmaries house members of religious communities.

Update: More Catholic bishops, laity join in ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests

Josephite Father Cornelius Ejiogu, pastor of St. Luke Parish in Washington, leads a prayerful protest outside the White House in Washington June 8, 2020, following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed African American man whose neck was pinned to the ground by police for more than eight minutes before he was taken to the hospital. CNS photo/Bob Roller

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The streets in front of the White House of late have been filled with thousands of youthful faces carrying signs or wearing T-shirts calling for racial justice, with fists raised in the air, or posing for selfies with a large “Black Lives Matters” sign.

That sign now hangs on a tall piece of fencing meant to keep the protesters out of Lafayette Park, the place tourists would usually flock to and have their pictures taken with the iconic building in the background.

But on June 8, the space was filled with women and men religious donning their habits and priests with Roman collars; some carried rosaries and signs with Our Lady of Guadalupe and the image of St. Oscar Romero. And hundreds of laity and at least two bishops from the Archdiocese of Washington joined in the Catholic-centered protest.

“The Catholic voice as a group, as a family needs to be heard,” said Father Cornelius Ejiogu, a member of the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, best known as the Josephites. He, along with others, helped organize the event. “I know a lot of priests and sisters have come out here individually to pray for peace and justice, but we feel that our church, as one, can come together.”

Washington Auxiliary Bishops Roy E. Campbell and Mario E. Dorsonville attended the event that featured prayer, songs and Bible readings and a reading of names of black Americans who died in violent acts of racial injustice, most recently George Floyd,

His May 25 death, while pinned to the ground by a white Minneapolis police officer seen in a video pressuring his neck with his knee for almost nine minutes, sparked protests, not just in the U.S., but in other parts of the world.

Father Ejiogu said retired Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, who lives in Baltimore where he is the superior general of the Josephites, did attend the event.

The crowd prayed for those whose names were called out but also for “those who have died and whose names we don’t know,” said Father Ejiogu. The event was to pray for justice and peace “and ask God for reconciliation,” he said.

“What we’re seeing these past couple of weeks … it’s not the nation that we want, the America we believe in,” he said in an interview with Catholic News Service. “America is torn up by pride and racism and injustice. So, we want to use this opportunity to ask God to reconcile us.”

Catholics have joined the throngs of protesters who have taken to the streets of Washington since the killing of Floyd, but the event was a hope to unify Catholics to recognize the injustice behind the killings, he said.

“I believe all lives matter, Jesus specifically would say all lives matter, but is everybody in this country having the same justice? Do we all have the same privileges? No. There are some folks who don’t have the same privileges,”  Father Ejiogu said.

“So, we are saying that those folks who are disenfranchised, those folks who are experiencing racism more, their lives matter along with all lives,” he added. “So, it’s not a question of separation, no. We’re asking God to heal us so we can recognize that we’re all brothers and sisters.”

He said he recognized that not all Catholics agreed with what the group was setting out to do.

One of them was Maryanne Pennell, from Front Royal, Virginia, who was carrying a “Trump Pro-Life” sign near the group. “I’m here so say pro-life is what matters,” she said. “All people, not based on your skin or your nationality or your history, based on being an American or being in America.”

What is needed is more dialogue, she told CNS, and she was doing her share of it, peacefully speaking with others who, curious about her sign and defense of President Donald Trump, stopped to talk to her.  

“That’s part of what today should be,” she said. “Others say, ‘What do you think?” and I say, ‘What do you think?’ That’s how America works, not in judgment. It works in dialogue and we can disagree respectfully.”

Of course black lives matter, “but all lives matter, beginning with the unborn,” she said, adding that she believed no other president had done as much as Trump for the pro-life cause.

“I’m here to say Mr. Trump has given us a voice for life,” she said. “He has stood for life and for the Constitution of the United States.”

But to those like her, Father Ejiogu said, he just wanted to say that “we’re simply here to pray and to call on our Blessed Mother of the church, the saints, to help us to heal so that we can recognize that black lives matter, white lives matter, Spanish lives matters, Asian lives matter, all lives, yes, but there are a few of those lives that seem to feel that they do not matter. That’s all we’re calling for.”

Darwin Kemp, a member of the Knights of Columbus in Washington, said he attended because, like, others, “people are sick and tired of the injustice.”

“We all have gone through some injustice for quite some time, including myself. I’ve been fighting for a long time, but I’ve been fighting individually,” he said.

Now it’s time to do so as group, he said, because racism needs to end.  

“I hope that we all come together as one and be able to sit down, have a conversation, even if we agree to disagree, at least we’re having a conversation and actually getting some things done,” he said. “Get rid of racism. It’s been around too long.”  

Sister Nancy Conboy, of the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement, said she attended in solidarity with others, but also to affirm church teachings that say that “as Catholics, we really believe in equality for all people and we thought it was important to come down and take part in this service.”

“We really believe in the dignity of every person,” she said. “We just thought it was important to come down and show support and solidarity with our brothers and sisters. It’s true that all lives matter but I think in our country, we have a history of racism so that’s important that we recognize that.”

Though not everyone would agree with the event, said Father Ejiogu, he would continue to pray for unity on the issue within the church as well as outside of the church.

“I can’t tell God what to do but I can ask,” he said. “What I’m asking God with my friends, families and parishioners who are helping organize this, I’m praying to God to heal us. That’s all we can do is pray for healing and hopefully God will heed our petitions and answer, and our country may be much better than it is because simply sitting at home doing nothing just doesn’t cut it for me.”

Along with the hundreds of who joined the peaceful protest, which took a route from the White House fencing and ended at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, he chanted and prayed into the distance.

He said the images that most have given him hope, even in the midst of the tense protests, were of the young white, black, Asians, Latinos, “people of all colors coming out and peacefully protesting.”

“That’s the image that stood out for me,” he said.

And despite what others may say of the protesters, he wanted to portray the Catholic angle of it, “speaking truth to power and doing it in a more prayerful way,” he said.

Update: Prayer vigils, protests, bishops’ homilies echo call for racial justice

A demonstrator in Washington reacts during a protest against racial inequality June 6, 2020. Demonstrations continue after a white police officer in Minnesota was caught on a bystander’s video May 25 pressing his knee into the neck of George Floyd, an African American, who was later pronounced dead at a hospital. CNS photo/Eric Thayer, Reuters.

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Bishops called for Americans to celebrate the country’s diversity, prayed the deep sin of racism can be overcome and invited people to remember that each person is a unique creation of God in Trinity Sunday homilies, messages and events.

“Our diversity should never be considered a problem that needs to be solved, or something that divides,” Bishop Gregory L. Parkes of St. Petersburg, Florida, said during a “Holy Hour for Peace, Healing and Change” at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle June 7.

In Boston, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley called racism a “social and spiritual disease that kills people” in a letter read at parish Masses, saying that Catholic social teaching provides the inspiration to guide the church in addressing any form of discrimination and to assure justice for all people.

About 50 members of St. Aloysius-St. Agatha Parish in Cleveland were joined by neighborhood residents as they gathered in front of their parish church on a busy inner-city street after Sunday Mass to pray for racial understanding and an end to racism and police violence toward African Americans.

The events occurred as tens of thousands of Americans joined peaceful demonstrations, rallies and vigils the weekend of June 6-7 in response to the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American who died while pinned to the ground by a white Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day.

“If you are someone who has struggled for breath because of the oppression of racism, I want you to know I see you, I hear you and I pray for you,” Bishop Parkes said during the Holy Hour. “This is not what God intended for his beloved children. As we gather here today in this cathedral and outside, we can breathe. And we can speak. And we can pray. And we can act.”

The prelate reminded those gathered that each person is unique and that God invites people to “live in communion with one another” in a relationship of mutual love and respect, which reflects our dignity as children of God.”

“Our diversity should never be considered a problem that needs to be solved, or something that divides us,” he said. “Rather diversity should be seen as a reality that celebrates God’s love in the wonder of his creation.”

In his letter, Cardinal O’Malley acknowledged the U.S. Catholic Church had its own “historical complicity in slavery” and must be part of any effort to ensure healing among people of different races, nationalities and religions.

“Going forward, the reality of racism in our society and the moral imperative of racial equality and justice must be incorporated in our schools, our teaching and our preaching,” Cardinal O’Malley said. “We must uphold commitments to equal dignity and human rights in all institutions in our society, in politics, in law, economy, education.

“Catholic teaching on social justice measures the way a society acts fairly or not. Our work will not be done until African American men, women and children are treated equally in every aspect of life in the United States,” he said.

Ursuline Sister Jean Raymond, pastoral associate at St. Aloysius-St. Agatha Parish in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood, said the post-Mass prayer service emerged as people of faith realized they wanted to undertake “some visible response” to events of the previous two weeks.

The parish, she told Catholic News Service, has supported black-owned businesses throughout the lockdowns that resulted from the novel coronavirus pandemic and the prayer service seemed to be “the next step” to address the concerns people have had as demonstrations emerged across the country.

Women religious from the Ursuline and Sisters of Notre Dame communities who work at the parish and minister to the neighborhood donned black T-shirts adorned with “Nuns for Justice” in white lettering for the vigil to demonstrate support for people who have felt the sin of racism.

Elsewhere, San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy said during a Mass with Catholic African Americans at Immaculata Church June 6 that God’s creation provides the foundation on which to overcome racism and to understand the unity of the human family.

He said that while God provides a “loving plan for human history and solidarity and Jesus accompanies the faithful through his own suffering and demands to accompany others in their agony, “it is the Spirit who breathes on us as disciples and as a community of faith to renew the face of the earth.”

“This moment in our nation’s long crucifixion of the African American community must not be merely an interlude. It must be a moment of transformation. When the Spirit of God descended upon the Apostles on Pentecost, they were timid, lost and fearful. But with the Spirit in their midst, they transformed the whole of the world,” Bishop McElroy said.

Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland, Maine, said the Holy Trinity can “teach us more about the recent tragic death of George Floyd, the massive outpouring of anger and grief that has followed, and what is next.”

He explained how he was on a walk when he came upon a group of black children playing and on the sidewalk nearby they had created a colorful image of what the term “black lives matter” means to them.

“I thought to myself why, ever, would these beautiful children ever think that their lives do not matter? Yet, when we talk to black people, they share with us that the do not believe our society values them,” he said.

“Systematic racism begins in the attitudes of the individuals in a society. And, therefore, overcoming racism will begin with each person reflecting and acting personally, to change their view. Society will change when we change,” Bishop Deeley added.

He then called on Catholics “to affirm their commitment to foster respect and justice for all people.”

In Detroit, in the plaza outside the Basilica of Ste. Anne de Detroit, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron led a group of people in praying the rosary to end racism.

On May 29, the archbishop sent a letter to the city’s black Catholics in which he acknowledged the “deep familiar and soul-crushing ache” that had been awakened by Floyd’s mistreatment and death.

Prior to the Trinity Sunday Masses Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Seattle joined the city’s faith leaders on the steps of St. James Cathedral June 5 to pray and reflect on racism in society and religious communities.

As the cathedral’s bell tolled, the leaders also observed nearly nine minutes of silence to mark the period of time that Floyd was pinned to the ground with the police officer’s knee on his neck.

In Erie, Pennsylvania, Bishop Lawrence T. Persico joined faith and political leaders during a 75-minute rally and march June 6 through the city’s downtown to protest systematic racism and police violence against minorities.

Meanwhile, an elderly peaceful protester seen in videos being shoved to the ground allegedly by two Buffalo, New York, police officers remained hospitalized in serious but stable condition June 8.

Martin Gugino, 75, of Amherst, New York, a member of the Catholic Worker Movement, was injured June 4 when he fell and struck his head. A longtime peace activist, Gugino was described by a friend as a “gentle person,” The Buffalo News reported.

The two officers, later identified as Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski, were suspended and have now been charged with felony assault.

USCCB, other Catholic groups urge court to protect faith-based foster care

The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington is seen in this 2018 file photo. CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn .

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and a few Catholic Charities agencies have joined more than 30 other religious groups, states and a group of Congress members urging the Supreme Court to protect Philadelphia’s faith-based foster care.

The groups filed friend-of-the court briefs in early June in Fulton v. Philadelphia, which the court will hear next term to determine if Philadelphia can exclude a Catholic social services agency from the city’s foster care program because the agency does not accept same-sex couples as foster parents.

The briefs argued that the court should allow the city’s Catholic social service agency to continue its foster care role and protect faith-based ministries nationwide to ensure they maintain their First Amendment religious exercise rights.

In 2018, Philadelphia stopped using the foster program of Catholic Social Services of the Philadelphia Archdiocese because of the agency’s policy of not placing children with same-sex couples stressing that these unions go against church teaching on traditional marriage. A year later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit sided with the city, calling the agency’s policies discriminatory.

In its brief in support of the Philadelphia Catholic agency, the USCCB, joined by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, said Catholics have been involved in caring for the orphaned since the early church and in the beginnings of the church in America.

“This history, and the theological basis that animates it, together make clear that providing foster care represents a core religious exercise for Catholics,” it said.

The brief also said this ministry “serves the common good and is often carried out in cooperation with government” but that does not reduce the work to a “public function picking up garbage or paving roads. “

A brief by the Catholic Association Foundation, a group which defends the church and religious liberty, said severing ties with Catholic-run foster care and adoption programs, “under the guise of enforcing ‘neutral’ anti-discrimination laws, is the equivalent of hanging a ‘Catholics Need Not Apply’ sign outside of every state and local health and human services department.”

“Such a precedent is odious to the Constitution’s guarantees of free speech and the free exercise of religion. Such a precedent should not stand,” it said.

Other Catholic Charities agencies similarly weighed in, including Illinois agencies, which stressed that when Illinois similarly canceled participation in the state’s foster care program after more than 40 years of involvement, it “harmed Illinois children contrary to its duty to act in their best interest.”

“The lesson should be clear: The court should respect and accommodate the free religious exercise of faith-based agencies because to do so does not conflict with the interest of same-sex couples to become foster parents and, on the other hand, is necessary to prevent harm to children in need of high quality foster care,” the agencies aid.

They also pointed out that the court can “support each of these values without sacrificing any” of them and that to do “anything else would be to encourage more initiatives to force faith-based providers of critically needed services for vulnerable children to abandon their religious practices in order to gain the state’s permission to continue to provide such care.”

In 2011, the Catholic bishops in Illinois announced they were dropping their lawsuit against the state for requiring Catholic Charities agencies to provide their services to same-sex couples. The agencies also ended their adoption and foster care programs.

At issue was the agencies’ long-standing practice of referring prospective adoptive and foster parents who are cohabiting — regardless of sexual orientation — to other agencies or to the Department of Children and Family Services. The state interpreted the policy as discriminatory to same-sex couples under the new Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, and a Sangamon County Circuit Court judge ruled Sept. 26 the state could begin canceling its foster care and adoption contracts with Catholic Charities.

In other briefs filed in support of the Catholic agency in Philadelphia, 13 states asked the court to protect the partnership of government and religious ministries, and a group of three states stressed the long-standing, historical dependence on religious foster ministries by state and local governments.

A group of 76 members of Congress asked the Supreme Court to protect faith-based agencies and stop Philadelphia’s attempt to “quash” child welfare providers that have different religious beliefs than those the government prefers.

A coalition of minority religious groups, including the United Sikhs, the Bruderhof Communities and the Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team, also urged the court to protect religious exercise saying the outcome of this case will affect other actions based on religious beliefs.

Becket, a religious liberty law firm, is representing the foster women defending the Catholic Social Services policy. The case takes its name from Sharonell Fulton, a foster parent who joined in the lawsuit against the city along with another foster parent, Toni Simms-Busch.