Catholic Charities

In coverage of faith-based foster care, is there really more than one side of the story? #discrimination

In coverage of faith-based foster care, is there really more than one side of the story? #discrimination

Some news stories are more balanced than others.

Take, for example, the Washington Post’s coverage of a controversy over whether faith-based foster care agencies that work only with parents who share their religious beliefs should qualify for federal funding.

This is one of those quasi-balanced stories that eventually gets around to quoting both sides. But the 1,250-word piece has the feel — almost from the beginning — of leaning toward one side of the debate. That imbalance can be seen in the negative terminology used to describe those arguing for religious freedom.

This is the headline:

Administration seeks to fund religious foster-care groups that reject LGBTQ parents

That’s opposed to more neutral wording, such as, “Administration seeks to fund religious foster-care groups that defend doctrines on marriage.”

The Post’s lede:

President Trump made religious leaders a contentious promise at this week’s National Prayer Breakfast: Faith-based adoption agencies that won’t work with same-sex couples would still be able to get federal funding to “help vulnerable children find their forever families while following their deeply held beliefs.”

The president offered no details, but a plan is already in motion.

In a 2020 draft budget request that has not been made public, the Department of Health and Human Services is seeking broad authority to include faith-based foster-care and adoption groups, which reject LGBTQ parents, non-Christians and others, in the nation’s $7 billion federally funded child-welfare programs. That request follows a waiver granted last month to South Carolina’s Miracle Hill Ministries — which requires foster-care parents to affirm their faith in Jesus Christ and refused to work with a Jewish woman seeking to be a mentor — to continue to receive federal funds.

HHS’s Office of Civil Rights argues in the draft proposal that some of the country’s oldest religious agencies in places such as Boston, Philadelphia and Washington have gone out of business because of nondiscrimination requirements that are themselves discriminatory.

Concerning that last paragraph, is it an argument or a fact that religious agencies in those places (Boston, Philadelphia and Washington) have stopped providing foster care services rather than violate tenets of their faith? A sentence or two by the Post to provide details of those closures would seem to be appropriate there.

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Three weekend reads: Another #MeToo case for SBC, faith-based adoption and Bible teacher Jimmy Carter

Three weekend reads: Another #MeToo case for SBC, faith-based adoption and Bible teacher Jimmy Carter

After a week in Puerto Rico on a Christian Chronicle reporting trip, I'm still catching up on my sleep — and my reading.

Speaking of reading, here are three interesting religion stories from the last few days.

The first concerns the latest #MeToo case facing the Southern Baptist Convention. The second is an in-depth analysis of religious freedom vs. gay rights in taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care. The third is a feature on the Sunday school class in Plains, Ga., taught by former President Jimmy Carter.

1. Southern Baptist officials knew of sexual abuse allegations 11 years before leader’s arrest

Sarah Smith, an investigative reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, delves into how the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board handled allegations that a 25-year-old seminary student sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl.

A crucial question: Why didn't the board report the matter to police?

Smith meticulously reports the facts of the case and gives all the relevant parties ample space and opportunity to comment, even if some choose not to do so or to issue brief statements that shed little light. This is a solid piece of journalism.

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On question of Texas lesbian parents adopting refugee child through Catholic Charities, media coverage skewed

On question of Texas lesbian parents adopting refugee child through Catholic Charities, media coverage skewed

In Texas, a lesbian couple is suing in federal court after being told they "don't mirror the Holy family" and can't foster refugee kids, the Dallas Morning News reports.

Some of the arguments at play mirror those that made headlines last year when the Texas Legislature passed a law to protect the conscience rights of faith-based adoption agencies that receive state funds.

However, the latest case involves federal law since the U.S. government, not state agencies, are involved in the refugee children's placement.

The Dallas paper reports:

AUSTIN — Two Texas women are suing the Trump administration after the couple say they were told they could not foster a refugee child because they don't "mirror the Holy Family." 
Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin, both professors at Texas A&M University, said they were turned away by Catholic Charities Fort Worth after they expressed interest in applying to be foster parents to a refugee child. Catholic Charities, which has multiple regional offices, is the only organization in Texas that works with the federal government to resettle unaccompanied refugee children here. 
Catholic Charities' program is overseen by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, one of two lead agencies that partners with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. With the help of the LGBT legal group Lambda Legal, the couple is suing both the Conference and U.S. Health and Human Services, saying the decision to reject their interest in foster care violated the U.S. Constitution.

The first version of the story that I read didn't include a response from Catholic Charities up high. But the Morning News later added this statement from the Fort Worth bishop:

In a statement, the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth did not comment on the couple's specific allegations but insisted their refugee foster care rules comply with all federal regulations and laws.
"Finding foster parents — and other resources — for refugee children is difficult work," Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson said. "It would be tragic if Catholic Charities were not able to provide this help, in accordance with the Gospel values and family, assistance that is so essential to these children who are vulnerable to being mistreated as meaningless in society."

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Will team Trump come through for Christians in Middle East? Will press cover this story?

Will team Trump come through for Christians in Middle East? Will press cover this story?

Two decades ago, my family converted to Eastern Orthodoxy -- becoming part of the ancient Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church that is based on Damascus, located on the street called Straight (as in Acts 9:11).

From 2001-2004 we were members of a West Palm Beach, Fla., congregation in which most of the members had deep family roots into Syria, Lebanon or Palestine. Needless to say, they had stories to tell about the struggles of Christians in the Middle East.

Here in America, we tend to focus on the present. At the moment, that means talking about atrocities linked to the Islamic State. When you talk to Christians from the Middle East, the events of the present are always tied to centuries of oppression in the past. It's all one story.

Right now, the issue -- for many Christians, and members of other oppressed religious minorities -- is how to survive in refugee camps. After that they face the ultimate questions of whether to flee the region or attempt, once again, to return to their battered homes and churches and start over.

Thus, I noticed a story last week that received very little attention in the American mainstream press. Once again, we are dealing with a story that I first saw in an online analysis at The Atlantic. When I went looking for mainstream, hard-news coverage, I saw this short CNN report, and that was pretty much it. Here's the heart of that CNN story:

Washington (CNN) Vice President Mike Pence announced Wednesday night that the Trump administration will no longer fund "ineffective" programs run by the United Nations to help persecuted communities and will instead send money to such groups directly through the US Agency for International Development.
"President (Donald) Trump has ordered the State Department to stop funding ineffective relief efforts at the United Nations, ... and from this day forward, America will provide support directly to persecuted communities through USAID," Pence declared to extended applause while speaking in Washington to the group In Defense of Christians, which advocates for greater protection of Christians in the Middle East.
"While faith-based groups with proven track records and deep roots in the region are more than willing to assist, the United Nations continues to deny their funding requests," Pence said.
The vice president, who is deeply religious, urged his "fellow Christians" to support faith-based groups and private organizations.

    Note the strange, vague little phrase that Pence is "deeply religious," backed by the scare-quote "fellow Christians" reference. In other words, this move is just another attempt to play to the GOP base. Thus, this isn't really a story that matters.

     

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    Do the media have a 'conscience?' Not when it comes to foster care and religious liberty in Texas

    Do the media have a 'conscience?' Not when it comes to foster care and religious liberty in Texas

    My parents, Bob and Judy Ross, served for 25 years as houseparents at Christ's Haven for Children, a Christian child-care ministry based in Keller, Texas.

    Mom and Dad lost count of the exact number of children for whom they cared. Some came into their home and stayed just a few days. Others they raised from preschool through high school graduation. In all, more than 250 girls lived in my parents’ cottage.

    My mother said she and Dad always wanted a mission to lead people to Jesus Christ. At Christ’s Haven, they found it. They studied the Bible with all the girls in their care, and Dad baptized many of them, as I noted in a Christian Chronicle column in 2007.

    I couldn't help but recall my parents' experience as I read a Texas Tribune story this week proclaiming that "Texas' next religious liberty fight could be over foster care":

    You can’t talk about religious liberty in Texas without mentioning Lester Roloff.
    In the 1970s, Roloff, a Baptist preacher, was known for his homes for teenagers in Corpus Christi. A 1973 legislative report on child care in the state said members heard testimony from children previously in Roloff's Rebekah Home for Girls about irregular meals and whippings. Roloff told lawmakers his homes should be exempted from state interference due to his religious roots.
    “We spanked them because God loves them, and we love them,” Roloff told the committee.
    Those hearings led to the Legislature passing Senate Bill 965 in 1975, which established child care licensing laws in the state.
    Now, 42 years later, Texas legislators are considering sharpening religious protections for faith-based groups the state hires to place children in foster and adoptive homes and oversee their care. Critics say this could give religious groups license to use their faith as a reason to refuse to place foster children with gay couples or with families with certain religious beliefs. Legislators say this could halt bipartisan warmth on bills changing how Texas cares for abused and neglected children.

    In the lede, the Texas Tribune sets a negative tone on the legislation right away — and that critical theme dominates the story. Besides the bill's author, the "nonpartisan media organization" quotes six sources. Five of them voice concerns about the bill. You get the (not-so-balanced) picture.

    The bill itself (read the full text here) addresses "the conscience rights of certain religious organizations and individuals." However, guess what word never appears in the Tribune story? If you said "conscience," you win the prize.

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    Does a Bowery building portend a "new focus" for the Catholic Church? NYT thinks so

    Does a Bowery building portend a "new focus" for the Catholic Church? NYT thinks so

    Readers of the print edition of Sunday's New York Times were met with the headline, "On Bowery, Church’s New Focus Leaves a Void for the Needy." Online readers got a similar message: "On the Bowery, Questions About the Catholic Church’s Shifting Mission."

    So, how is the Church changing its mission, according to the Times? Is it altering its outreach to the poor?

    Well...maybe. The Archdiocese of New York has closed down a single social-services center for homeless men, replacing it with an arts center. This, according to Times "Side Street" photo-essayist David Gonzalez, appears to be a sign that the Archdiocese is forgoing its mission to the poor in favor of the yuppification of the Lower East Side...or something. While he does not editorialize in the manner of the Times' headline writers, the message comes through via the people he chooses to narrate the story:

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    Yo editors: Can the state pay Catholics to help immigrants?

    Yo editors: Can the state pay Catholics to help immigrants?

    As usual, there was a stack of Baltimore Sun newspapers waiting for me at the end of last week when I returned from a consulting trip to a campus in Iowa. One of the papers contained a very timely and newsworthy story.

    My goal here is to argue that -- just possibly -- this story was even more newsworthy than the Sun editors thought that it was. More on that in a minute.

    The immigrant children crisis is one of the hottest stories in America right now and justifiably so. As it turned out, there was a totally logical local angle here in Baltimore, one that ended up on A1:

    Here is the top of the story:

    Catholic Charities wants to care for about 50 children from Central America at a campus in Baltimore County, seeking a role in the immigration crisis even though the consideration of other sites in Maryland has met with fierce local opposition.

    The organization plans to apply to federal officials to house the children at St. Vincent's Villa, a residential facility on Dulaney Valley Road, Catholic Charities head William J. McCarthy Jr. confirmed. ... McCarthy said housing the children would amount to his organization doing its job.

    "Our role and our mission is to meet the needs of these children," he said. "This is obviously the result of things beyond my control -- policies and political posturing that has left these children as victims."

    And more:

    The Catholic Charities proposal would be on a much smaller scale than government proposals that would have placed hundreds of minors in an unused Social Security office in Baltimore or at the army center in Carroll County. ... Catholic Charities developed the plan in response to a request from a federal agency that was looking for ways to house immigrant children before the crisis rose to the top of the national political agenda this summer. ...

    And the Board of Child Care of the United Methodist Church has already received grant money to house immigrant children at a home in Woodlawn. The organization is caring for about two dozen children there.

    It seems to me that the implication is that Catholic Charities is doing this service as a partner with the federal agency. Are tax dollars involved, similar to the grant to the United Methodists? I am not sure.

    Why do I raise that financial question?

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    Are evangelicals America's only real moral conservatives?

    Are evangelicals America's only real moral conservatives?

    Nearly a decade ago, the conservative Weekly Standard ran a very newsy story on its cover under this ominous double-decker headline: The coming conflict between same-sex marriage and religious liberty.

    The story shocked quite a few people and, behind the scenes, I know that many journalists linked to the religion beat passed it around, in part because so much of its reporting — even in the pages of a consevative magazine — centered on the complex and at times clashing legal views inside gay-rights groups.

    Catholic Charities of Boston made the announcement on March 10: It was getting out of the adoption business. “We have encountered a dilemma we cannot resolve. … The issue is adoption to same-sex couples.”

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    Way to go, Joe! Colorado civil-unions story hits the mark

    In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that Joe Hight, the relatively new editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette, is a longtime friend and mentor of mine.

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