Catholic Bishops Rebuke Self-Described 'Strong Catholic' Terry McAuliffe

Dem's bid to eliminate conscience protections could shutter religious adoption agencies, charities

Terry McAuliffe / Getty Images
July 28, 2021

The Catholic Church in Virginia is condemning Democrat Terry McAuliffe's plan to eliminate conscience protections for religious organizations—a policy that threatens Catholic adoption agencies and other charitable institutions.

In his second bid for governor, McAuliffe has pledged to repeal Virginia's conscience clause, which allows religious charities to place children into foster homes and for adoption to families that share the organization's moral convictions. The Virginia Catholic Conference, which has represented Virginia's two Catholic bishops on public policy issues since 2004, said state law has allowed adoption to become more expansive, while also respecting the religious liberty of charities. Executive director Jeff Caruso told the Washington Free Beacon McAuliffe's plan will only serve to "harm families" that are seeking to serve underprivileged children by shuttering some of the largest and most prolific agencies in the state.

"Virginia's current law ensures that no child-placing agencies, including faith-based agencies, are forced to participate in child placements that violate their beliefs and moral convictions," Caruso said. "Prohibiting faith-based organizations from following their convictions will harm families who want to work with agencies that share their beliefs. This law does not prevent anyone who wants to adopt a child or provide a foster home from doing so."

McAuliffe, who has described himself as a "very strong Catholic," argued that religious liberty protections "prevent loving families from caring for our most vulnerable children."

"Unfortunately, Virginia law enables certain foster care and adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals," the McAuliffe campaign website says. "As governor, Terry will work with the legislature to repeal this discriminatory law once and for all."

McAuliffe is not the only Democrat who has targeted religious adoption agencies and other charities. Philadelphia city leaders attempted to shut down Catholic Social Services unless the charity agreed to certify same-sex couples as foster parents. In June, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the group in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. "The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless the agency agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents cannot survive strict scrutiny and violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the Court's decision.

McAuliffe's turn against religious liberty rankled some at the former governor's alma mater, the Catholic University of America. Theology professor Chad Pecknold said politicians, including self-described Catholic ones, are adopting a more hostile attitude toward the church and its teaching.

"McAuliffe's desire to repeal Virginia's conscience clause is not a reflection of his Catholic faith, but an open attack upon it. What's clear is that Mr. McAuliffe believes not in the Catholic faith of his youth, but the progressive faith to which he adheres today," Pecknold told the Free Beacon.

The McAuliffe campaign did not respond to a request for comment.