Banned from taking in foster children, Catholic couple asks: Should foster kids live in hospital hallways or homes?

A Catholic couple has filed a lawsuit alleging Massachusetts denied their foster care license because of their religious beliefs.

“Michael and Catherine Burke are a loving couple who want to…

A Catholic couple has filed a lawsuit alleging Massachusetts denied their foster care license because of their religious beliefs.

“Michael and Catherine Burke are a loving couple who want to welcome children into their family,” the lawsuit filed Tuesday by religious group Becket Law states. “After experiencing the heartbreak of infertility, Mike and Kitty decided to become foster parents, with the hope of caring for and eventually adopting children in need of a stable, loving home.”

The Burkes applied to be foster parents through the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) in 2022. During the process, the couple underwent months of “training, lengthy interviews, and assessments of their home, health and family life.”

Despite the agency acknowledging the Burkes’ strengths, such as their willingness to parent a child with medical, mental health and behavioral needs, the Burkes were denied a foster care license.

The DCF’s only stated reason was its assumption the Burkes “would not be affirming to a child who identified as LGBTQIA.” Indeed, DCF officials acknowledge in a press release the Burkes’ answers about sexuality and gender prohibited them from being licensed.

The Burkes are devout Catholics and believe “children should not undergo procedures that attempt to change their God-given sex, and they uphold Catholic beliefs about marriage and sexuality,” the lawsuit says.  

However, the Burkes counter they would never reject a child placed in their home, as they also believe all children should be loved and supported.  

An attorney from Becket Law argues DCF’s actions are discriminatory and unconstitutional.  

“If the only factor weighing against an otherwise qualified applicant has to do with their sincerely held religious beliefs, the Department must not discriminate against a foster care applicant based on their creed,” Becket law stated.  

The Massachusetts Foster Parents Bill of Rights bans religious discrimination against possible foster parents, according to the lawsuit.  

At the same time, DCF regulations require foster families to “support and respect a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” The lawsuit alleges DCF is interpreting that rule “as an absolute bar for Catholics who agree with the Church’s teaching on sex, marriage, and gender.” 

“After months of interviews and training, and after years of heartbreak, we were on the verge of finally becoming parents,” Mike and Kitty Burke said in a press release. “We were absolutely devastated to learn that Massachusetts would rather children sleep in the hallways of hospitals than let us welcome children in need into our home.”   

In 2021, there were about 10,000 children in foster care in Massachusetts, according to the Ascentria Care Alliance website. “Many of these children have nowhere to go as a result of the current deficit of foster homes and new foster parents,” it says.  

In some cases, children are housed at the DCF office or in hospitals while they wait to be placed in a home. The Burkes were shocked to learn that even with a dire need for more foster parents, the state would turn away potential foster parents for being religious.  

Michael Burke is an Iraq war veteran, a small-business owner and an organist for multiple Diocese of Springfield parishes. Catherine (Kitty) Burke is a former special education caregiver, a small-business owner, and a cantor for the Diocese of Springfield, according to Catholic News Agency.

The Burkes are seeking a change to DCF’s “discriminatory” policies so they can be approved as foster parents.