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Two Black Catholic foster moms win big at the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a Catholic adoption agency in Philly, clearing the way for continued ministry to disadvantaged children in the city.

The Supreme Court has dealt a decisive blow to an attempt to force a Catholic adoption agency to provide services to same-sex couples.

The court ruled unanimously in favor of the agency in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, with the decision issued this morning.

“I’m grateful today that the Supreme Court has heard our voices,” said Toni Simms-Busch, one of the foster parents involved in the suit against the city, in a video released earlier today by Becket (the law firm representing her side of the case).

“[They’ve] ruled that adoptive families like mine are worth protecting.”

Simms-Busch and Sharonell Fulton, the main two foster mothers involved in the case, held a celebratory press conference with Philadelphia archbishop Nelson Perez and a Becket attorney following the decision.

The case, which dates back to 2018, concerned Philadelphia’s Catholic Social Services (CSS), an archdiocesan-run agency that has operated for more than a century.

An expose of sorts in the Philadelphia Inquirer had led to the city suspending its contract with CSS that same year, on the grounds that it refused to provide adoptions to couples outside of the Catholic definition of marriage—i.e., one man and one woman.

Simms-Busch and Fulton, both Black Catholics, would later join CSS in a suit that May against the city in US District Court, which failed both in the local court and on appeal in the Third Circuit.

(Fulton is reported to attend St Barbara Catholic Church in the city.)

The high court agreed to hear the case in early 2020, just before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and heard oral arguments in November. This left a long window up to today for various points of commentary.

Unsurprisingly, the case divided Catholics (and others) largely along partisan lines, with more conservative voices defending a certain conception of religious freedom, and others pointing to the prevailing notion of equality and non-discrimination.

An amicus brief in support of the city—submitted in August by Miguel H. Diaz, a theologian and former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, and a number of dissenting Catholic organizations (including New Ways Ministry and the Women’s Ordination Conference)—repeatedly cited Dr. Shannen Dee Williams, a Black Catholic and history professor at Villanova.

Williams was not listed as an author of the brief, and the citations concerned her writings on discrimination within the Catholic Church, but she does sit on the board of FutureChurch (another dissenting group which collaborates closely with NWM and the WOC).

The USCCB's Catholic News Service, who hired Williams last year to write a monthly Black Catholic history column—which recently won a Catholic Media Association award—did not respond to a request for comment.

Catholic or otherwise, CSS supporters are welcoming today’s decision with the expected jubilation.

“Catholic Social Services is an example of an organization that is directly lifting up black children and black families,” said Dr. Jacqueline C. Rivers, executive director of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies, in a document also released today by Becket.

“Today's Supreme Court victory is their victory."

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, in priesthood formation with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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