BELLEVILLE, Illinois, November 14, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A Catholic agency in Illinois severed ties with its diocese last week in order to comply with a state law forcing adoption agencies to place children with homosexual couples.

The head of the former Diocese of Belleville child welfare agency, now called Christian Social Services of South Illinois, told LifeSiteNews they had “no choice” but to abide by the law after exhausting their legal options.

Gary Huelsmann, executive director of the organization once known as Catholic Social Services of South Illinois, said the decision “boiled down to the Catholic Church needing to stay true to its core beliefs and the agency needing to care for all of these abused, neglected children.”

“In order to be able to continue to do that with state funding we had to disassociate ourselves from the Church.  So it’s as simple as that,” he told LifeSiteNews.

However, the agency’s decision to sever with the church has its prominent critics. In a column last Friday, Phil Lawler, editor of Catholic World News, argued that by following the state’s laws, the organization is renouncing God’s law.  “State law came into conflict with God’s law, so the leaders of this group decided that God’s law would have to go. Something about having no god but Caesar, perhaps,” he wrote.

In his column, entitled ‘Christian Social Services of Illinois: martyrs need not apply’, Lawler compared the situation to that of the Maccabees, who suffered death rather than violate the dictates of their Jewish faith.

“The Maccabees fought valiantly, and suffered tremendously, to preserve the integrity of their faith,” he wrote.

“Now Christian Social Services will enjoy the benefit of government grants that are denied to the adoption agencies that have retained their Catholic identities. And a few thousand years ago, no doubt some Jews grew to enjoy the taste of the pork that Antiochus forced them to eat. But do you know something? I don’t remember the names of those accommodating Jews. I remember the Maccabees.”

The child welfare agency announced the name change Thursday, while a statement from the Diocese of Belleville indicated that the group “will no longer be connected to or sponsored by the Diocese.”

“It is hoped that this new entity will experience no interruption in its services and programs,” said the diocese.

LifeSiteNews did not hear back from diocesan spokesman Fr. John Myler by press time.

The newly named agency has offices in five communities in southern Illinois: Belleville, Carbondale, Mt. Carmel, Mt. Vernon and Olney, and there currently are 187 employees serving approximately 2,000 clients each year.

The move to separate from the diocese follows a months-long fight with the State of Illinois after the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act came into effect in June.  Though the bill’s promoters had actively campaigned to dispel the “myth” that it would affect faith-based adoption agencies, after it passed the state immediately moved to end its contracts with Christian adoption agencies that refused to offer same-sex adoptions.

Numerous Catholic agencies, including the one in Belleville, actively opposed the state’s actions by taking them to court, but the appeals court recently refused to grant the agencies a stay on an order by the state forcing them to renounce their beliefs or transfer their children to secular agencies by November 30.

“No one fought harder than we did.  I mean there’s maybe a half dozen people who fought really hard and I was one of those,” said Huelsmann.  “We lost all of our attempts to change this, and we couldn’t get the appellate court’s stay, so we had no choice.”

He said the agency had only received about 0.5% of its funding from the Diocese of Belleville, with 85% coming from the state, and 14.5% from a variety of other sources.

In addition to losing the diocesan funding, Huelsmann said they will “probably not, initially” be doing fundraising or promotion within the parishes either.  “There has to be, for all sorts of reasons, both from the Church’s perspective and the state’s perspective, there has to be sort of a clean break,” he explained.

The Catholic Church teaches that same-sex adoption does violence to children by putting them in a position of dependency in an environment that would impede their full human development.

Asked whether the organization had had its own “core belief” against same-sex adoption, and whether they have now given up that belief, Huelsman said, “That’s a really good question.”

“As a child welfare agency we have to abide by the law, that’s what we have to do,” he continued.

“Whether or not a same-sex or civil union couple will come to us in future, we have no idea.  It may not even happen,” he added.  “Of all the millions of moving parts, this is just such an insignificant part of it all.”