BOSTON — Boston Catholic Charities’ president said placement of state foster children to homosexual adoptive parents is a case of “material cooperation.” As such, said Father Bryan Hehir, it is sometimes permissible under Catholic moral teaching.

But at least one critic of the policy said Catholic Charities should not be placing children with same-sex couples.

“You can justify anything you want with that argument” — material cooperation — said Charles Coudert of Sherborn, Mass. Couder is one of many critics of the practice, rumored about in the past but confirmed by the Boston Globe in an article on Oct. 22. “Homosexual behavior, which is what homosexual couples would be doing presumably, is inherently disordered.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a 2003 document, stated that homosexual adoptions “mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development.”

Father Hehir doesn't disagree. Earlier this year, when talk surfaced that Catholic Charities might be helping homosexuals adopt, he told the Register that homosexual placement “is never a good fit” for the agency. But he said it was still the best choice that could be made under the circumstances: the state department of social services’ requirement in Catholic Charities’ contract that it place foster children in a non-discriminatory manner.

This is where “material cooperation” comes in, as in “cooperation” with evil. During the last presidential election, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, declared that American Catholics would be “formally” cooperating with evil if they voted for a pro-choice candidate because he or she supported abortion, which would always be wrong. But when “a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”

The proportionate reasons in this case, Father Hehir told the Register, are the benefits flowing from its more than 50 community services and the $18 million-plus funding it gets from various levels of government, as well as the benefit to foster children from their placement in the best homes possible.

The number of children Catholic Charities has placed with homosexuals since the state contract was signed in 1987, he points out, is miniscule — five (less than 1%) over the past 10 years.

In addition, most children in foster care are not easy to place. They are not attractive newborns, but are mostly older children from dysfunctional families that have left them emotionally scarred. Or they are handicapped, often severely and from birth. Many, moreover, have been passed from foster home to foster home.

“We try to keep our eyes on the kids,” Father Hehir said.

Conscience Clause?

The best way out of the quandary, said Father Hehir, would be for the state Legislature to enact a “conscience clause” for Catholic institutions, exempting them from state anti-discrimination laws. But given that the Legislature has just overwhelmingly defeated a bid for a similar exemption, this seems unlikely, he added. Boston Catholic Charities would be looking for other options, he told the Register.

C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Action League, said the state government was far more at fault than Catholic Charities, and agreed with Father Hehir that the chances of an exemption were slim.

“Nonetheless, Catholic Charities ought to stand their ground,” he said. “It ought to withdraw from participation in such programs rather than compromise. The Church can't claim to promote the truth if it doesn't vindicate its faith with its own actions.”

Some Catholic social service agencies resolve the moral dilemma by referring homosexual candidates for adoptive parenthood to other non-government agencies.

That is what Catholic Charities of Worcester, Mass., does, executive director Catherine Loeffler told the Register.

“You use good common sense to work with people to achieve goals,” she said. “And this was a workable solution to their [the state department of social services] non-discrimination policy.”

When a homosexual couple is referred to another agency, the state's fee for conducting the home study follows. Worcester Catholic Charities has handled more than 2,000 adoptions since the 1950s and has never had a complaint about discrimination.

“There are lots of agencies doing this work,” said Loeffler, so referring them causes no hardship. She nonetheless said she was choosing her words carefully so as to not antagonize the department of social services. (A department spokeswoman, Denise Monteiro, promised the Boston Globe that “DSS would investigate” Worcester Catholic Charities for apparently flouting of the rules with its referrals.

Effect on Children

Is there any empirical evidence that homosexual parenting makes a difference? Yes, says Dean Byrd, a clinical psychologist and clinical professor of medicine at the University of Utah school of medicine.

“We know for sure that the children are different,” he said. “The girls behave more like boys and the boys like girls.”

For example, girls raised by lesbian couples experiment with sex earlier than the average, while boys experiment later. Both are more likely to engage in homosexual relations.

Byrd added that research shows fathers and mothers contribute to parenting in complementary rather than interchangeable ways. For example, women provide more security and men more freedom, while at the same time women are more flexible and men more consistent. Children also learn how to get along with the other gender from their heterosexual parents.

A spokesman for the archdiocese, Kevin Shea, said Archbishop Sean O'malley would review the matter upon his return from a recent trip to Rome.

Steve Weatherbe is based in Victoria, British Columbia.