National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Adoption Poses Challenges and Opportunities for Couples

BY Bill Murray

September 13-19, 1998 Issue | Posted 9/13/98 at 1:00 PM


Most prefer to adopt independently, but many use agencies

WASHINGTON—Infertile Catholic couples may be able to adopt American babies without spending large sums of money and waiting years for an adoption agency's decision. But success is linked to hard work, persistence, patience, and some divine assistance.

There are two main ways to adopt a child: independently or through an agency. The majority of adoptions are independent ones, which means the adopting couple finds the birth mother through advertising or other means and hires an attorney to sort through the legal tangles.

All adoptions require a home study, which is a social worker's assessment of the adoptive parents and their home.

By using the right resources, a couple can adopt an infant or newborn for less than $10,000. About half of this amount is now tax deductible, the result of a law which took effect this year. But there are other challenges.

Bethany Home Services, one of the largest and most successful adoption agencies, requires that prospective adoptive parents attend church regularly and sign an evangelical Statement of Faith. This latter requirement may present problems for Catholics.

It reads, “In matters of faith and life, the Bible is the final authority because it is the Word of God.” It continues by noting the Bible “tells us that we receive forgiveness of sins by faith in Jesus Christ, that God provides salvation by grace alone for those who repent and believe.”

So, in effect, signers must formally renounce the authority of the Catholic Church, sacred tradition, the sacrament of penance, and the importance of works in attaining salvation. Still, a Bethany social worker in Ashcroft, Md., said the agency has worked with “many Catholic couples,” who signed without complaint.

Bethany's adoption application requires couples to include a pastor's endorsement. In an ironic twist, then, a Bethany social worker could ask a Catholic priest to give a referral for a couple who have signed a formal document at odds with Catholic teaching.

In Maryland, potential adoptive parents are charged about $8,500 for Bethany's services. But there are a number of less expensive sources around the nation. One of these is Answered Prayer Adoption Services Inc. of Gonzales, La., a two-year-old service run by Susan Minvielle, a Catholic.

Minvielle, who sprinkles her conversations with biblical quotes, said, “God will never close the doors, because this is for his purpose.”

Through the beginning of this year, she had placed 66 children for adoption in 21 states.

Minvielle, an adoptive mother herself, has often had to work until 10:30 p.m. but she's now trying to spend more time with her family. Still, she acknowledges, “babies aren't always born between 9 and 3 p. m.”

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington is another example of a relatively inexpensive service. It charges $1,275 for a home study and application fee for those who live within its jurisdiction of the nation's capital and five Maryland counties.

James Cardinal Hickey, ordinary of the archdiocese, has placed a cap on the amount of money that adoptive couples can expect to spend through Catholic Charities. This limit is part of an effort to make adoption more affordable for families who meet the standards.

Catholic Charities covers the living expenses of adoptive mothers, as well as legal expenses involved in adoptions. The agency does not widely advertise its services, but relies instead on word-of-mouth endorsements for women in crisis pregnancies to be referred to them.

Many couples choose to adopt independently of the agency system. In some cases, these couples do not fit the “ideal” agency profile of an adoptive couple: a physically and financially sound couple in their 30s who have been married at least four years, have a medical diagnosis of infertility, and who are not trying to have children biologically.

In independent adoptions, the couple works with an attorney and in many cases places advertisements in newspapers and otherwise seeks to identify women in crisis pregnancies. Such couples will offer legal and medical help and financial assistance for living expenses for the mother.

Adoption professionals usually discourage independent adoption, and the practice is illegal in several states. Agency advocates note that in many independent adoptions, the birth mothers do not receive any counseling about dealing with emotional problems or avoiding future crisis pregnancies.

Still, independent adoption advocates stress that their approach is less costly and birth mothers often feel more in control of their decision. These mothers can select the adoptive parents and are able to bypass intermediaries, who can complicate the process.

Regardless of the vehicle used by prospective adoptive parents, adoption is an opportunity for couples to provide love and caring for children who may have clouded futures.

As many pro-life adherents stress, there is no economic reason why abortion should be necessary when so many couples are willing to share their lives with so-called “unwanted” children.

Bill Murray writes from Kensington, Md.