National Catholic Register


U.K. Puts Bishops In a Bind

Same-sex Adoption Option



June 29 - July 5, 2008 Issue | Posted 6/24/08 at 12:37 PM


LONDON — What should a Catholic adoption agency do when confronted with a law that insists that it place children in the care of practicing homosexual couples?

This is the problem confronting Britain’s Catholic adoption agencies under new sexual orientation regulations.

A new law, passed by the Labor Government, does not permit any exemption on religious grounds. Each diocesan adoption agency has had to discuss the possibilities for the future.

The Archdioceses of Boston and San Francisco had to respond to similar local laws.

In southeast England, the official position is that the Southwark Catholic Children’s Society has not yet made a final decision. But unofficial reports state that it will hand over its adoption work to a wholly new organization, to be called the Cabrini Children’s Society.

This society, having the same CCS initials and taking the name of the Italian saint, will not be formally associated with the Church and will therefore be able to fulfill all the requirements of the new law even if they conflict with Catholic teaching.

The new Cabrini Society is reported to have been given $20 million from the Children’s Society funds.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Southwark said, “No final decision has yet been made. When the meeting is held and a decision is taken, this will be made public. If a decision is made to form an independent society then certain things may flow from that, but no decision has yet been made.”

Still, local reaction was negative. Father Timothy Finigan of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Blackfen, Kent, said: “The Catholic Children’s Society currently receives income from an annual collection at Sunday Mass, offerings at the Christmas Crib, Lenten alms, collections made in Catholic schools and Mass stipends. I cannot see that any of these sources of funding could legitimately continue if the charity is now no longer a Catholic charity and is prepared to act contrary to the teaching of the Church.”

Catholic blogger Philip Andrews was more scathing: “This is nothing less than the misappropriation of the good name of Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, and the linking of her name to something with which she would profoundly disagree — a complete perversion of her principles. Mother Cabrini spent her life caring for children, rather than seeing them abandoned or given up into dangerous or sinful situations, founding orphanages to protect and care for the vulnerable.”

One deanery gathering of priests — at Kingston in Surrey — has already formally voted not to allow any collections in churches for a new society of the type envisaged.

Across the Thames

Meanwhile, across the Thames River in Westminster, the primatial see of England and Wales, under Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, a very different response is likely. A decision has been taken to continue with existing practices.

Bishop Bernard Longley has written to all the clergy of the diocese saying that it seems to be possible to comply with the new law by making some minor amendments to the relevant documents.

As chairman of the board of the Westminster Catholic Children’s Society, he says, “The trustees are satisfied that the society’s circumstances are such that we are now able to take the necessary steps to comply with the legislation by applying Regulation 18” of the Sexual Orientation Regulations. He believes that this will enable the society, “subject to approval by the Charity Commission, to alter its governing documents so as to be able to continue with its current policy of assessing only couples who are married.”

The bishop is choosing his words carefully. He noted that “the process of seeking approval from the Charity Commission is legally complicated” and it is expected to take at least some months. There is clearly the hope that the society will be able to continue its work, relying on the fact that its foundation was specifically connected to the support of married people.

The Westminster diocesan approach seems to be an option at present and is in line with suggestions made by lawyers and others who believe that it is not necessary for any Catholic organization to close down completely, while certain areas remain unclear.

Closing Down

In northern England, the Catholic Children’s Rescue Society in the Diocese of Salford (Manchester) is simply closing down all its adoption services.

In recent years these have in any case dwindled from some 50 adoption/fostering cases each year to about 10.

Rather than break with Catholic moral teaching, or create a new society that has no formal links with the Church, the Rescue Society will simply abandon all adoption work and continue with its other activities, which include running care homes, drop-in centers and housing advice for the poor and vulnerable.

Catholic lawyer Neil Addison has been urging the bishops to seek clarification of the law, saying that if the Church is obliged to close down areas of its work, people must see that it is the government which is forcing this to be done, not the Church itself.

“The Catholic Church in Britain hasn’t yet woken up to the fact that it has to be prepared to fight in the courts — and perhaps to lose,” he said. “In the 1970s the gay-rights groups were prepared to do this. They lost court cases but they gained points, and eventually achieved their aim. I don’t think that the Catholic Church has yet understood that we are in this new environment.

“The bishops still think in terms of getting the government to produce good laws. But we have to be prepared to argue our case in the courts. I think perhaps the Church in Britain needs to learn from the Catholics of the USA about this.”

Joanna Bogle is

based in London.