Bishops Probing Ways to Work Around Massachusetts Law

BOSTON — The number of children that Boston Catholic Charities has placed with homosexual adoptive parents may be well more than the 13 the agency has reported.

A showdown is looming over whether Massachusetts bishops will insist that the agency comply with Church teaching and stop such placements.

An accurate number of such adoptions will probably never be known. The reported figure of 13 adoptions since 1987 includes only those where the adopters self-identified as homosexual “couples,” Catholic Charities spokeswoman Virginia Reynolds said Feb. 17.

It wasn’t until 2004 that same-sex “marriages” were allowed in the state, so questions remain as to how many children were placed with homosexual individuals prior to that.

Reynolds said the agency does not question adoptive parents’ sexual orientation.

Catholic Charities facilitated 720 adoptions since 1987 but does not have a total figure on how many adoptions were to single people as opposed to couples, she said.

“There would be 20 years of logs to go through, some hand-written, in various locations,” Reynolds said. She declined to give a figure for any one year.

In any case, it appears that the bishops, mainly Boston Cardinal-elect Archbishop Sean O’Malley, now face two stand-offs: one with the state and one with Catholic Charities’ leadership. A 1989 Massachusetts law dictates that adoption agencies cannot bar homosexuals from adopting.

On the other hand, there is no question where the Church stands on the issue. A 2003 statement issued by Pope John Paul II and signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sounded a warning against placing children with homosexual couples.

The statement, “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons,” said that allowing children to be adopted into such unions would deprive them of the experience of either fatherhood or motherhood and “would actually mean doing violence to these children.”

Exploring Options

When the actions of Boston Catholic Charities’ became public last fall, the bishops formed a committee to “review the issue.” The committee’s research resulted in hiring the Boston law firm Ropes and Grey to explore legal and political alternatives.

Gov. W. Mitt Romney’s spokeswoman Julie Teer said Feb. 21, “The governor believes the optimal setting for the raising of a child is a home with a mother and father. However, the governor does not have the power to grant exemptions to the state’s anti-discrimination laws.”

A top legislative leader also said chances are slim that lawmakers would decide the issue. And the agency that licenses adoption providers cannot change the law, Constantia Papanikolaou, general counsel for the Department of Early Education and Care, said Feb. 21.

Meanwhile, she stressed, nobody in the Church has asked for an exemption yet.

A Boston Globe report, based on interviews with anonymous Catholic Charities board members, that the request will be made “jumped the gun a bit,” according to Edward Saunders, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the bishops’ public policy arm.

Saunders, a former political lobbyist, is handling all public statements. He would only say that the bishops understand the moral dilemma and are still studying it.

One option would be a court fight. Another option would be for the bishops to direct Catholic Charities to continue its many good works but order it to stop providing adoptions if state law requires going against Catholic moral principles.

Cardinal John O’Connor in 1987 faced a somewhat similar church-state dilemma in a dispute with the City of New York. He chose to reject contracts that would have made the Archdiocese of New York participate in abortion counseling and referrals for children in its foster care group homes.

The move meant a potential loss of $50 million to $100 million in government financing for the archdiocese, according to New York Times reports. Eventually a settlement was reached whereby the Church did not have to participate in facilitating abortions.

Government Funding

The situation in Boston demonstrates the danger inherent in religious agencies accepting government funding, according to Father James Clark, vicar of Holy Family Parish in Rockland, Mass.

If the archdiocese continues to place children with homosexual adoptive couples, “we’re like a temp agency for the state. We’re doing their bidding for them,” he said. “This is not what people in the pew think of when they donate to Catholic Charities.”

A large part of the agency’s budget does come from government funding, and trustees on the 42-member board do not have to be Catholic.

The board is composed of business and community leaders and two clergymen.

It’s unlikely that Catholic Charities leadership, who declined to comment, will voluntarily stop these adoptions. Those who were present at a December meeting voted to continue them, despite a report that Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, then apostolic nuncio to the United States, had told the archbishop to stop them.

Also, despite hundreds of protests and the absence of Archbishop O’Malley, Catholic Charities in December also honored Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, a dissident Catholic.

The timing of these public witnesses by the Church in Massachusetts is crucial. Pro-family groups from a coalition of faiths are trying to restore the legal definition of marriage through a proposed ballot initiative.

Gail Besse is based in