Catholic Charities Under Spotlight in Wake of Boston Decision

BOSTON — Catholic agencies nationwide have probably placed children with homosexuals for adoption and foster care more often than officials have acknowledged or may even know.

The controversy is intensifying as attention focuses on Catholic Charities in Boston and San Francisco, where news of a small number of adoptions with same-sex couples has forced the issue into the spotlight.

Other placements may have occurred through a patchwork of “don’t ask, don’t tell practices” and state laws that hamstring adoption agencies from following Church teaching. That teaching prohibits such placements to protect children spiritually, physically and psychologically.

On March 9, Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reaffirmed that teaching. His directive went to the Archdiocese of San Francisco, where spokesmen had acknowledged five such placements since 2000 by Catholic Charities/CYO.

And on March 10, Boston Catholic Charities announced it will have to stop all adoption placements because of the bind it’s in. The state dictates it must allow the homosexual placements.

Adam Pertman, director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a New York-based adoption advocacy firm, said that “probably all” Catholic agencies have “unknowingly” facilitated such placements. Some did knowingly, he said. “Many were essentially employing a variation of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’”

Research conducted by his agency but funded by the Rainbow Endowment, which advocates for same-sex adoption, found 13% of Catholic agencies accepted applications from homosexuals.

“Adoptions don’t always come about because of policies, whether of the Vatican or of the agency itself,” Pertman said. “Some placements are at the discretion of individual case workers.”

According to a December article titled “Little Catholic Gifts” in The Advocate, a news magazine for homosexuals, several Catholic Charities agencies support “gay family building.” But the article’s author cautioned, “Because policies vary from one Catholic social service agency to another, gay activists can’t predict that same-sex couples will be welcomed at their local office.”

Run the Spectrum

Two additional factors contribute to the scenario.

First, in states like Illinois, anti-discrimination laws prohibit agencies from asking adoptive parents what their sexual orientation is. An individual could choose not to volunteer that information.

And second, almost all states allow individuals to adopt. Boston Catholic Charities President Father J. Bryan Hehir, for example, acknowledged March 21 that given the “don’t ask” policy, it is possible there were placements besides the 13 children the agency placed for adoption with same-sex couples between 1987 and 2005. “There could have been individuals, but with same-sex couples we would know,” he said.

The issue has become like an elephant in the living room for some agency officials. The Register asked Church spokesmen what their social service agencies’ policies are and whether they had facilitated such placements.

A Philadelphia archdiocesan spokeswoman said officials are reviewing the issue. Catholic Charities spokeswomen in New York, Brooklyn, and Santa Fe, N.M., did not respond to requests for answers.

Chicago Catholic Charities spokeswoman April Specht declined to answer the questions but issued a statement saying the agency would both work “within the teachings of the Catholic Church” and “meet its obligations” under state contracts.

State regulations mean adoption agencies “do not document, inquire about, track or judge” the sexual orientation of parents, said Diane Jackson of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. She did not know the sexual orientation of parents involved in the 200 adoptions in the last year that Catholic Charities facilitated for children who were wards of the state.

Washington, D.C., and the states of New York, New Mexico, Connecticut, New Jersey, Oregon and Vermont also allow homosexual couples to jointly petition for adoption.

“It’s hard to get a clear picture nationwide,” said John Keightley, spokesman for Catholic Charities USA, a network of 137 agencies and 1,300 affiliates. Keightley said that situations run “a spectrum of clear to muddy. It’s a combination of what states allow and what their laws require.”

Utah allows only heterosexual married couples to adopt. By contrast, Massachusetts and California make “non-discrimination” against homosexual couples a licensing requirement.

Other states fall between these extremes. Archdiocesan spokesmen in Atlanta and Honolulu said laws in Georgia and Hawaii do not require that agencies allow homosexual placements.

Foster Care

The picture is even cloudier with foster care. For example, Florida bans adoptions with homosexuals but allows foster care placements.

“Foster care can go on for years,” said Chris Slattery, founder of the crisis pregnancy group Expectant Mother Care, which has 15 offices around New York City. “And, in fact, the impact could be even greater, because adolescents are more impressionable than babies. But the moral principal is the same. What is the point of an agency being Catholic if it’s acting in a morally neutral manner to keep people employed?”

Slattery said he was told several years ago by Kathleen Polcha, director of maternity services for New York’s Catholic Home Bureau, that because of city contracts, her agency “had to accept applications” from homosexuals. But, he stressed that he could not confirm whether placements occurred.

Polcha said in a phone interview March 20 that her office had done “no domestic infant” adoptions with same-sex couples, but said “the conflict is with state foster care rules.” Both she and archdiocesan spokesman Joseph Zwilling referred questions on this to Catholic Charities spokeswoman Jacqueline Lofaro, who did not reply to requests for a statement.

“I’m not going to place any more children with Catholic Home Bureau unless they go along with the Vatican rules,” said Slattery, whose organization aids 4,200 pregnant or post-abortive women yearly. “If agencies don’t fight these mandates in courts, they will eventually be forced to place children with homosexuals.

“Often what Catholic agencies are doing is the same as secular agencies,” Slattery said. “In many cases, the scandal is that boards are packed with people who are not authentic Catholics.”

The issue of orthodoxy underlies the controversy. In a clear statement issued March 13, Denver Catholic Charities President James Mauck affirmed the Church’s position.

In contrast, eight trustees resigned from Boston Catholic Charities when Cardinal Sean O’Malley and his three fellow Massachusetts bishops said Feb. 28 that the agency would conform to Church teaching.

San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer said March 17 that Catholic Charities/CYO will no longer place children with homosexuals, according to spokesman Maurice Healy. But agency director Brian Cahill disputed Healy’s statement in a March 21 San Francisco Chronicle interview.

One explanation for this rebellion within that agency’s ranks could be that several board members and Program Director Glenn Motola are openly homosexual, according to a March 20 report in the Catholic online news source The Advocate reported that Motola and his “partner” adopted a daughter, though not through Catholic Charities.

The issue plays out like a Rubik’s Cube of permutations around beliefs, practices and politics. Keightley said Catholic Charities USA will continually monitor the issue. “If other states enact laws like Massachusetts,” he said, “the picture will change.”

Gail Besse is based in

Hull, Massachusetts.