Catholic scholar explains Church’s position on adoption by same-sex couples

BOSTON — Dr. John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, spoke with The Pilot March 3 to explain the Church’s position on Catholic agencies providing foster children to same-sex couples. Haas was in Boston to present a lecture at St. John’s Seminary.

Haas is a member of the committee formed by the bishops of Massachusetts last fall to review whether the adoption practices of Catholic institutions in the Commonwealth were in compliance with Church teaching. The question was raised after media reports revealed that Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston had arranged for the adoption of 13 children by same-sex couples over the last 20 years.

The interview was conducted the day after the bishops of Massachusetts concluded, after reviewing the work of the committee, that “Catholic agencies may not provide adoptions to same-sex couples” and announced they would seek an exemption from the state law requiring them to place adoptive children in same-sex households.

Just hours after the bishops’ announcement, seven of the 42 members of the board of Catholic Charities publicly announced their resignation. In a statement they said they were “deeply troubled” by the plan and were unwilling to “participate in an effort to pursue legal permission to discriminate” against same-sex couples. An additional board member also later resigned.

Q: What does Catholic moral tradition say about the issue of adoption by same-sex couples?

Dr. Haas: The Catholic moral tradition doesn’t have much to say about this because it was unthinkable. Even relatively recently, the state wouldn’t have permitted this sort of thing to happen because they would consider it to be not in the best interest of the child.

As soon as it started to become an issue, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger addressed the matter of public policy and homosexuals and said quite explicitly that placing children in such an environment would be an abusive act against those children. That was in 2003. He said that it would be gravely immoral and in open contradiction to the principle that the best interests of the child, as the weaker and more vulnerable party, are to be the paramount consideration in every case.

The Catholic moral tradition never had to face this within its own ranks because this kind of activity was considered to be grossly immoral, and still is. So, there was never a thought of a Catholic agency placing children in such an environment.

Q: The Vatican document says that “Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children.” Do you know of any studies that support this assessment?

Dr. Haas: This is such an incredibly short duration that it is virtually impossible to have studies that would have any merit, because you don’t have a broad enough population and there can’t be any longitudinal study because it hasn’t gone on long enough. So, first of all, there isn’t the capacity to do the kind of study that a lot of people would like to see being done.

Number two, there are some studies out there. But frankly, I could probably produce as many studies that show the harm done to some children in these kinds of settings, as these people could probably conjure up to show the benefits to them. So this issue is not going to be resolved by a psychological or sociological study.

When the Holy See talks about the violence being done to these children, it is not talking necessarily about physical violence being done to them. They are talking about placing them in an environment in which they are deprived of the opportunity for their full wholesome development by having the example of a mother and a father and care being given by a mother and a father in their rearing. As an aside, there are some situations in which there are obviously single parents, there are widows. These are all seen as not being ideal or the norm. They are all seen as regrettable in some way or another. Why would an agency choose, then, to put children into a situation that is regrettable and not ideal when they do not have to?

Q: The bishops maintain their decision is a matter of faith. What does divine revelation have to say about this issue?

Dr. Haas: Nobody ever brings up the fact that we, as Catholics, know that God has a plan for marriage and family. He has revealed it. It’s crystal clear. It’s from the first book of the Bible to the last book of the Bible. In Genesis you have the establishment of the family, you have the creation in God’s likeness of Adam and Eve: “Male and female He created them.” You have Jesus Himself quoting Genesis when He says, “This is why a man shall leave his mother and his father and cling to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” So you have Jesus Himself, who is the founder of the Catholic Church and in whose name Catholic Charities works, who has said this is God’s plan, this is the plan for a family to be wholesome and function best. Then you get to the last book of the Bible, the Apocalypse, in which Jesus Christ is referred to as the bridegroom and the Church is going to be referred to as His bride. The overwhelming evidence from divine revelation says this is not God’s plan, and we know that any departure from God’s plan is going to be deleterious or hurtful to those who depart from that plan.

Q: Some of the board members of Catholic Charities who resigned say that, in conscience, they cannot continue serving in an organization that will actively discriminate against gay people. Can a well-formed Christian conscience disagree with the teachings of the Church on this issue?

Dr. Haas: No. It is a misunderstanding of what conscience is. Conscience conforms to reality and the moral law. It doesn’t make the moral law and determine what reality is or is not.

Conscience is the capacity to see reality for what it truly is and then to base one’s judgement for action on that. One cannot, by appealing to conscience, make up what constitutes reality or what constitutes moral law. That’s not what conscience is. It has an objective component that must conform to the moral law and to reality and, for us as Catholics, must conform to what is revealed to us in divine revelation, in Scripture and in the teachings of Jesus Himself.

Now, these people may be confused here, that they think they are acting on the basis of a well-formed conscience. If that is the case, they should get off the board of Catholic Charities. That’s a matter of integrity for them. The bishops, likewise, must insist upon policy that conforms to the teachings of Christ and the mind of God. If they didn’t, they would have no integrity.

So if these people resigned by appealing to conscience and integrity, well, good. But, how can they make that kind of appeal and then deny the bishops being able to follow their conscience on this?

Q: Are the bishops actively discriminating against gay people by refusing to allow Catholic agencies to place children with them?

Dr. Haas: It is not an issue of discrimination. Catholic Charities and the Catholic Church have never denied health care, counseling, material support in terms of houses and support because people are gay. It’s my understanding that no one, other than government agencies, provides more care and assistance to those suffering of HIV/AIDS, many of whom are homosexuals, than the Catholic Church.

But when it comes to the matter of placing children [in adoptive homes], the greatest concern on the part of the placement agency has to be the good of the child. In fact, adoption agencies in the state “discriminate” all the time. Because people have to go through these qualifying programs before it’s determined that this or that couple can adopt a child. The agencies in this state will sometimes make the judgement that this, that or another couple ought not to become adoptive parents.

So, there is discrimination going on all the time, the real point is whether this is an unjust discrimination. I think one could say the other [type] is just discrimination. And here, in accord with what we believe God has revealed about what would be for the greatest benefit of these children, that for their benefit, we cannot place them into those environments. It’s not a matter of discriminating against homosexuals, it’s a matter of making judgements in accord with what we know of God’s plan for humanity, making judgements about what would be in the best interest of the children.

For example, polygamy. The state agencies might determine that a child would not benefit in a household that has one husband and four wives. If what we have at the heart is the best interest of the child, it would not be an unjust discrimination.

Q: A March 3 Boston Globe editorial ends by advising the bishops to ask themselves, “What is so wrong with casting the net wide for parents who will gladly take up the burden and joy of caring for a child?” What is your answer?

Dr. Haas: The net is widely cast to embrace those who we believe will provide an environment which conforms to God’s plan for the happiness and welfare of these children.