Catholic Charities ceases adoption work

BOSTON — The board of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston announced that the organization would no longer provide adoptions in a statement dated March 10.

The difficult decision came a week after the four bishops of Massachusetts declared that Church teaching prohibited Catholic agencies from placing adoptive children with same-sex couples. Eight members of Catholic Charities board of directors resigned in protest of the decision.

Speaking to The Pilot March 15, Father J. Brian Hehir, president of Boston’s Catholic Charities, said that the organization’s need to step out of adoption services is “tragic” and “a devastating loss.”

“We did not want to withdraw. We regarded it as tragic,” he said. “We wanted to do these adoptions, but we were lodged between the Church teaching on the one hand and the regulations on the other, and after four months of trying to find our way through that, we were not able to do it.”

“We were not trying to change the law to make gay adoptions impossible,” Father Hehir clarified. “It was just, given Church teaching and practices, that we couldn’t.”

Cardinal-designate Seán P. O’Malley said in a statement on March 10, “Sadly, we have come to a moment when Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Boston must withdraw from the work of adoptions, in order to exercise the religious freedom that was the prompting for having begun adoptions many years ago.”

Between 1987 — when Massachusetts reorganized its contracting with adoption agencies — and 2005, Catholic Charities placed 13 children in same-sex households, which represents 1.8 percent of all adoptions, said Father Hehir.

As outlined in a letter from the 2003 Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, placing children with same-sex families is morally wrong, he said.

“They obviously talked about it being gravely wrong to put children into same-sex households,” Father Hehir continued.

After media reports publicized the same-sex adoptions, Cardinal-designate O’Malley formed a committee to advise the Massachusetts bishops on how to move forward. Catholic Charities’ representatives from Fall River, Worcester and Boston participated. Catholic Charities of Springfield does not provide adoption services, he said.

The licensing requirements for adoption agencies in Massachusetts mandate that agencies must sign a non-discrimination pledge that includes gender, he said.

“At first I thought that if I didn’t take any state money I could resolve the issue, but that doesn’t do it because the first fundamental thing is to get licensed as an adoption agency in the state,” Father Hehir said. “We couldn’t get licensed under the terms of Church teaching. Secondly, we couldn’t get contracted with DSS [the state Department of Social Services] for these hard cases, which we specialize in.”

Father Hehir also sought the council of the law firm Ropes & Gray.

“They worked for us from November to Feb. 18, they helped us clarify the legal situation and they did not charge us for any work,” he said.

The committee looked for recourse in the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the government. Gov. Mitt Romney informed them that the executive level was not an option, and Catholic Charities determined that the legislature was not a viable option, he said.

“Catholic Charities is not supporting the governor’s bill,” Father Hehir said. “We already looked at the legislative road and made a decision there was no possibility there.”

Romney proposed the bill designed to allow Catholic Charities to continue providing adoptions without serving same-sex couples but still allow other agencies to provide adoptions to gay couples.

“They have within their religion the belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and that children should not be sent into homes without a mother and father,” Romney said about Catholic Charities. “That’s their religious freedom to have that belief and we’d like them to be able to be true to that religion and at the same time provide a service to the Commonwealth of placing special needs kids.”

Father Hehir added that the committee decided not to seek help from the judicial branch.

“The third route was through the courts, and that would have been a long process with inconclusive prospects,” he said.

Father Hehir said he and the other members of the board were concerned that seeking an exemption “could threaten the rest of the programs over time,” including their management and funding.

“We run 129 other programs serving almost 200,000 people at $35 million, and we are focusing our energy on building those programs which deal with kids, families, women, refugees, AIDS victims,” he said.

Catholic Charities has pledged to place the children who remain in their care with families.

“Catholic Charities will work with the Department of Social Services and other appropriate agencies to make this transition as smooth as possible. During the transition, the agency’s priority will continue to be to serve and protect the children entrusted to us, with the ultimate goal of finding safe, loving and nurturing homes,” said a March 10 statement.

Catholic Charities has provided adoption services for over 100 years and has placed more than 720 children in homes over the past 20 years, specializing in special-needs adoptions, Father Hehir said.

“The special-needs adoptions are not infants, these are kids in the foster care system who have psychological difficulties, physiological difficulties, have been subject of abuse, have been caught in the legal system,” he said. “We do 31 percent of those and seven other agencies do 52 percent.”

Catholic Charities is one of the largest providers of adoption services in the state and spends $1.3 million of their annual $35 million budget on adoptions, he said.

“We value the adoption program. We value it highly,” Father Hehir said. “The skill and dedication of our staff is recognized throughout the state.”

AP materials contributed to this report