Mass. bishops ban same-sex couples’ adoptions by Catholic agencies

BOSTON — In a Feb. 28 statement, the four bishops of Massachusetts declared that in light of the 2003 Vatican instruction on same-sex marriage, “Catholic agencies may not provide adoptions to same-sex couples” and announced they are requesting the Commonwealth to exempt Catholic social service agencies from a law requiring them to place adoptive children in same-sex households

Protesting the move, seven of the 42 members of the board of Catholic Charities, including past chair Peter Meade, resigned.

In a statement, the seven board members said they were “deeply troubled” by the course set by the four bishops, and said it “undermines our moral priority of helping vulnerable children find loving homes.

“We also cannot participate in an effort to pursue legal permission to discriminate against Massachusetts citizens who want to play a part in building strong families. The course the bishops have charted threatens the very essence of our Christian mission. For the sake of the poor we serve, we pray they will reconsider,” the statement read.

The letter was signed by Geri Denterlein, president of Denterlein Worldwide Public Affairs; Donna Gittens, CEO, causemedia; Paul LaCamera, General Manager, the WBUR group; Brian Leary, partner, Gadsby Hannah; Peter Meade, executive vice president, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Colette Phillips, president and CEO, Colette Phillips Communications; Micho Spring, chairman, Weber Shandwick New England.

Jeff Kaneb, the newly appointed chair of the Catholic Charities board of trustees, and Father J. Brian Hehir, president of Catholic Charities, released a statement regretting the resignations.

“It is with regret that we have received today a statement of resignation from seven members of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston board. To lose even one of these individuals would be a severe loss to our Catholic Charities agency.

“These men and women have for many years provided Catholic Charities generously with personal commitment, professional skills and expenditure of time and financial resources. We are extremely grateful for their years of service to the poor and vulnerable in our society. We are saddened that the differences which have developed concerning the issue of an exemption protecting the work of Charities in its adoption policy have led to a departure of valued colleagues from our Board,” they said.

The bishops’ statement carefully frames the issue of adoption in the context of the social mission of the Church and stresses the bishops’ desire to collaborate “as fully as possible with public institutions.” But it also says that “our educational, healthcare and social services must be rooted in the foundation of Catholic moral and social teaching even as we offer the services of these institutions to all in the Commonwealth.”

The statement says that the principles of religious freedom are being challenged by Massachusetts’ regulations that “could require service agencies to place children with same-sex couples.”

Ed Saunders, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, explained to The Pilot that Church doctrine says that “same-sex couples should not be allowed to adopt children and that Catholic social service agencies should not place adoptive children with same-sex couples.”

At the same time, he continued, “the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ licensing requirements say you cannot discriminate against anyone on a series of things, one of which is sexual orientation.”

In the statement, the bishops expressed their intent to continue serving children in need of adoption in a way which does not conflict with Catholic teaching and practice. To do so, they intend “to seek relief from the regulatory requirements of the Commonwealth on this issue.”

“We are asking the Commonwealth to respect the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom and allow the Catholic Church to continue serving children in need of adoption without violating the tenets of our faith,” the statement says.

Saunders could not elaborate on the way that exemption will be pursued.

“Several avenues are available to the bishops at the present time and they are just beginning the process. It is too early and we are not prepared to talk [about] what those strategies or tactics will be to obtain relief.”

Cardinal-designate Seán P. O’Malley and Father Hehir met with Gov. Mitt Romney March 1 to explain the Church’s request.

After the meeting, the archdiocese released a statement saying “The archbishop is grateful for the governor’s willingness to consider measures which could provide an exemption for the agencies of Catholic Charities in Massachusetts, allowing them to continue the work of providing adoptions for children in need without being in conflict with Catholic teaching.

“The conversation was a preliminary one and the strategies discussed will have to be examined in detail in the days ahead. The Catholic agencies in the dioceses of Massachusetts wish to continue the work of adoption and seek an exemption in order to comply with Catholic teaching on marriage and the family.”

The day before the meeting, Gov. Romney’s spokeswoman Julie Teer said that the governor cannot by executive order waive anti-discrimination laws, but “Gov. Romney respects and honors the free practice of religion and he looks forward to meeting with representatives of the Catholic Church to discuss this issue.”

This bishops’ statement follows the creation back in November of a committee they put together to review whether the adoption practices of Catholic institutions in the Commonwealth were in compliance with Church teaching, 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.

Saunders said that the committee did not vote on a final determination but “they discussed those issues and worked with the attorneys and came up with some background and research that was presented to the bishops and then the bishops issued the statement,” Saunders said.

Some members of the Catholic Charities board had earlier expressed uneasiness with the bishops’ decision to create a commission and their intention to obtain a religious exemption from the state.

The Boston Globe reported back in February that the board of Catholic Charities had unanimously voted to continue with adoptions by same-sex couples. Peter Meade, the outgoing chair of the board, expressed then to the Globe his strong opposition to the bishops’ plan, calling it “an unnecessary, unmitigated disaster for children, Catholic Charities, and the Archdiocese of Boston.”

Kaneb confirmed in a statement issued in response to the bishops’ statement that the board had voted in December expressing “a desire to continue the existing adoption policy of Catholic Charities in Boston.”

“The board today recognizes the need for further discussion with the archbishop about the implications and implementation of the policy adopted by the Bishops of Massachusetts about seeking an exemption from existing state policy and regulation concerning adoption to same-sex couples.”

Ed Saunders affirmed that it is the role of the bishops to assure that all Catholic institutions within a diocese follow the principles of social and moral Catholic teaching.

“Even though the board of an agency may make a recommendation, it is the bishops who are responsible for saying how the moral and social teachings are followed,” he said.

In their statement, the bishops refer to a 2003 document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which described the placement of foster children with same-sex couples as “gravely immoral.”

“Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development. This is gravely immoral and in open contradiction to the principle, recognized also in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, that the best interests of the child, as the weaker and more vulnerable party, are to be the paramount consideration in every case,” the document said.

Associated Press materials contributed to this story