By Father John Flynn
ROME, FEB. 4, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Catholic adoption agencies in Britain run the risk of being forced out of business. On Jan. 29 British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that there will be no exemption from anti-discrimination laws for the Catholic agencies.
The new regulations will be voted on in Parliament this month and come into force April 6, according to a BBC report Jan. 29. The Equality Act, valid for England, Wales and Scotland, prohibits discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on the basis of sexual orientation.
The only concession to the Church is that Catholic agencies will have a breathing space before they are obliged, by the end of 2008, to accept same-sex couples as prospective adoptive parents. Until that time they can refer homosexual couples to other adoption agencies.
In a statement issued the same day as the government’s announcement, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, archbishop of Westminster, said he was “deeply disappointed” at the decision not to give the Catholic organizations an exemption based on religious conviction and conscience.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor expanded on his position in an opinion article published in the British newspaper Telegraph on Jan. 31. He noted that all parties recognized the “outstanding contribution” Catholic agencies make to the common good, a point recognized by the prime minister himself.
The cardinal objected that the regulations go against the view of most people that children need a father and a mother. In addition, all the major faiths active in Britain share the “deepest convictions” that a child “prospers in the care of a father and a mother.”
This was demonstrated by the show of support Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor received from leaders of various faiths.
Anglican archbishops Rowan Williams of Canterbury and John Sentamu of York sent a letter Jan. 23 to the prime minister in which they said: “The rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation, however well meaning.”
Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said the “right to practice one’s faith or the freedom to have no belief is a cornerstone of our society,” reported the Times on Jan. 26.
The grand master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, Ian Wilson, also declared his support for the position of the Catholic Church. “There has to be more tolerance of the views of people of faith, and that includes the cardinal,” said Wilson in a report published by the Scotsman newspaper Jan. 31.
The previous day the Scotsman published an article reporting declarations by a spokesman for the Scottish Catholic Media Office, who warned that the new regulations will create serious problems for Catholics.
“This is UK-wide regulation that will impact on anyone who provides goods and services, from the priest who refuses to hire the parish hall to a same-sex couple, to the editor of a Catholic newspaper who refuses to carry a gay pride advertisement, or a printer who refuses to print those advertisements — they will all be criminalized by this draconian measure,” he said.
In the days leading up to the government’s decision, many commentators warned of the dangers involved in not respecting the religious liberty of Catholic adoption agencies.
“There has been much talk of rejecting discrimination,” commented William Rees-Mogg, opinion writer for the Times newspaper Jan. 29. But there was never a question of taking away liberties for same-sex couples, who have the legal right to adopt. Rather, it is a question of a government that seems to fear the gay lobby more than the Catholic one, imposing its will on the Catholic Church.
Stephen Glover, in an opinion piece published by the Daily Mail newspaper on Jan. 25, observed that the Catholic Church was not threatening anyone, and only wanted Catholics to be allowed to follow their consciences, according to the centuries-old values held by many millions of people. Hardly an extreme position, he observed.
Andrew Pierce, who declared himself to be an “adopted gay Catholic,” announced his support for the Church in an article published by the Telegraph newspaper Jan. 27. Reflecting on the work of Catholic adoption agencies, he noted that last year they placed 230 children. A small number of the overall total, but they handled 32% of the so-called difficult-to-place children.
“Decades of experience will be lost if the agencies are squeezed out by the conflicting forces of Church and state,” stated Pierce. After all, he noted, homosexuals don’t have to go to the Catholic agencies if they want to adopt.
Mary Dejevsky, writing for the Independent newspaper Jan. 25, also noted that homosexuals have many other agencies available if they wish to adopt. Declaring her disagreement with the Catholic Church on many issues, Dejevsky, nevertheless, stated: “It is quite wrong for the state to seek to impose its values on religious belief.”
By requiring adoption agencies to recognize the rights of homosexual couples, the state “slides from the secular into the sacred,” she warned.
For the children
A theme too often overlooked in the debate is what is in the best interest of the children. A book recently published by two Italian psychologists, Giovanna Lobbia and Lisa Trasforini, both active in the area of adoption, argues that a family composed of a mother and a father is what children really need.
Entitled “Voglio una mamma e un papà: Coppie omosessuali, famiglie atipiche e adozione” (I Want a Mother and a Father: Homosexual Couples, Atypical Families and Adoption), published by Ancora, the book explains that children waiting to be adopted already suffer from disadvantages. Often the institutions where they are kept are overcrowded, and the children do not receive sufficient attention.
This can tempt us into thinking that even adoption by single parents or homosexual couples could be better than being left in an institution. Nevertheless, they argue, it is clear that children need a family composed of a mother and a father.
It is a mistake, they argue, to accept a situation where adoption becomes a right for singles or homosexual couples. The desire, however laudable, to offer a home to a child is not enough to justify an adoption. More than a right, adoption is a privilege.
Children often arrive to their adoptive families after having suffered traumas and other negative experiences. In particular, they have often have had imperfect relationships with adults — parents who have left them, educators and staff in the institutions that change frequently. The couples that receive these children into their care must, therefore, have reached a good level of personal and emotive equilibrium, in order to be up to the challenge of giving the new child the care and attention it needs.
It would be a mistake to forget, they continue, that the task of becoming successful adoptive parents is often much more complex and difficult than that of having children through the normal biological processes.
Lobbia and Trasforini explain that in their work with adoptive families they have often seen firsthand how it is essential that the adoptive couple can offer to the child security, stability and the certainty of being accepted. This is best achieved in a home where the two parents, each in their own way as a mother and a father, can transmit the love and trust typical of a complementary relationship formed in a stable marriage of a man and a woman.
For the child, growing up in a family composed of a husband and a wife is also important in terms of psychological maturity, especially for their own sexual identity. Many factors intervene in the maturing of sexual identity, but there is no doubt that the parental role is of fundamental importance, the authors maintain. Arguments, however, that cut little ice with lobbies bent on imposing their will upon society.