By Lisa Keen
BOSTON – In yet another confrontation between religious organizations and laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, an organization of the archdiocese of Boston has decided to end its program of helping find homes for children with severe emotional and medical needs.
The Archdiocese of Boston Catholic Charities announced March 10 that it would not seek to renew its license in June with Massachusetts to provide adoption services. Boston Archbishop Sean O’Malley, who sought an exemption from the state human rights law, said the group would end its program in order to exercise “religious freedom.” He and the state’s three other bishops said the state human rights law’s provision against sexual orientation discrimination violates the Vatican’s 2003 edict that homosexuality is “gravely immoral.”
The announcement triggered numerous resignations from the Catholic Charities board. Seven members issued a joint statement saying they would not participate “in an effort to pursue legal permission to discriminate against Massachusetts citizens who want to play a part in building strong families.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of San Francisco told the Boston Globe that it is now reviewing its policy of allowing adoption placements with gay and lesbian families.
Debbie Weill, executive director of Dignity USA, called the actions “very alarming and reprehensible.”
“We’re extremely concerned and outraged that the Catholic Church could do such a thing,” said Weill. “The church is just totally forgetting about the children. The choices these children have are either to be left with no parent or to be placed with same-sex couples who have been carefully screened by these Catholic agencies…. ItÕs outrageous that the church would act in such an un-Christ-like way.”
Since 1987, the Catholic Charities group has had a contract with the state to help foster children with severe needs find homes, and the organization has obeyed the state human rights law. That law has included a prohibition on sexual orientation discrimination since 1989.
In October of last year, the Boston Globe ran an article noting that, of the 720 children the Boston-based organization has placed over the years, 13 were with gay and lesbian families.
Shortly after that article appeared, the four Catholic bishops in Massachusetts met and agreed that the placement of children with gay and lesbian families violated the Vatican’s 2003 edict that homosexuality is “gravely immoral.” But the Catholic Charities board voted unanimously in December to continue the placements in accordance with state law.
Following last Friday’s announcement that the group would end its entire adoption program to avoid the state non-discrimination law, many of the Catholic Charities’ board members resigned.
According to the Boston Herald, Catholic Charities received about $1 million from the state in fiscal year 2005 for its adoption work.
Archbishop O’Malley has been aggressive in his actions against gays since taking over from his predecessor in 2003 during the child molestation scandal that has rocked the archdiocese and the church globally. In February, Pope Benedict XVI honored him with a promotion to cardinal.
Brian Cahill, executive director of Catholic Charities in San Francisco, told the Boston Globe last week that, in five years, it had placed five of its 136 children with gay or lesbian parents. He said he is concerned that the archdiocese of San Francisco may try to order his agency to stop placements with gays, too.
According to the Boston Globe, former Archbishop William Levada, who now holds a position at the Vatican, acknowledged allowing three children to be placed with gay parents during his tenure. But Levada told the Globe that the 2003 edict from the Vatican concerning adoptions to gay families means “Catholic agencies should not place children for adoption in homosexual households.”
A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of San Francisco initially defended its gay placements to the Globe but, after Levada’s communication to the Globe, said it was reviewing the policy. San Francisco’s new archbishop, George Niederauer, took over for Levada last month.
Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors said, “Decisions regarding placing children in adoptive homes should be based on the best interest of the child, not prejudice against any particular group of people. Family courts and social service agencies, including Catholic Charities best serve the needs of vulnerable children by considering all qualified parents in making adoption decisions.”
In Massachusetts, Republican Governor Mitt Romney has indicated he will ask the state legislature to approve a bill to give Catholic Charities and other organizations run by organized religious groups an exemption to the state human rights law’s prohibition of sexual orientation discrimination.