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Committee to review Catholic adoption agency procedures

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The four bishops of Massachusetts have agreed to create a committee that will review whether the adoption practices of Catholic institutions in the Commonwealth are in compliance with Church teaching.

The action comes 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.

According to committee member Edward F. Saunders, Jr., executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the committee’s membership has yet to be finalized but will include representatives of the four Massachusetts dioceses including the president of Boston’s Catholic Charities Father J. Brian Hehir. In addition Peter J. Cataldo, director of research at the Philadelphia based National Catholic Bioethics Center has agreed to serve on the committee.

Saunders said that the committee will study the Church’s directives on adoption by same-sex couples and the requirements of Massachusetts state law.

He said that at this stage he could not predict any conclusions and that it was unlikely any report would be submitted to the bishops before the first of the year.

Speaking with The Pilot, Father Hehir explained that the adoption services provided by Catholic Charities are fundamental to the institution.

“A lot of people identify Catholic Charities with adoptions,”he said.

All licensed adoption agencies in Massachusetts are obligated to follow a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation. Since 1987 Catholic Charities has contracted with the state to place children in state care for adoption and in foster homes.

Father Hehir explained that even if the archdiocese withdrew from the state contracts, the Church agency would still be required to follow the non-discrimination policy to retain it’s adoption license.

“I would solve the money problem tomorrow by going out and raising money. It doesn’t make any difference. If I don’t get licensed I cannot make adoptions,”he said.

Father Hehir stressed the importance of this ministry of Catholic Charities that has touched the lives of hundreds of orphaned children.

“We wouldn’t be in this business unless we had kids in very severe need,”he said.

Since 1987, Catholic Charities has arranged “approximately 720 adoptions, 1.8 percent have been to gay couples,”he said.

“What would be ideal is if we could contract with the state and, at least for us, we would not do adoptions to gay couples,”he said

While Saunders confirmed a conscience clause exemption for Catholic Charities could be one outcome of the committee’s work, he said, “I couldn’t say definitively that would be a route to be taken at this point in time.”

In 2003 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a document 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.

Father Hehir explained that Catholic Charities’adoption program is “an overarching program”that he would design differently if he could.

“If you are going to participate in it [adoption] you do it because you fulfill certain basic goods even though there are tensions on other fronts,”he said.

Committee member Cataldo, a nationally recognized Catholic ethicist, declined to address specifics so early in the process but said he sees his role as one of “helping the committee to identify and clarify the ethical issues from the point of view of Catholic moral teaching and traditions which are associated with the questions that the committee is investigating.”

Adoption has been a core activity of Boston Catholic Charities throughout the history of the organization. Founded in 1903 by Archbishop John J. Williams, the prime activity of the organization was the care of orphaned children both as a foster care service and facilitating the adoption of children. According to their Web site, Catholic Charities quickly expanded to serve other needs of the mostly immigrant Catholic families.

Catholic Charities is currently the largest private social service agency in the state.

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