NY Catholic Charities Stonewalls

Will locals challenge the state or the Vatican on adoption policy—or fold?

While many Catholic service agencies around the country—including New York—have been quietly helping gay and lesbian parents adopt children over the years, that practice may soon end due to the Vatican’s insistence that such placements are “gravely immoral.”

Cardinal William Levada, the former archbishop of San Francisco who is now Pope Benedict’s XVI’s number two man, is insisting that Catholic agencies comply with the 2003 directive against gay adoptions. While Florida has a law forbidding gay adoptions, most states have no explicit policy and some, such as New York, forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in adoption.

“We don’t discriminate and agencies that contract with us have to comply,” Kali Holloway, a spokeswoman for the City’s Administration for Children’s Services, said. She cited state adoption regulations that read, “Applicants shall not be rejected solely on the basis of homosexuality,” even though the wording is hardly a ringing affirmation of nondiscrimination.

Jacqueline Lo Faro, spokeswoman for Catholic Charities, refused to say whether Catholic adoption agencies here allow gay people to adopt. The only thing she was authorized to say was, “We’re aware of the Boston situation and we’re reviewing it.”

Catholic Charities in Boston, whose board once voted unanimously to continue letting gay people adopt as required by state law, is now ending its adoption services under pressure from Massachusetts bishops rather than comply. Seven board members resigned in protest.

The Boston Archdiocese was at the center of the ongoing scandal of Catholic priests sexually abusing children, much of which was covered up by the bishops, including Cardinal Bernard Law who was forced to resign but then given a choice job in Rome by Benedict’s predecessor Pope John II.

Father J. Bryan Hehir, president of Catholic Charities of Boston, said the group “cannot reconcile the teaching of the Church, which guides our work, with the statutes and regulations of the Commonwealth [of Massachusetts].”

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, a strong foe of gay marriage in that state now running for the Republican presidential nomination, is drafting legislation to exempt religious agencies from having to comply with non-discrimination laws if it violates their “religious principles.” An ardent foe of same-sex marriage who often repeats on the stump that “children need a mother and a father,” Romney this week at least acknowledged that gay people should be able to adopt, just not through anti-gay religious agencies.

Romney’s bill is opposed by legislative leaders and every Democrat running for governor in Massachusetts this year. And 54 percent of adults surveyed for the Boston Globe said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate if he or she opposed gay adoptions.

Catholic Charities in Denver, which had no formal policy on gay adoptions, has, in response to Levada, branded them as “imprudent and wrong,” saying gay couples have made “life choices [that] run contrary to the values and beliefs of Catholic Charities and many other non-profit child-placing agencies.”

The strongest response to the controversy has come from San Francisco where Mayor Gavin Newsom, a Catholic who was contemplating a trip to Rome to witness Levada’s installation ceremony—he was only named a cardinal last month—called the cleric’s edicts against gay parents “patently offensive” as well as “divisive” and “wrong-headed.” He told the San Francisco Sentinel, “What does it say to all those children who were placed by Catholic Charities in those [gay] families?” Newsom will not be going to the Vatican now.

Levada acknowledged to the Boston Globe that he had permitted three “difficult-to-place” children to be adopted by gay people when he was in San Francisco. Now he calls such placements potentially “a scandal for the faithful.”

David Strah, author of “Gay Dads” and the adoptive father of two children in Manhattan with his partner, Barry Miguel, said, “The scandal is that someone in the name of God would come between loving parents and a child that needs to be adopted.” He said that there are “hundreds of thousands” of children waiting to be adopted and that he knows “agencies that actively recruit lesbian and gay parents because of the struggles we’ve already gone through as minorities. They feel we are in many ways better equipped to be parents.”

In New York, informed that Catholic Charities refused to certify that it does not discriminate against gay people in adoptions, Sheila Stainback of the Administration for Children’s Services said that state regulations and case law are clear that discrimination against gay parents in adoption is illegal. “If they are contracting with us, they understand that is the policy,” she said. “We’ve seen no evidence that any religious organization is discriminating,” but that the agency would take action if that comes to their attention.

Out gay state Senator Thomas K. Duane, a Chelsea Democrat, also said that he would not want public money to go to Catholic adoption agencies if they discriminate, but said, “I’ve seen no evidence of it.” He encouraged any gay person who has faced discrimination from a Catholic agency to contact him. He added, “I don’t think Catholic Charities are willingly” keeping gay people from adopting.

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