Gay Adoption Battle Brews in Massachusetts

By Colbert, Chuck | National Catholic Reporter, March 17, 2006 | Go to article overview

Gay Adoption Battle Brews in Massachusetts


Colbert, Chuck, National Catholic Reporter


Massachusetts' four bishops announced this past week they will seek a religious exemption restricting same-sex couple adoptions through Catholic Charities. Eight members of Catholic Charities' 42-member board resigned in protest.

The bishops' move may well jeopardize millions of dollars of private sector donations, as corporations and foundations often require nondiscrimination polices that include protection based on sexual orientation. Last year, Catholic Charities received $6.6 million, or nearly a quarter of its total revenue, from private sources, according to the organization's annual report.

In pursuing a religious exemption, Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley and Fr. J. Brian Hehir, president of Catholic Charities of Greater Boston, met last week with Gov. Mitt Romney, who indicated his willingness to work with church officials.

"I believe religious institutions should be able to carry out their mission of helping people without violating their faith," Romney said in a statement. But the governor also acknowledged that he cannot "waive the state's antidiscrimination policy by executive order."

Yet state lawmakers seem disinclined to pass legislation for a waiver. The Massachusetts speaker of House, Salvatore F. DiMasi, for instance, said in a March 1 statement that he would block the bishops in their quest for an exemption.

Since 1990, state law forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and Massachusetts allows gay and lesbian couples to wed legally.

Nonetheless, local church officials believe the religious liberty provisions in the state's consitution may well support a successful legal challenge, although officials have not said yet how they will seek an exemption.

Over more than two decades, Catholic Charities has placed 13 children with same-sex couples and single gay parents, a small number among the 720 adoptive children placed. The 13 children placed with gays and lesbians had in some cases special needs or were older, and were considered hard to place.

But last November, when the local media reported that gay adoptions had occurred through Catholic Charities agencies, the Massachusetts bishops created a review committee.

Catholic Charities is the second largest social service provider in Massachusetts. The state is the largest.

During a telephone interview, Peter Meade, past chairman of the Catholic Charities board, confirmed Boston Globe reports that in a December board meeting trustees voted unanimously to continue the policy of gay adoptions.

Meade, executive vice president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts, is among the eight trustees--all high-profile lay Catholic businesspeople--who have resigned.

"The course the bishops have charted threatens the very essence of our Christian mission," the trustees who quit said in a statement. The names of seven of the board members who resigned are known. The eighth has not been identified at presstime.

Meade wrote in his resignation letter, "At the heart of the matter is this: At Catholic Charities we seek to place some of the neediest children in society in loving, adoptive homes, and I cannot be part of compromising that mission in the name of discrimination."

He said that there is not a "single instance that I am aware of involving harm to any child we have placed with gay or lesbian couples," despite a "lengthy and rigorous" process. …

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