Caught in the Crossfire: How Catholic Charities of Boston Was Victim to the Clash between Gay Rights and Religious Freedom

By Rutledge, Colleen Theresa | Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, August 2008 | Go to article overview

Caught in the Crossfire: How Catholic Charities of Boston Was Victim to the Clash between Gay Rights and Religious Freedom


Rutledge, Colleen Theresa, Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy


SECO SEDITIO (1)

On a Wednesday, the first of March 2006, Geri Denterlein and six other members of the Board of Catholic Charities sent in their resignations. Geri told the press, "I simply didn't feel I could continue to serve as board member when we were at such odds with the way the hierarchy was approaching adoption policy." (2) That same day, the most powerful Catholic in Boston pled with the most powerful state politician in Massachusetts. But Governor Mitt Romney could not, or would not, help Archbishop Sean O'Malley find a way to keep Catholic Charities from facing a crisis. The Governor recognized that "religious institutions should be able to help people without violating their faith," but said he wouldn't be able to waive the state's antidiscrimination laws. (3)

The following Friday, March 10, 2006, the news broke that Catholic Charities of Boston was closing its doors to those seeking its adoption services. (4) The Archbishop issued a statement to the press, declaring, "Sadly, we have come to a moment when Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Boston must withdraw from the work of adoptions, in order to exercise the religious freedom that was the prompting for having begun adoptions many years ago." (5) When faced with clear but conflicting mandates from both church and state law, the Bishops of Boston, Worcester, Springfield and Fall River decided that they could not abandon emphatic doctrine in the pursuit of their ministry. (6) The Resident and Chair of the Board of Trustees posted a statement explaining the decision:

 
   The world was very different when Charities began this ministry at 
   the threshold of the twentieth-century. The world changed often and 
   we adapted the ministry to meet changing times and needs.... But 
   now, we have encountered a dilemma we cannot resolve. In spite of 
   much effort and analysis, Catholic Charities of Boston finds that 
   it cannot reconcile the teaching of the Church, which guides our 
   work, and the statutes and regulation of the Commonwealth. The 
   issue is adoption to same-sex couples.... As an agency, however, we 
   simply must recognize that we cannot continue in this ministry. (7) 

Catholic Charities is a private network of Catholic organizations dedicated to social service. (8) Catholic Charities is also one of the largest and oldest private organizations ministering to the poor--and especially needy children in America. Catholic Charities began in "1727 when the French Ursuline Sisters opened an orphanage in New Orleans. Catholic institutions were also established in major cities along the east coast, providing homes and education for children whose parents were lost to disease and tragedies common in early America." (9) It is known for being able to find homes even for hard to place children, such as those with psychological disorders, health problems, and mixed racial identities. The previous year, Catholic Charities was responsible for the placement of one-third of all Boston area private adoptions, even though there are over two dozen other Massachusetts licensed adoption agencies working on domestic adoptions in addition to or in conjunction with the Department of Social Services. (10) Catholic Charities embodies the religious concept of good works, which in addition to faith leads to salvation. (11) It is a ministry, a vocation, and an exercise of religious belief.

 
   The origin of mission for Catholic Charities agencies is found in 
   the Judeo-Christian tradition of sacred Scripture, Catholic social 
   teaching, and the tradition of the Catholic Church itself. To 
   participate in the mission of a Catholic Charities agency is to act 
   with compassionate love and engage in the ongoing work of bringing 
   to completion the kingdom of God in our midst. The mission of 
   Catholic Charities is to provide services to people in need, to 
   advocate for justice in social structures, and to call the entire 
   church and other people of good will to do the same. 

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