Continued from page one ... route to the CCS (Westminster).
Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue of Lancaster has already indicated that it is his preferred option for the Catholic Caring Services to remain an agency of his diocese but has yet to convince the trustees — who favour independence from the Church — of its possible merits.
The agencies act by finding married couples and individuals willing to adopt and preparing them to meet legal and local authority criteria before they are matched with children put up for adoption by social workers.
Evidence suggests the best way to provide a better future for the 4,000 children in care homes would be to give them a permanent farnily through adoption.
As Prime Minister Tony Blair pushed through laws designed to encourage greater use of adoption in 2002, and as part of the reforms gay couples were allowed to adopt for the first time.
The SORs, introduced under the 2006 Equality Act, later ruled that adoption agencies which rejected same-sex couples could be breaking the law.
The SORs created civil laws that give homosexuals the power to sue individuals or institutions for alleged discrimination in the provi sion of goods and services.
The Government intended that it to be applied to Catholic adoption agencies and refused to grant them an exemption in spite of pleas from the bishops.
The SORs mean that if a same-sex couple felt they had been discriminated against by an adoption agency on the basis of their sexual orientation they could take the charity to a county court.
If a judge then found against the charity, it is most likely that an order would be made forcing the agency to change its policies. Damages of thousands of pounds may also be awarded to the complainants.
Writing in The Catholic Herald last month, Neil Addison, a Liverpool-based barrister and the author of the legal textbook Religious Discrimination and Hatred Law, said that British law on the SORs was untested and any court case launched against a Catholic adoption agency would have an uncertain outcome.
He said: "The SORs cannot be looked at in isolation. You also have to consider human rights protections for religious belief, equality legislation prohibiting religious discrimination and finally the Adoption Act, which makes welfare of the child the primary consideration.
"Many questions remain unanswered," he said. "But when you have such a cocktail of law and competing rights you have ample scope for legal argument, negotiation and compromise."
Mr Addison added that he believed that the Church had a moral obligation to challenge the law.
He said: "The Church cannot withdraw from its social activities without compromising its essential nature and being seen as irrelevant.
"But that means that the Church and its organisations must be willing to fight and defend their right to provide services in accordance with Catholic principles.
"The Church may not win but if Catholic agencies are to be closed down and children deprived of these services let that be done — and seen to be done — by the Government and not by the Church."