BY ED WEST
CATHOLIC ADOPTION agencies in Massachusetts will not face penalties for refusing to place children in the care of gay couples after winning a long legal battle hut they may lose their exemption when the governor leaves office next year.
Regulations in the liberal American state forbid adoption agencies from discriminating against homosexual couples, a rule that led to conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church, which regards same-sex adoption as immoral.
Bishops instead requested that Christian groups be exempt on the grounds that the law compromised their religious freedom. The situation came to a head last autumn when the Catholic Charities of Boston group announced that it had been forced to place 13 children with gay or lesbian couples to avoid breaking the law. But since Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley had repeated the Church's opposition to such procedures, the charity found itself given the choice of breaking the law or violating Church doctrine.
On March 10 Boston Charities announced that, since it could not comply with the state directive, it would be dropping adoption services completely after centuries of work.
But now the Department of Early Education reported that Catholic adoption agencies will not be prosecuted for refusing to use gay potential parents, and as a result the other three Massachusetts dioceses will continue to help children find parents. Governor Mitt Romney plans legislation that will give religious groups an exemption, and opponents of the move have no plans to fight it Romney's term runs out and all the frontrunners to replace him are against the exemption.
Constantia Papanikolaou, general counsel for the department, said they had not received a single complaint about the Catholic charities; but Gary Buseck of the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders group criticised the move. Massachusetts may be an electoral anomaly in America, with its strong Irish-American lobby. It is home to three million Catholics, 49 per cent of the population, which is the second-highest proportion of any US state.
A week previously the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights sued the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for allegedly violating the separation of church and state after the city had criticised the Church's position on gay adoption in a resolution. After the Vatican had urged a publicly funded Catholic charity not to provide same-sex adoptions, the Board said: "It is insulting to all San Franciscans when a foreign country, like the Vatican, meddles with and attempts to negatively influence this great city's existing and established customs and traditions."
Bill Donohue, the league's president, said it conjured up "the worst imagery of antiCatholic bigotry. We would like to send them a message that this kind of hate speech which is designed to intimidate Catholics from engaging in public life can't be
tolerated.The Massachusetts ruling will be watched closely by Catholic adoption agencies in England and Wales, which currently have the right to not assess same-sex or cohabiting couples out of respect for their faith, a right
under threat from pressure groups. A spokesman for the Catholic Children's Society told The Catholic Herald: "We have decided to elect not to assess same-sex couples, and as far as I know there are no plans for any change." But in Scotland the Church has come under fire from the First Minister over the issue after the Bishop of Motherwell told Jack McConnell he would not "stand by and watch the destruction of Christian values and truth".