BY SIMON CALDWELL
AN OVERWHELMING majority of Christians of all denominations support the right of Catholic adoption agencies to refuse to assess same-sex couples as adoptive parents or foster carers, a new survey has revealed.
A total of 85 per cent of Christians either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) “represents a serious infringement on the right of Catholic organisations to practise their faith”.
Eighty-five per cent of Christians also either disagreed or disagreed strongly with the statement that “adoption agencies should NOT be allowed to refuse adoption rights to same-sex couples, regardless of the agency’s religious beliefs”.
A total of 68 per cent of people polled either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that “Catholic adoption agencies should attempt to find a loophole in the law so that they can continue to practise in line with their religious conviction”.
The survey was carried out on behalf of The Catholic Herald by the polling agency ComRes. It interviewed 518 non-Catholic British Christians on Cpanel, an online forum representing Christians of all denominations, between December 16 and January 9, and 152 Catholics between December 1 and January 9.
The denominations were broken down into Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Independent, Methodist, New Church, Pentecostalist, United Reformed and Other.
Those closest to Catholic support for the rights of conscience were Pentecostalist and New Church members.
Those differing most were Methodist and United Reformed Christians but they were nevertheless more than 70 per cent in support of the rights of Catholic adoption agencies to act according to their consciences. Phil Martin, research analyst for ComRes, said: “There is a noticeable difference in opinion between Catholics and Anglicans on the issue of looking for loopholes – where 73 per cent of Catholics agree that the agencies should, a smaller proportion, 64 per cent of Anglicans do so.” The findings were welcomed by Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster, who last month saw his adoption agency break from the diocese so it could comply with the regulations as an independent charity.
“I am very heartened by what is being said, I’m delighted,” the bishop said. “This has been my own finding through the thousands of people who have communicated to me through letters, phone calls, e-mails and so on.” He added that Catholic adoption agencies did not need to look for loopholes because they strongly believed that existing law offered the protection needed for them to remain truly Catholic.
“If we challenged in the courts what is being done by the Government then I think that the law would back us,” he said.
Jim Richards, the director of the Catholic Children’s Society (Westminster), which is fighting to retain its Catholic status, agreed with the bishop, saying that results of the poll “mirror exactly the experience I have had when talking to our supporters, talking to Catholics and indeed talking to other Christians”.
He said: “It does very much mirror the support we have received from parish priests, from people in the parishes and also, I would add, in my personal experience when I have discussed it with non-Christians. People with no faith or other faiths have said ‘well done on the stance you have taken’.” The 13 Catholic adoption agencies in England, Wales and Scotland were thrown into crisis when they were refused an exemption to the SORs, which were brought in under the 2006 Equality Act to ban discrimination against gay people in the provision of goods and services.The Government granted the agencies, which together find new families for more than 250 children a year, a 21month period to try to find ways of complying with the law rather than closing down.
A total of seven agencies have since opted to break from the Church to become independent charities that will comply fully with the new regulations.
One agency intends to assess same-sex couples while remaining an archdiocesan agency while another has ended its assessment service altogether.
Three more are in the process of appealing against decisions by the Charity Commission not to permit them to change their memoranda so they can use a loophole in the SORs to continue to assess only married couples and single people, a move which would have allowed them to remain Catholic. One agency has successfully persuaded Scottish charity regulators to permit it to follow a similar route.