BY SIMON CALDWELL
CHILDREN in care will suffer if the last Catholic adoption agency in England and Wales is forced to close down by gay equality laws, Church leaders have said.
Three bishops told worshippers last Sunday that they were taking the case of the Catholic Care adoption agency to the High Court this week because they were fighting for the right of vulnerable children to a loving family.
They said that the closure of the adoption agency, which finds new homes for about 20 “difficult-to-place” children each year, would represent the loss of an “effective and well-respected resource”. The agency, which serves the dioceses of Leeds, Middlesbrough and Hallam, is the only one of 11 Catholic adoption agencies in England and Wales to continue to fight the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs). The law banned discrimination against gay couples in the provision of goods and services and was pushed through Parliament in 2007 in spite of protests from leaders of all the mainstream religious faiths.
It meant that Catholics adoption agencies – which together found new homes for about 250 children in care each year – were obliged to assess same-sex couples as potential adopters or foster parents. The Church teaches that gay adoption is “gravely immoral”, however, and it has since either closed most of its adoption agencies or relinquished control of them.
But Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds, Bishop John Rawsthorne of Hallam and Bishop Terry Drainey of Middlesbrough have vowed to fight to keep Catholic Care open in its present form.
In a letter read out at Masses they said the Government was trying to force Catholic Care to operate “with disregard to the Church’s teaching on marriage and family life” even though the agency had a record of placing “some of the most vulnerable children to the care of loving families in our region”.
“Despite the fact that Catholic Care has been able to find caring families for a vast number of needy children we are being invited either to stop our adoption work or stop being a Catholic charity altogether,” the bishops said. “Our position is that it is in the interests of children to continue our work. We are not judging other agencies that accept same-sex couples for adoption, but feel strongly that we should not be forced to do so, nor is there a necessity for this to happen. We believe that this is a legally justifiable position.” They said: “Our adoption service has been at the heart of the local community for over 100 years. It has been praised and widely appreciated by local authorities and social services, as well as the children who have benefited from this work and the couples who have sought to adopt them. Children have a right to a family life. There are too many children awaiting adoption and Catholic Care has a vital and a special role in helping very vulnerable children by finding loving families for them.” The High Court battle comes less than a year after the Charity Tribunal told Catholic Care that it could not continue as an adoption agency unless it accepted gay couples. The agency had earlier applied to the Charity Commission to change its charitable objects so that it could appeal for an exemption under Regulation 18 of the SORs. The regulation allows charities to practise limited discrimination in pursuing their objectives effectively.
But the Charity Tribunal ruled that it would be unlawful to allow Regulation 18 to be used as a defence by Catholic Care, saying that the proposed alteration of the objects “arose substantially out a desire to maintain a principled stance rather than being specifically designed to advance the ... charitable purpose of the support, relief and care of children and young people without families to care for them”.
The appeal to the High Court began on Wednesday, the same day that the bishops of England and Wales published a pre General Election document in which they say it is “essential” for politicians to support marriage and the family. While the main political parties disagree on the importance of heterosexual marriage, with Labour arguing that it was simply a lifestyle choice, they share support for civil partnerships and gay adoption.
Last month Tory frontbencher Nick Herbert, who is openly gay, said homosexuality may be “given by God” and hinted that the Church was wrong to oppose gay marriage and gay adoption. “We should not seek to prevent adoption by same-sex couples who may offer a love and stability that is absent from too many homes,” he said.