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Boston archdiocese drops adoption services March 10, 2006

Boston Catholic Charities has decided to pull out of adoption services, rather than comply with Massachusetts law that requires adoption agencies not to discriminate against homosexual couples.

The surprise move by Boston Church officials, announced on March 10, avoids a political showdown in Massachusetts. The state's bishops had said last week that they would seek an exemption from the law that mandates equal treatment for same-sex couples.

The Boston office of Catholic Charities has been caught up in a controversy since last November, when it came to light that the agency had placed several children in homosexual households. Church teachings say that adoption by same-sex couples is a form of violence against children.

In December, Boston's Archbishop Sean O'Malley reportedly received a direct instruction from the Vatican saying that a Catholic agency cannot be involved in adoptions by gay couples. (The San Francisco archdiocese has recently acknowledged a similar message from Rome, responding to same-sex adoptions arranged by the office of Catholic Charities there.)

On February 28, the four diocesan bishops of Massachusetts joined in a public statements indicating that they would seek an exemption from the government's non-discrimination policy. Today's announcement indicates that the bishops have abandoned their effort.

"We have encountered a dilemma we cannot resolve," said Father J. Bryan Hehir and Jeffrey Kaneb, the president and chairman, respectively, of Boston Catholic Charities. Their joint statement concluded that they could not find a way to "reconcile the teaching of the Church which guides our work and the statutes and regulations of the commonwealth."

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney had said that he did not have the authority to grant an exemption for Catholic Charities from the state's anti-discrimination laws, but he indicated that he would be sympathetic to legislation advancing that goal. However, leaders of the state legislature warned that a Church bid for an exemption would be unsuccessful, leaving the bishops no other option but a court battle.

Another option open to the Massachusetts bishops was to challenge the state's non-discrimination policy in court, citing it as a violation of religious freedom. Church leaders chose not to pursue that option.

C. J. Doyle, the president of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, called today's announcement "unfortunate." Church leaders might have prevailed in a lawsuit, he argued. The decision to drop adoption services without a fight, he said, was "a loss for religious freedom and a loss for the Catholic Church." The long-term effects of today's announcements are unclear. The controversy had already taken a toll on the Boston office of Catholic Charities, with 8 board members resigning in protest against the bishops' call for an exemption from state policy. In December the board had voted overwhelmingly to continue placing adoptive children with same-sex couples.

Boston Catholic Charities has arranged about 30-40 adoptions annually in recent years. Those services represent only a small part of the adoption business in Massachusetts, where several hundred children are waiting for placement.

Boston Catholic Charities has an annual budget of over $40 million, with most of the money coming from government programs.

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