Adoption agencies divide the Roman Catholic Church
Cranmer has written much on the appalling fate of the Catholic adoption agencies. They are now at the end of a 20-month transition period during which they have been obliged either to close or conform to the 2007 legislation on the provision of goods and services to homosexuals. The issue divided the Cabinet, with Tony Blair and Ruth Kelly desperately trying to carve out some sort of exemption for the agencies. Both, of course, in the here-today-gone-tomorrow manner of politicians, have moved on. They perhaps knew they would not be in government when the religious consequences of their political actions finally hit the fan.
The Catholic adoption agencies find loving families for around 250 children a year, constituting a third of the adoption work of voluntary agencies. Crucially, they specialise in difficult cases such as large sibling groups and children with a high risk of mental illness or with a terminal illness. There is little in society that is a more Christian labour of love for the common good, and they have performed it as the Lord might require – humbly against hardship, without complaint, selflessly and unquestioningly prioritising the needs of the nation’s most vulnerable hearts and minds. They have truly and literally suffered the little children.
But the issue of compliance with the law of Caesar has divided the Roman Catholic Church, with agencies responding in different ways. Some languish in prison, others await their day in court, while still others have sacrificially thrown themselves onto the flames. These have voluntarily and completely severed their links with the Roman Catholic Church in order that they might comply fully with the legislation and place children with homosexual couples. The five largest agencies in the country have cast the Church aside, changed their constitutions and even their names in order to comply with the law. The former Catholic Children’s Society, which serves Arundel, Brighton, Portsmouth and Southwark, has transmogrified to the Cabrini Children’s Society. Under the terms of its agreement with local bishops, donations from churches and other Catholic bodies have to be spent on child welfare projects other than adoption. Other agencies which have cast St Peter aside are St David’s Children’s Society, which serves Wales and Herefordshire, St Francis’ Children’s Society in Northampton, and the Catholic Children’s Society in Nottingham, which is now called Faith in Families.
While the above have been amicable separations, the Bishop of Lancaster, Patrick O’Donoghue, is presiding over the most acrimonious divorce. He has forbidden any money raised in his parishes to go to the new agency, Caritas Care, which replaced the region’s Catholic Caring Services. He has also warned that the charity may no longer be permitted to use property owned by the diocese.
But Cranmer also reported that some agencies were not going to just roll over without a fight, if only because of the implications that giving in might have for a whole range of other Catholic charities and agencies. In the hierarchy of competing rights, a battle is being waged for supremacy. Historically, faith-based organisations have enjoyed the right freely to practise their religion and adhere to tradition and orthodoxy. These liberties are now confronted head-on by the rights of homosexuals not to be discriminated against.
Some optimists believe that these apparently mutually exclusive rights can coexist. But Cranmer is not so sure. Being brought up by both a man and a woman, a father and a mother, has been found to be best for the wellbeing of children. The institution was not ordained by God for nothing. But the laws governing religious freedom are now trumped by those on equality and discrimination. It is no longer legally possible theologically to practise: in order to remain true to Church doctrine, one has to break the law.
Cranmer was (and remains) of the opinion that the agencies should do as Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor did – take a principled stand and let them bring you to court. The media attention on the loss of religious liberty would cause such outrage that it seems unlikely that things would be left as they are. The Cardinal is supporting the Catholic Children’s Society in Westminster in a tribunal case which it is contesting under charity law. And the Cardinal’s successor, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, has form on the issue. He led the Church’s fight to gain an opt-out from the regulations. He may have lost that particular battle, but this war is far from over.