By Hilary White

WREXHAM, Wales, September 23, 2006 ( – The St. David’s Children’s Society, the Catholic Church’s adoption agency in three Welsh dioceses of Cardiff, Menevia and Wrexham, has voted to cut its ties with the Catholic Church in the face of the new law that requires them to adopt children to homosexual partners. The Society said it would cut its ties with the Catholic Church in order to comply with the Labour government’s Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs), part of the Equality Act 2006, that ban “discrimination” against homosexuals in the provision of goods and services.

The Society is the oldest adoption agency in Wales and the third largest Catholic adoption agency in England and Wales. In the year ending March 31, 2006, it placed 30 children with families, 14 percent of all Welsh adoptees that year. When the legislation passed, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, who later claimed to have converted to Catholicism, gave the Catholic agencies until January 2009 to comply.

“The situation is one in which really we have to either fully comply with the regulations or to close,” the St. David’s Children’s Society’s director told the Catholic Herald.

Gerry Cooney said, “The situation is one in which really we have to either fully comply with the regulations or to close. We are in the process of fully complying with the regulations. That will mean separation from the dioceses. We are aiming to be fully compliant in the near future.”

There is growing anger among Catholics over the readiness of the adoption agencies to abandon their religious ethos. Neil Addison, a Liverpool-based Catholic barrister and author of a text book on religious discrimination and hatred law, said, “Charity trustees seem to assume that they can stop being a Catholic charity and then simply carry on.” But he said the charities were “established by Catholics and given Catholic money on the basis that it would be used in accordance with Catholic beliefs. To use its funds for un-Catholic purposes seems unethical and possibly illegal.” 

In the Catholic Herald in June, Addison praised efforts by some Catholic dioceses to defend their religious rights, saying, “The Church may not win, but if Catholic agencies are to be closed and deprived of their right to provide these services, let that be done – and be seen to be done – by the Government and not by the Church.”

The dismantling of the Catholic institution in England and Wales is starting to attract attention. Writing on the sale and demolition of English Catholic churches at his Daily Telegraph blog, Damian Thompson, editor of the Catholic Herald, said, “I think public opinion is waking up to the crisis of leadership in the Catholic Church in England and Wales, which is in such sharp contrast to the sure-footed statesmanship of Pope Benedict XVI.”

Bishop Patrick O’Donohue of Lancaster diocese, in his recently released book on the condition of the Catholic Church in Britain was critical of his fellow bishops who, he said, had not given a comprehensive response either to the general secularisation of the country, or to the specific threat to Catholic social assistance work. He wrote of his “disappointment that our Bishops’ Conference recently could not agree on a collegial response to the Government’s legislation on same-sex adoption.”

In his own diocese, the Catholic adoption agency rejected a suggestion made by Bishop O’Donohue to adopt a totally Catholic ethos in order to maintain the integrity of its services without government interference. Because the Equality Act also prevents discrimination “on the grounds of religion or belief,” he said, changing the constitution of Catholic Caring Services to ensure that children be adopted exclusively according to Catholic teaching on marriage would have provided a safeguard against prosecution under the new law. This would have meant that the agency would not adopt children to either homosexual “partners” or to single or divorced people or unmarried cohabiting people. Instead, however, the agency announced it would close its doors. 

With no comprehensive response or defence plan among the UK’s Catholic bishops, the adoption agencies have been left to find their own solutions to the government’s assault. Since the passage of the SORs, Catholic adoption agencies in the dioceses of Leeds, Salford and Lancaster have indicated they will close.

The archdiocese of Westminster has said it will continue to operate adoption agencies and fight the law in court, while the agencies in Nottingham and Northampton dioceses, and of the three southern dioceses of Southwark, Arundel and Brighton, and Portsmouth have chosen to secularise. None of the Catholic adoption agencies in Britain fully adhere to Catholic teaching on the need of children to have both a mother and a father who are lawfully married, allowing children as a matter of routine to be adopted by single, divorced or cohabiting people.

The fight over Catholic adoption agencies and religious rights is already starting to affect children in need. Official figures last year revealed a 13 percent fall in the number of children adopted, in spite of a target to increase adoptions by 50 percent.

Bishop O’Donohue told the Catholic Herald this week that the loss of daily, integrated practice of the Faith among Catholics has left the Church in this country “bland and unrealistic” in the face of attacks from secularists.

“During the consultation, some ugly things began to raise their heads,” he said. “People are very attached to their buildings and they didn’t give a damn – excuse my language – what it was that their schools and churches were offering.”

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