By Hilary White

LANCASTER, UK, October 7, 2008 ( – A Catholic adoption agency in northwest England will face possible eviction from diocesan properties if its trustees do not reconsider a decision to comply with government demands to place children with homosexual partners. Bishop Patrick O’Donohue, head of the diocese of Lancaster, has warned Catholic Caring Services that it may not be as easy as they think to secularise their activities.

In a second vote, the trustees of Catholic Caring Services approved an “open policy” under which it will accept homosexual and lesbian partnerships for consideration.

Bishop O’Donohue wrote in a letter to trustees, “It is abundantly clear to me that you are adamant in your pursuit of an Open Policy, at variance with the Church’s teaching. As your Bishop, I cannot give permission to an agency of the Catholic Church to act in opposition to her teaching.”

The bishop said that he has received legal advice that under British law, a registered charity established for a religious purpose and subject to the scrutiny of the Charities Commission, does not have the legal right arbitrarily to change its constituted religious nature and purpose.   

“Catholic Caring Services,” he wrote, “is a Catholic Charity and was established with Catholic money provided to it in the belief that Catholic Caring Services Trustees would use that money in accordance with Catholic teaching.” The bishop asserts that the trustees are obliged to investigate “all possible means” to act in accordance with Catholic doctrine as well as in accordance with the law of the land.

Should they fail to attempt to retain their religious purpose, he said, the diocese would withdraw all funding, and, most crucially, conduct a review of the terms of leases on properties to determine “whether there is any potential breach of the terms of occupation.” Currently Catholic Caring Services leases three properties from the diocese, one of which is a residential therapeutic children’s home in Preston, Lancashire that has accommodation for eight difficult to place children with emotional, behavioural difficulties, and with learning and physical disabilities.

Legal counsel and experts in adoption have advised the diocese that there are several possible legal routes that would allow both compliance with the law and adherence to Catholic teaching. One such means is Regulation 18 of the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) that says, “Nothing in these regulations shall make it unlawful for a person to provide benefits only to persons of a particular sexual orientation” if acting “in pursuance of a charitable instrument.” Together with a clause in the Equality Act that prohibits public authorities from discriminating against religious bodies, Regulation 18 would protect the agency, but only if it were to act in complete accordance with Catholic teaching.

These regulations, the dioceses’ lawyers have said, could be interpreted and defended as a means by which Catholic adoption agencies could restrict consideration for adoption to heterosexual couples. The bishop points out in his letter that the Church is as entitled as “any other group of citizens to use the law, to take advantage of exemptions within the law and if necessary to argue with public officials about their interpretation of the law.”

“It is worth noting,” he added, “that most advances for ‘Gay Rights’ were won because Homosexual groups were prepared to use Human Rights laws to argue their cause.”

The first line in the legal documents establishing the agency as a registered charity, says that Catholic Caring Services exists “[t]o further the general charitable works of the Roman Catholic Church.” The lawyer for the diocese of Lancaster suggested adding to these documents wording that would prohibit the agency from engaging “in any activity which it knows, or reasonably believes, is contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church,” and that the final decision on what these teachings are will lie with the bishop of Lancaster.

Bishop O’Donohue wrote, “It is unthinkable, indeed heart-breaking, that Catholic Caring Services, so linked to the Catholic Church since its inception, would abandon its position and capitulate to recent same-sex adoption legislation.”

Bishop O’Donohue reiterated the Catholic teaching on the nature and purpose of marriage and said that given these, “we believe that same-sex partnerships do not provide the essential characteristics necessary for the well being and development of the child.”

“I remain convinced that the best interests of children are served when they live with and are brought up by a married couple.”

Several Catholic adoption agencies, all of which are charitable institutions governed by the same Charities Commission rules, have chosen to sever their association with the Catholic Church and comply with the government’s insistence that homosexual partners be considered on equal terms as married couples.     

In June this year, the Catholic Children’s Society of the three southern dioceses of Southwark, Arundel and Brighton, and Portsmouth announced that they would be complying with the SORs, saying they feared crippling lawsuits. The Society reported to be considering a simple change of name to the ‘Cabrini Children’s Society” and told that it expects to continue receiving funding from Catholic parishes and schools. A spokesman said, “We are a social care agency, not a ministry of the Catholic Church.”

“We are making a stand to safeguard children and we’ve had to make certain concessions to do that,” she said. The organization insisted they will be maintaining a “Catholic ethos” but failed to define this, saying only that the Society will continue to work within the framework of “fundamental Catholic values.”

Read related coverage:

Bishop of Lancaster Proposes Catholic Solution to Catholic Adoption Agency Crisis

UK Catholic Church Agency to Cease Adoption Work as Government Forces Homosexual Adoption

Another UK Catholic Adoption Agency Opts for Secularisation

Catholic Adoption Agency Drops Association with Catholic Church to Comply with Homosexual Adoption Law