By Hilary White

PURLEY, Surrey, UK, June 26, 2008 ( – When a Catholic social service agency in south eastern England announced it would shift its identification away from being a Catholic organisation in order to solve its problems with the Sexual Orientation Regulations, some praised the move as a means of keeping a valuable social service organisation operating. But others have said that they are selling out their principles, not to mention millions of pounds worth of assets, for political expediency.

The Labour government’s Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs), part of the Equality Act 2006, came into effect in April 2007 and require Catholic adoption agencies to either comply with the law and allow children to be adopted by homosexual partners, or close their doors. After the Catholic Church failed to secure an exemption from the law on the grounds of religious freedom, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair offered a “compromise” in which Catholic agencies were given two years to find a way to either comply with the SORs or close their doors.

The Catholic Children’s Society of the three southern dioceses of Southwark, Arundel and Brighton, and Portsmouth announced their decision to comply with the law, saying they feared a crippling lawsuit if, following the example of their counterparts in Westminster, they tried to flout or ignore it.

The Society, based in Purley, Surrey, has voted to change its name to the “Cabrini Children’s Society”, and to continue its work, which it says is mainly concerned with placing Catholic children with Catholic families. The Society has received funding from Catholic parishes and schools in annual appeals and expects to continue doing so.

In response to this decision, postings appeared on popular Catholic weblogs accusing the Society of selling out and abandoning Catholic moral principles on one hand, while maintaining a veneer of ill-defined “Catholic values” in order to continue receiving donations through Catholic parishes and schools. Some Catholics have argued that the Catholic Children’s Society has no right to appropriate funds and assets that were donated in good faith by Catholics for religious, not the secular state’s purposes.

Fr. Timothy Finigan, one of the most widely read British Catholic bloggers, wrote that the Society’s regular sources of funding could not “legitimately continue if the charity is now no longer a Catholic charity and is prepared to act contrary to the teaching of the Church”.

When confronted with this, a spokesman for the Society said that Catholics donated to the Society in order that they continue their work with children and families, indicating that religious sensibilities did not enter into the question directly. “People who give money to our society do so to improve the lives of children,” she said. “We’ve had people emailing and telling us, ‘you’ve taken the right course of action’. We’ve had a lot of support.”

She said that since making the announcement, only two donors have contacted the Society saying they would cease donations due to the capitulation to the SORs. One third of the work of the Society, that was founded in 1887, involved the recruiting of Catholic families to adopt Catholic children in the care of government social services. “We are a social care agency, not a ministry of the Catholic Church,” she said. 

The spokesman told that the decision had not been an easy one, and staff and board members alike are angry that the government has put them into the situation, but that they stand by the decision to carry on with their work. “Nobody likes to be told they have to go against their core beliefs. But that argument was made two years ago and we [the Catholic Church] lost, and we now have to decide how to proceed,” she said. “It’s shameful that it’s happened. Everybody feels very angry about this situation but the bottom line is that we just want to deliver services to children.”

“We are making a stand to safeguard children and we’ve had to make certain concessions to do that.” The organization insists, however, that despite their capitulation to the law that requires they give equal consideration to homosexual couples, they will be maintaining a “Catholic ethos”. She said that the Society will continue to work within the framework of “fundamental Catholic values”.

When asked if the Society thought that was a “distinction without a difference,” she replied, “We are continuing with our Catholic ethos and we will continue to work for and on behalf of the Catholic community to safeguard vulnerable young people and develop families.”

“We won’t have Catholic in our name, but our values and ethos remains Catholic and the Catholic community will continue to fund us so we can continue to support Catholic children.”

Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton told the Daily Mail, “The government has forced us into this position by obliging the adoption agency to place children with same-sex couples.”

In a 2003 statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, however, the Vatican’s highest teaching authority of which he was then the head, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger said that homosexual adoptions “mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development.”

Fr. Timothy Finigan, the founder of the group Association of Priests for the Gospel of Life, suggested that Catholics who want to donate to children in need while remaining faithful to the teaching of the Church could donate money, baby articles and their time to the Good Counsel Network, a London-based group that helps women in crisis pregnancies.

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