Most of the contention over Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor vs the government on gay adoption seems to miss the point (text of his letter to Tony Blair here).
Whatever you think of the rights and wrongs of the Catholic Church’s position on this — that, as far as they’re concerned,
Catholic teaching about the foundations of family life, a teaching shared not only by other Christian Churches but also other faiths, means that Catholic adoption agencies would not be able to recruit and consider homosexual couples as potential adoptive parents
and want, therefore, to continue to refer gay couples to other agencies who be able to consider their applications — the fact is that it’s the Church’s position and it won’t budge on it. I don’t think the Cardinal is able to change this even if he wants to; that’s a matter for his colleagues in Rome and, even if the Pope and the other cardinals were willing to consider the matter, it’s not going to get sorted out in the next two months, which is when the new regulations come into force.
Consequently, if some exemption isn’t granted, Catholic adoption agencies will be unable to continue to undertake adoption placements on behalf of local authorities which, in effect, will mean they’ll have to close because they can’t continue on private income alone. Presumably the other voluntary sector agencies will have to take up their work though I see — rather alarmingly, to my mind –
The Department for Education and Skills believes that if the Catholic agencies disband it can fill the gap.
As I said, arguments about the rights and wrongs of the Church’s position are neither nor there; the fact is that this is, and has long been known to be, its view.
Nor is it a question, I think, of them taking the same line as did the Northern Ireland B&B proprietors the other week; it seemed to me perfectly reasonable to say to the B&B proprietors that if their religious views meant they couldn’t comply with the law, then they’d have to find a new line of business. The Catholic Church is warning that it’ll have to do — with regret — precisely that. Complaints on the lines of that levelled by
The Rev Martin Reynolds, director of communications for the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, [who] said: “It is sad to see the Roman Catholic church holding the government to ransom.”
seem completely misguided; as anyone who didn’t sleep through the Tudors and Stuarts during their history lessons at school will recall, the Roman Catholic Church is very unwilling to change its doctrine to suit the British (then English, of course) Parliament, much to the irritation of someone called Ben who posted to the Telegraph’s comment section (easily as loopy as CiF at times)
If the church finds itself unable to comply with the will of a democratically elected parliament, it should disband. Otherwise it is obliged by the higher moral authority of the rule of law passed with the assent of the majority of voters in this country.
That, then, is the position. People who say that the churches shouldn’t be involved in such matters should be pleased by this development, since it means the Catholic Church, at least will be removing itself from adoption.
The first point, though, that really strikes me is that this was so obviously going to be a problem. What on earth were the government playing at letting everything drag on so long that now, two months before the provisions come into force, we’re all in the dark as to what happens next? It’s hardly news that this is the Church’s position and that, if anyone’s going to change their views, it’ll have to be the Government. If there isn’t, then fair enough; that should have been made clear from the outset, so the Catholic adoption agencies could start running down their caseload and talk about merging with other agencies so the change could be handled with a minimum of disruption.
The second is that this sort of problem seems inherent in wanting — as, it seems, do both main parties — to involve voluntary groups, charities and the like in the provision of social services. I’m all in favour of it, by and large, but people do involve themselves in charities, religious or community groups or whatever because they’ve got particular views. If someone signs up to work for the public sector or a normal private employer, then they’re pretty much committing themselves to complying with their employer’s reasonable instructions, whatever they may think of them. If a private sector contractor bids for a government contract, then he knows what he’s tendering to do.
However, if you’re working for a voluntary organisation, you’ve signed up knowing — often because — it has a particular set of values and policies. I think we’re going to see this sort of thing more and more as government asks non-government organisations (church groups or completely secular community groups) to take over various functions and then tries to tell them how to do it. People in those circumstances, it seems to me, have a much stronger case when they’re asked to do something with which they disagree than do they if they were working for an ordinary employer, public or private. And so, of course, do the voluntary organisations themselves.
One footnote. There’s been a lot of comment about Ruth Kelly’s religious affiliation and that of Cherie Blair (mine, too, as it happens, though I’m hardly a very good Catholic and this is one of the many issues about which I disagree with the Church). To my mind, that completely misses the point, though. What matters in this is the view, right or wrong, of the Roman Catholic Church about what it’s prepared to do and not prepared to do. The views of government ministers or their spouses aren’t going to change that one way or the other; all that can be said is that both Ruth Kelly and Cherie Blair should both have a good idea about how unwilling the Church would be to shift on this matter or any other matter of doctrine (I could have told them) and it’s a shame they didn’t manage better to explain this to their spouses and colleagues.