Not Saussure

January 24, 2007

Catholic Church and gay adoptions

Filed under: Catholicism, Politics, UK — notsaussure @ 5:30 pm

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.

Technorati Tags: ,



  1. Good piece. I too am a Catholic – I don’t have a problem with gay adoption (much better to give a child up for adoption than have an abortion), but I think the Church should get the exemption.

    i found the issue most interesting for what it showed about people’s understanding of the Human Rights Act and the Convention – ie, they don’t have any. They have no idea about the notion of qualified rights, or of a “hierachy” of rights in general. One can’t expect the ordinary person to know the finer points of the law, but hearing people witter on about how the Church is trying to “infringe our human rights” without any concept of how those rights operate is truly irritating.

    Comment by alabastercodify — January 24, 2007 @ 7:41 pm

  2. One point that’s frequently misunderstood, I think, is that the Catholic Church’s problem with gay adoption isn’t so much to do with the supposed sinfulness of the relationship — it’s Protestants who get all hot under the collar about that — but because they think that, for all sorts of reasons, a stable family environment with a male and a female parent is the best for children. They may be wrong, but it’s hardly an eccentric view or one confined to particular religions. I’d disagree, in that you’ve got to be concerned primarily for the best interests of the child, and all children, and all people seeking to adopt, are different so you should approach it on a case-by-case basis.

    I agree about giving the Church an exemption, but I wouldn’t put it in quite those terms. The fact of the matter is that, if they don’t get it, they’ll pull out of adoptions in the UK altogether and I’m not at all convinced that’s a preferable outcome for the children who’re up for adoption as compared to the status quo, whereby gay applicants are referred to other adoption agencies. It’s not an ideal solution, I agree, but compromises with which everyone can live rarely are.

    Comment by notsaussure — January 24, 2007 @ 8:44 pm

  3. If the agencies were totally funded by the Catholic Church, then I think you have something of a point (although whether an adoptive child being handled by the agency would agree is another matter). However, surely the point is that these agencies also receive public money, and there’s the rub. The state surely cannot be seen to be funding discriminatory practices.

    Comment by Geoff Coupe — January 25, 2007 @ 9:56 am

  4. “the Catholic Church’s problem with gay adoption isn’t so much to do with the supposed sinfulness of the relationship — it’s Protestants who get all hot under the collar about that — but because they think that, for all sorts of reasons, a stable family environment with a male and a female parent is the best for children..”

    I’m sure they think that, but it doesn’t explain why they’ll process adoption applications for *single* gay applicants, does it?

    Comment by dave heasman — January 25, 2007 @ 2:03 pm

  5. Dave Heasman — if you read the Cardinal’s letter to Blair, you’ll see he explains:

    We recognise that some children, particularly those who have suffered abuse and neglect, may well benefit from placement with a single adoptive parent.

    Geoff — I agree, sort of.   The way I analyse it, adoption agencies provide a service to the local authority in finding adoptive parents for the children, and the interests of the children are paramount in the matter.    The would-be adoptive parent doesn’t have any particular rights in the matter, to my mind;  the case is — or should be — that the child who’s up for adoption has the right to be considered for placement with the most suitable family for him or her rather than that a particular couple has the right to be considered as prospective adoptive parents.  

    Consequently, the ones who’re losing out by the Catholic agencies’ refusal to accept applications from gay couples are the children who might most suitably be placed with a gay couple, plus the Local Authority who’re being denied the service they might otherwise expect of having the widest possible range of prospective adoptive parents considered so that the best choice may be made.    Set against that you’ve got fact that the Local Authorities and the children will now lose the service that the Catholic agencies have been providing, and which everyone seems to consider valuable.

    On the other hand, I can quite see why it’s a big problem for the government to be seen to be condoning discrimination against people on the grounds of their sexuality.  

    I’m not completely sure this is an analogous situation, but does anyone happen to know what the position with adoption agencies and age limits for prospective parents is?   I ask because once — quite some time ago now — my late wife and I looked into adoption and discovered that we’d have been considered pretty unsuitable on a number of grounds (smoking being one of them, of course), not least that we were both getting near the top age limit to be considered.   I forget what it was but I do recall you had to be quite a bit younger than were either of my parents when I was born.

    Now, I don’t think anyone’s suggesting that older parents are necessarily in any way unsuitable parents.   Indeed, in some circumstances, the obvious people to adopt orphaned children are the grandparents.     Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem — at least to me — particularly unreasonable or in any real sense discriminatory for an agency to say that it’ll have a top age limit for adoptive parents because it’s that agency’s view that in general it’s better to place children with younger parents — particularly if other agencies have different policies, so if you have children who would, for whatever reason, benefit from placement with an older couple, the adoption can be arranged through them.

    As I say, I’m really not sure; I don’t particularly agree with the Church’s blanket refusal to accept applications from gay couples, but I’m not sure that on balance its having to pull out of adoptions altogether is the least bad solution.    I do, though, fully understand the problems with giving an exemption.

    As I said, I think one of the most important things about this is that it provides a foretaste of the sort of problems we’ll inevitably get from having more ‘community involvement’ in the provision of social services.



    Comment by notsaussure — January 25, 2007 @ 3:46 pm

  6. Good post, and one that summarises my views quite well (as a practising Catholic). The total inability of the Church and the government (and anti-religious commentators, who’ve had a field day with how awful the Church is) to see any common ground here at all has been depressing.

    Comment by Tin Drummer — January 25, 2007 @ 7:10 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: