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Father Roger Landry on the Conflict in Massachusetts

NEW BEDFORD, Massachusetts, MARCH 25, 2006 (Zenit) - Local Catholic Charities leaders have said they made a legal accommodation for a greater social good when they facilitated 13 adoptions of children in foster care to same-sex couples.

They contended that if they did not comply with Massachusetts' non-discrimination policy, they would no longer be able to fulfill a state contract that has allowed them to place hundreds of other foster care children in stable homes.

For insight into the situation, we turned to Father Roger Landry, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish and executive editor of the Anchor, the weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Fall River.

He shared with us the history and issues that led to the gay adoptions, and how the Massachusetts bishops and concerned laity can defend the Church.

Q: How did the Church ever find itself in this dilemma?

Father Landry: There's both a civil and an ecclesiastical history.

In 1993, the commonwealth of Massachusetts passed anti-discrimination legislation that included protections for same-sex individuals. The impact on adoptions was somewhat muted because of the preference in general for married couples in adoptive placements.

When, however, the state's Supreme Judicial Court by a 4-3 judicial fiat created same-sex pseudo-matrimony, and endowed it with all the same rights as traditional marriage, it brought greater attention to adoption by same-sex couples.

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When the Boston Globe in 2004 looked into how Catholic Charities in Boston was dealing with the issue, they discovered that Catholic Charities had already facilitated 13 adoptions of children in foster care to same-sex couples. That came as a shock to almost everyone.

Practicing Catholics, especially those who were working so hard to defend the institution of marriage, felt a deep sense of betrayal.

The leaders of Catholic Charities have said they made a legal accommodation in the name of a greater social good. If they did not comply with the state's non-discrimination policy, they stated, they would no longer be able to fulfill a state contract that has allowed them to place hundreds of needy kids from foster care in stable homes.

So even though they may have requested an exemption from the state law back
in 1993, they never applied.

Q: What are the options for the Church in this case? It is possible for the Church to work with the state and still be loyal to the Gospel?

Father Landry: The bishops of the commonwealth, along with their political and lobbying arm, the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, have announced that they will seek an exemption from the non-discrimination policy from any of the three branches of government that will provide it.

Governor Mitt Romney has been sympathetic to the bishops and has filed a bill to grant an exemption, but stated that he has no authority to issue an executive order in the Church's favor. Many of the state's top legislative leaders have announced their reluctance or outright opposition to granting such an exemption.

The Church may have to sue, but many wonder whether the activist judiciary that gave us same sex pseudo-matrimony will treat the case according to the law rather than their own personal ideas.

Since the 1993 non-discrimination policy was announced, the Diocese of Worcester has been referring same-sex couples seeking adoption to non-Catholic agencies, minimizing their cooperation with this unjust law.

While a spokesperson for the state Department of Social Services claims that this practice is in violation of state rules, there really has been no crackdown.

State adoption officials, I think, realize that the Catholic Church's participation in adoption services is crucial for the welfare of children and, as long as same-sex couples still have access to adopting children through other agencies, authorities seem to look the other way. No one paid much attention to the practical compromise until the Globe article.

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I think some accommodation like the Worcester practice will be possible once state authorities recognize that the Catholic bishops are firm in principle and ready to persevere. Most politicians would prefer that the issue go away and many seem to be hoping that if they do nothing to help the Church, the bishops will cave and adopt the policy practiced by Boston Catholic Charities.

I think some accommodation like the Worcester practice will be possible once state authorities recognize that the Catholic bishops are firm in principle and ready to persevere. When Boston Catholic Charities, influenced by Cardinal-designate Sean O'Malley, announced on March 10 that they will not renew a contract with the state to facilitate adoptions, the dynamics of the issue changed. Rather than trying to get the Church to yield on facilitating adoptions to same-sex couples, several state leaders began more responsibly and respectfully to seek a way to keep the Church in adoption work.

If the bishops convince them by perseverance that that is not an option and that they will not compromise the principle, I think many politicians would agree to a compromise that allows Catholic adoption agencies to remain in adoption placements while allowing non-Catholic agencies to handle adoptions to same-sex couples.

Q: What are the deeper problems behind this crisis?

Father Landry: Looking at the Boston Catholic Charities situation prior to the about-face on March 10, I think we see, first, the evil effects of proportionalism in moral theology that Pope John Paul II condemned in his encyclical "Veritatis Splendor."

Proportionalists believe that there really are no moral absolutes and that the good and evil of an action should be determined by weighing the proportion of good effects to bad in an action.

Many of the lay board members of Catholic Charities admitted that they do not believe that placing a child in a same-sex home is wrong in all circumstances, despite the fact that a 2003 document by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith unambiguously states that it is.

Moreover, they argued that the negative effects of cooperating with the state in such placements were outweighed by the benefits of the ability to continue doing adoption work and remaining eligible to receive millions in state money and philanthropic grants for which they would no longer be qualified if they discriminated against same-sex couples.

The same proportionalist rationale was on display, I think, when Catholic Charities honored the mayor of Boston in December despite the fact that he is a Catholic who supports abortion and gay marriage. In the mind of Catholic Charities board members, those indefensible positions were proportionally outweighed by his support for programs for the poor and needy.

I'd add that the actions of the Catholic Charities board is another illustration of a general problem seen in other many other Catholic institutions in the United States, like hospitals and universities.

When Catholic lay people began to dominate their respective boards of trustees, insufficient attention was given to whether the new members shared the Church's faith in all matters. In many circumstances, especially with respect to the teaching of the Church on abortion and human sexuality, many board members simply do not share the Church's faith.

They lack the sufficient "formation of the heart" that Pope Benedict refers to in his first encyclical, and that impairment can lead to the types of conflicts and problems we have seen in this case.

Q: Are the laity rising up to defend the Church?

Father Landry: The laity have not yet arisen in great numbers with the bishops to defend the Church's position. I think part of the reason is that the bishops have not yet called them to do so.

Even those who would be accustomed spontaneously to defend the Church, however, are somewhat reluctant to do so in this case, because they remain embarrassed by the fact that for over a decade Catholic Charities in Boston was violating a principle upon which the leaders of the Church are now insisting.

For lay people to defend the Church, in other words, they first have to accuse a Church institution of a practical hypocrisy -- and that's an uncomfortable line to walk. The more that the bishops and priests categorically distance themselves from the past adoption policies of Catholic Charities in Boston, the easier I think it will be for lay people to stand up along with them.

The March 10 line in the sand drawn by Catholic Charities in Boston was a step in the right direction, to remove the scandal and begin to energize the faithful.

There's also another important way in which the laity needs to rise up. The leaders of Catholic Charities in Boston have defended the decision to place children in same-sex homes because most of the children involved were very difficult to place.

In other words, the children had languished in foster care or group home situations for a long time because heterosexual couples had not stepped forward to adopt these generally older children with greater physical, emotional or psychological needs.

It's not so much that Catholic Charities was working on an agenda to place kids with same-sex couples; it's that the alternative was for them to remain in foster care or group homes, and Catholic Charities officials, at the time, thought that was worse.

I hope that one of the positive effects of this situation will be that Catholic married couples will generously start to step forward in greater numbers to give a loving home to children in these circumstances who have already suffered so much.

Q: The Church does a lot of charitable work that helps society and the state. What does the state stand to lose if the Church isn't free to pursue its own mission?

Father Landry: The state stands to lose much more than many realize.

To a large extent, the Church's tremendous contributions to the common good -- in education, in health care, in social services, in the formation of good and upright citizens -- have been taken for granted.

One of the effects of the clergy sexual abuse scandals has been that so much attention has been given to the Church's perceived defects and failures in the Boston area that the Church's real triumphs of love and service have for the most part been ignored.

If redress is not given to allow the Church freedom to love in accordance with the full truth of the human person, not only will the state suffer quantitatively from the Church's absence, but qualitatively.

As Pope Benedict wrote in "Deus Caritas Est," the Church's charitable agencies, by their witness to love, give a "Christian quality" to civil agencies, too, and make them more effective not just in addressing social problems but in tending to the persons with those problems.

With regard to the adoption situation, however, state adoption officials are well aware of the Church's contributions and the disaster that would be precipitated if the Church were forced to withdraw from her work in this area. The more their voice is heard, the easier it will be, I think, to find a way to ensure that the Church remains free to continue to serve the common good in this way.


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