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Little Catholic gifts: the Vatican says allowing gays and lesbians to adopt is doing "violence" against children. So why are some Catholic agencies placing foster kids with same-sex couples?

After coming out in 1986, Johnny Symons became an AIDS activist taking to the streets with San Francisco's ACT UP chapter. Then he settled down in Oakland, Calif., with his partner, William Rogers. No one thought twice about their interracial relationship. It turned out that their most controversial act was what Rogers and Symons saw as their most traditional: starting a family.

"That shook people up more than it did to be picketing in the streets," Symons says. "It wasn't controversial only in mainstream society; it was also controversial in gay society." But where Symons, 39, and Rogers, 40, found help adopting their two sons might be the most controversial part of their story--the social service agency of the Roman Catholic Church.

Despite official Vatican policy denouncing adoption by gays as "violence" against children, several Catholic Charities offices are helping same-sex couples to adopt. The social service agencies of the Boston archdiocese and the San Francisco archdiocese have placed children with several gay couples. "I think it is fantastic that they are so open to changing the perception that Catholic Charities is an organization that would not support gay family building," Symons says. "The fact that they are willing to take a stance that is in such direct contrast to the pope and church doctrine as a whole really shows they have some guts."

Indeed, Catholic opposition to gay parenting is strong in the United States. In two examples from last year, a lesbian couple in Oregon sued a Catholic school, alleging that their daughter was rejected simply because of the couple's sexual orientation; also, in Costa Mesa, Calif., a gay male couple who enrolled their twin 5-year-old sons in Catholic school are barred from school functions. And the rifles of some Catholic Charities branches would seem to exclude gay couples by requiring that adopters be married. For example, Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis places children only with couples who have been married at least three years.

But Catholic Charities CYO, which serves the Northern California counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin, has placed three children out of 136 with same-sex couples since 2000. The Boston Globe reported that in the past 18 years Catholic Charities in Boston has let 13 foster children out of 720 be adopted by gay or lesbian couples. In both cases the placements tend to involve children with special needs. But that's far different from religious fundamentalist adoption agencies that turn away all gay applicants.

Because policies vary from one Catholic social service agency to another, gay activists can't predict that same-sex couples will be welcomed at their local office. "We'd love to be able to recommend Catholic social services as much as possible," says Debra Weill, executive director of gay Catholic group Dignity USA. "We know they do excellent work. We just don't know how much they discriminate against our community."

More than 13% of adoption agencies affiliated with Catholicism accept adoption applications from same-sex couples, according to research by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a not-for-profit organization based in New York City. "Not all Catholics are homophobic," explains the institute's executive director, Adam Pertman. "And some states have laws that mandate nondiscrimination. The agencies set their own policies according to local laws and standards and not just the edicts of the Vatican."

The Boston and San Francisco Catholic Charities programs receive government funding, so they must obey state and local laws that forbid discrimination against potential adopters because of their sexual orientation. "If we could design the system ourselves, we would not participate in adoptions to gay couples," the Reverend J. Bryan Hehir, president of Catholic Charities in Boston, told the Globe.

Hehir, who in 2004 received Catholic Charities USA's Vision Award for work that "personifies Catholic Charities USA's vision for the new millennium," struck some gay Catholics in Boston as reluctant to acknowledge his organization's work with same-sex couples. "It's a very sad commentary that there would be almost this embarrassment the church would feel by having to acknowledge it," says out psychotherapist Charles Martel, a project coordinator for the group Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry. "But at the same time, there are people in Catholic Charities who believe in doing what is right and finding good homes for children."

Despite the conflict created by the Vatican's official position, Brian Cahill, executive director of Catholic Charities CYO, says his organization would place children with same-sex couples even if it were exempt from the law because "it's the right thing to do." Currently 700 hard-to-place children "languish" in California's foster care system, he says. "Most potential same-sex parents aren't going to come rushing through the doors of Catholic Charities," says Cahill, a straight married Catholic who has a gay son. "But if some do, we're not going to say no."

Cahill's organization prides itself on how welcome gay employees and clients feel. The organization's director of programs and services, Glenn Motola, is gay--and out at work. He and his partner of 14 years, Mark Walden, adopted their daughter four years ago, though they went through a different agency to avoid a conflict of interest. "I have never felt disrespected in this agency for who I am and how I live my life," says Motola.

Catholic Charities CYO is an independent nonprofit, neither receiving funds from the San Francisco archdiocese nor giving funds to it. The archbishop serves as chairman of the agency's board of directors, which determines its policies. Four of its 35 board members are openly gay. "Part of giving care to everyone is not being discriminatory," says Nanette Miller, one of the lesbian board members. "I do firmly believe that being a qualified parent is not defined by sexual orientation. What you need to be a good parent is to have love on both sides."

Judith Stacey, a professor of sociology at New York University, agrees. She has reviewed dozens of studies about children of gay parents and says those children have no more social or emotional problems than children of straight parents. "There is no social-scientific basis for choosing parents based on their sexual orientation," Stacey says.

Symons, a documentary filmmaker, filmed the process of adopting his first son, Zachary, in 2000 but didn't mention Catholic Charities for fear of getting the agency's social worker in trouble. In 2001, the year before his documentary Daddy & Papa premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, the Alameda County Social Services Agency called to alert him and Rogers that Zachary had a newborn biological brother, whom they immediately adopted.

Henneman also has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco magazine.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:ADOPTION
Author:Henneman, Todd
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 6, 2005
Words:1109
Previous Article:Growing a gay old party.
Next Article:Not in Missouri.
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