Monday, October 20, 2008

Westminster adoption agency not allowed to clarify its objects


From CFNews: A Catholic adoption agency has suffered a severe blow in its battle to stay within the control of the Church. The Catholic Children's Society of the Archdiocese of Westminster, whose president is Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, wanted to change its charitable objects so it could be exempt from new gay rights laws.

It applied to the Charity Commission in the hope that it would not have to assess gay and lesbian couples as adopters and foster parents, a practice described by Pope Benedict XVI as 'gravely immoral'. But commissioners have informed the trustees of the agency that their application has been unsuccessful. Jim Richards, the agency director, said: 'We have got an answer and the answer is 'no'. They have turned down the request. We will now have to consider our next step based on that decision. It is quite a lengthy letter and we want our solicitors to look at it before we decide what to do. It is a decision for our trustees.

'We don't want to rush things, we have to proceed with due deliberation. There are still avenues to explore and objective decisions to be made. We will have to look at all this in the clear light of day.' He added: 'Underlining all this, of course, is our wish to continue as a Catholic agency within the diocese carrying out the teaching of the Church. That is the wish of the trustees.'

Mr Richards said the letter was with Church solicitors and would not discuss its contents further.

He said that agency trustees will meet this week to consider lodging an appeal.

The agency has just under three months to decide whether to either close, comply with the law and leave the control of the Church, or to defy the Government and test the law in the courts.

Five of the 11 Catholic adoption agencies, which together find new homes for 250 children a year, have broken ties with the bishops after trustees caved in to pressure to comply with the regulations ahead of the New Year's Day deadline set by Tony Blair last year.

Another agency has pulled out of adoption altogether while two others have yet to announce their intentions.

Like Westminster, the adoption agencies of Birmingham and Leeds also wanted to continue their policies of placing children only with married heterosexuals and single people and they too have applied to the Charity Commission to change their objects. Trustees of the three agencies knew that their positions could be challenged in the courts but were willing to test the law. The agencies were advised by lawyers that they first needed to amend their constitution so that they could comply with the legislation brought in under the 2006 Equality Act.

They hoped to satisfy Regulation 18 of the SORs which allows limited discrimination in 'pursuance of a charitable instrument' or if 'the restrictions of benefits to persons of that sexual orientation is imposed by reason of, or on the grounds of, the provisions of a charitable instrument'.

At present, the constitution simply refers to helping couples who wish to adopt, and the society sought to protect itself by amending its constitution to refer directly to married heterosexual couples.

Neil Addison, a barrister and author of Religious Discrimination and Hatred Law, said that the agencies could still get their way if they tried to change their objects to state explicitly that they were Catholic institutions instead of vaguely asserting that they would only deal with married couples.

He said they needed to 'take a different route and state in their objects that they must act in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church and that would provide them with the legal protection they need and protection under religious discrimination law also'.

The decision by the charity commissioners, however, will represent a huge blow to London's Catholics, who raise thousands of pounds each year for the society. In 2001 the comedian Frank Skinner donated £125,000 he won on ITV's Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

The Westminster CCS is the oldest Catholic adoption agency in the country and was founded by Bishop Richard Challoner in 1764 when penal laws made it technically illegal to be a Catholic in Britain.

Today it supports some 3,000 children, young people and their families each year through a network of family centres and nurseries, and its fostering, adoption, counselling and child protection services, as well as working with travellers and families on low incomes.

Each year the society finds new families for about 15 'hard-to-place' children with severe emotional or behavioural problems, or who are disabled - and it is this service that is at risk from the regulations.

The agencies act by finding couples and individuals willing to adopt and preparing them to meet legal and local authority criteria for adoption. They are then matched with children put up for adoption by social workers.

As Prime Minister, Mr Blair pushed through laws designed to encourage greater use of adoption in 2002, and as part of the reforms gay couples were allowed to adopt for the first time.

The SORs have created civil laws that give homosexuals the power to sue individuals or institutions for alleged discrimination.

Dr Thomas Ward, President of the National Association of Catholic Families, comments: 'Irrespective of this wicked law these hundreds of vulnerable Catholic children remain the moral responsibility of the Catholic Bishops. Are they now going submit to the law or protect our children? [Catholic Herald, CF News]

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Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to St Michael

Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust down to Hell Satan, and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen