PAISLEY, Scotland (Catholic Online) – Regulations requiring British Catholic adoption agencies to place children with same-sex couples marks the opening of a “sinister” era in which the church is facing the possibility of being forced to act against its faith, said a Scottish bishop.
In the Feb. 18 pastoral letter “On Religious Freedom,” Bishop Philip Tartaglia of Paisley stressed that the Catholic Church, while agreeing “it is wrong to practice unjust discrimination against people on the grounds of sexual orientation,” must “resist the temptation to disengage from the world.”
“We cannot but sense that something sinister is happening,” Bishop Tartaglia said. “This unfortunate episode may well herald the beginning of a new and uncertain time for the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom.” "For the first time in the modern era in this country, the Catholic Church is facing the prospect of being forced to act against her faith and against her convictions, or else face legal challenge and possible prosecution,” he said. “This is a deeply disturbing turn of events and it is not yet clear what kind of precedent this may set for other areas of the pastoral and social activity of the Catholic Church."
The government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced Jan. 29 that no exemption will be made for Catholic adoption agencies in the implementation of the Sexual Orientation Regulations linked to the 2006 Equalities Act.
The regulations, which are set to be in force in April for England, Scotland and Wales, bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the provision of facilities, goods and services, including adoption..
A proposed compromise to the law’s interpretation, now rejected by the Blair government, would have allowed Catholic agencies to refuse to accept homosexual couples as adoptive parents, though require the referral of them to agencies that would accept them.
Bishop Tartaglia said the regulations as they are to be implemented, forcing the same-sex couple adoption, “go against the teaching and practice of the Catholic Church.”
The church believes that “the best place to bring up a child is with a mother and father who are married,” he said.
“Catholic agencies wish to remain free to continue that practice,” the Scottish bishop said, noting that the regulations will “force the Catholic Church and individual Catholics to act against their religious convictions to implement this policy offend against religious freedom and against freedom of conscience.”
The Catholic Church is reviewing how best to “defend ourselves by all legitimate democratic means, he said.
Bishop Tartaglia stressed that disengagement from the affairs of the world is not an option, as “that would only play into the hands of those who want to push the church to the margins of society.
“Affluence, prosperity, aspiration and a pervasive spirit of relativism may tempt some to set aside the principles and values of Catholic faith and life,” the bishop said, added that “the present disturbing turn of events … contains a call to the church to a renewal of faith and of witness to his gospel.
He urged Paisley Catholics to write to members of the British House of Commons and House of Lords and the Scottish Parliament “making the point that regulations deriving from equality legislation are unacceptable if they damage religious freedom and the right of conscience."
The sample letter, entitled “sexual orientation regulations” which was included with the pastoral states, “I am greatly concerned that the proposed equality regulations on goods and services will force individuals to act contrary to their conscience. This is a serious assault on democratic freedom.”
“The new laws will now make Catholic beliefs on family life unacceptable in public life. This is a grave injustice and contrary to the claims of the government that they wish to promote equality and oppose discrimination,” it said. “I ask you to help ensure that those who believe in the traditional family values of our society will not be persecuted for failing to comply with what is effectively a government-enforced morality.” In a Jan. 23 letter to Blair, Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow, vice president of the Scottish Bishops’ Conference, urged the government to amend the proposed sexual orientation regulations so that Catholic adoption agencies will not be compelled to place children with same-sex couples.
"The Catholic Bishops of Scotland express their support for the position taken by Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor ... regarding the proposed regulations on discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods and services," Archbishop Conti said.
“Implementation of the proposed regulations” to force the church to require consideration of same-sex couples as adoptive parents “would be regarded as a betrayal of this commitment which was accepted in good faith by the Catholic community in Scotland," he said.
Archbishop Conti stressed that the proposed regulations jeopardize the ability of the Scottish Catholic Church adoption and foster agency services “to retain the discretion they have always exercised in favor of the children entrusted to them, which discretion is informed by the moral and social teaching of the Catholic Church."
Last July, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales warned that Catholic adoption agencies in Britain could be forced to close if legislators pass regulations to give gays and lesbians more rights.
The bishops, in a submission to the government, said they sought an exemption based on Catholic teaching that "gay and lesbian couples cannot be assessed as prospective adopters."
"The impact of these regulations could mean, therefore, that, in the worst-case scenario, without an exception being granted, Catholic adoption and fostering agencies would close," they said.
The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said, in a 2003 document, same-sex couple adoption is "gravely immoral." Subsequently, it directed the Catholic organizations should not take part in the adoption of children to homosexual couples.
In 2006, two U.S. archdioceses amended their adoption practices because of new laws required that gay and lesbian couples seeking to adopt children not be discriminated against. The Archdiocese of Boston ended its offering of adoption services in late 2006.
Catholic Charities in the San Francisco Archdiocese ended direct adoption placements of children to homosexual couples in 2006. It agreed to a plan, announced in February 2007, whereby its employees will work with California Kids Connection, a Web-referral service and subsidiary of Family Builders by Adoption, an agency which provides adoptions to homosexual couples.