Neil Addison, an expert in religious discrimination law, said that the reason Catholic adoption agencies in Britain are closing or secularizing is because they are not interested in remaining Catholic.
Moreover, he said, the bishops have been complicit in their unwillingness to fight for the Catholic nature of their agencies.
The crisis over the adoption agencies has forced into the public eye the deterioration of the Catholic charities in Britain. The problem, said Addison, is not that the Catholic agencies have been backed into a legal corner, but that they “lack the will” to act in accordance with Church teaching.
The crisis has created a situation in which Catholic charitable agencies will have to be more overtly religious, or cease to be Catholic altogether, he said. “Until the SORs, it’s been possible to be a charity set up by Catholics without having to be overtly catholic,” he said.
“Quite frankly, a lot of these agencies have been Catholic only in name for a long time.”
Neil Addison is a lawyer and expert in religious discrimination law in Britain and the author of a textbook, “Religious Discrimination and Hatred Law.” He is also the founder of the new Thomas More Legal Centre, a Catholic charity which provides free legal advice and assistance in cases involving issues of religious freedom or religious discrimination in England and Wales.
Catholic agencies would be in a favourable legal position under the SORs, had they been operating in accordance with Catholic teaching to begin, he explained. Indeed, he observed, if the agencies were in conformity with the teaching of the Church, local government authorities in charge of adoptions who refused to work with them could be legally prosecuted for religious discrimination.
As is common in all forms of discrimination law, Addison said, under Regulation 18 of the Sexual Orientation Regulations, registered religious charities are allowed to act in accordance with their “charitable instruments” that specify their religious purpose.
Just as charities that give medical advice to men at risk of HIV are allowed to serve only homosexual men, similarly, Catholic adoption agencies must have constitutions that lay down concretely that they must act in accordance with Catholic teaching.
The teaching of the Catholic Church is clear that to allow children to be adopted into irregular situations, including by homosexual partners or by unmarried single people or unmarried “common-law” partners, constitutes an act of “violence” to their natural development. Children, the Church teaches, have a right to be raised in the context of the natural family.
This week, the Catholic Herald reported that two Christian adoption agencies were allowed by the Charity Commission to change their constitutions or “charitable objects” to allow them to restrict service to lawfully married couples: St. Margaret's Adoption and Child Care Society, a Catholic agency in Glasgow, and the evangelical Cornerstone Adoption and Fostering Service in north east England.
These two agencies, Addison said, took his advice and changed their constitutions to more strictly conform to Christian principles.
“I have told the Lancaster agency in unequivocal terms,” he said, “if they change their constitutions, they will have legal protection. But they wouldn’t do it.”
This autumn, as the deadline for Catholic agencies to comply with the law drew closer, Bishop Patrick O’Donohue in Lancaster recommended that Catholic Caring Services of Lancaster change their practices to completely conform to Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality.
The bishop said he had received legal advice that this would exempt them from considering homosexual partners under existing provisions of the SORs.
The agency issued a statement refusing to comply, saying they intended to consider homosexual partners as prospective adoptive parents and at the same time claimed this did not create a conflict with their "Catholic" character.
Bishop O’Donohue responded that if they should act outside the teaching of the Church, they would be evicted from all diocesan properties. The Lancaster case remains unresolved.
Addison confirmed that there was no need under the law for any Catholic adoption agency in the UK to close or secularize, if they had been acting in accordance with Catholic teaching, or willing to change their practices to do so.
He said also that, with the exception of Bishop O’Donohue, the bishops of the Catholic Church of England and Wales have ignored the existence of Regulation 18, claiming in the media that the government was forcing their adoption agencies to close.
Three dioceses, including the primatial see of Westminster, had their requests to alter their charitable objects refused by the Charity commission. Addison said, however, that the bid failed because they had not specified a religious reason, asking only to restrict their services to “heterosexuals.”
The law recognises two ways of discriminating - direct and indirect. Indirect discrimination – that which occurs as a consequence of following a particular religion, for example – can be justified legally.
The attempts made by the Archdiocese of Westminster, Birmingham and Leeds were judged by the Charity Commission to be a case of direct discrimination against non-heterosexuals, having no basis in religious teaching.
To date, five Catholic adoption agencies in England and Wales have opted for secularization, rather than conform their practices to Catholic teaching. One has chosen to cease adoption services and two others are undecided.
The Catholic Herald reported today that Keith Cardinal O'Brien, the archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, resigned as the president of the St. Andrew's Children's Society, the largest Catholic adoption agency in Scotland, to allow it to sever its ties with the Catholic Church.
The inaction of the bishops over the threat against their adoption agencies will result in worse attacks on Catholic charitable institutions, Addison warned. Their willingness to fold up their adoption agencies, or to allow them to sever ties with the Church, is a bad sign for the future of religious charities in England.
“The bishops have caved in too easily,” he said. The crisis over the SORs, he warned, has been a preliminary to future attacks on Christian charities. The strategy has been to create a catch-22. “There is a desire on the part of secularists to get the Church out of charitable work. And then they say, ‘Well what good is the Church anyway?’ If the Church is involved in charity, it is accused of discrimination, but if it isn’t, it gets told it is useless.”
What the bishops should have done was vigorously fight the attack from the start. “They should have amended the constitutions of their agencies, waited to be challenged in court, and been willing to fight and see what happened.”
“As it is, they are giving in without a fight, which does nothing but encourage people to come in for the next challenge.”
What will that be? Addison pointed to Catholic schools and hospitals and the increasing pressure for doctors to participate in passive euthanasia, abortion and contraception, as well as the threat from the homosexualist “rights” lobby in the schools under the guise of “homophobic bullying” campaigns.
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