by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
(June 10, 2008) Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Britain’s highest ranking Catholic prelate, is vowing to ignore the government over its controversial gay equality laws that require adoption agencies to place children with same-sex couples.
While other Catholic adoption agencies in England are submitting to the legislation either by severing their ties with the Church or even closing, the Westminster Catholic Children’s Society which was founded in 1764 and is headed by Cardinal O’Connor, will continue its policy of placing children only with married heterosexuals and single people.
Advisors to the Cardinal say they have found a legal loophole in the law that could allow the Society to remain open and loyal to Catholic teaching, which opposes gay marriage and adoption by gay couples.
Lawyers say the vague wording of Section 18 of the Sexual Orientation Regulations of the new Equality Act may enable the Society to circumvent the rules by simply amending its constitution to refer directly to “married heterosexual couples” rather than its current reference to “couples who wish to adopt.”
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said he was in full agreement with the decision to challenge the new government policies.
“I fully support the decision of the trustees in their endeavors to continue the valuable work of the Society,” the Cardinal said.
Jim Richards, director of the Westminster Catholic Children’s Society, said this conflict could have been avoided if the Government had given an exemption to adoption agencies, as former Prime Minister Tony Blair had recommended, and as other EU countries have done.
“Other countries don’t see adoption as goods and services and therefore it doesn’t fall under their regulations,” he said in a Daily Mail report. “This is a problem of the Government’s making which has been foisted on us.”
He added, “We simply want to continue to do what we have been doing for many years reasonably successfully. Adoption is a very important part of the Church’s work with children who are extremely vulnerable.”
Neil Addison, a British lawyer and expert in religious discrimination, praised the Society’s determination to fight for their right to provide Catholic adoption services and said that the government could be severely embarrassed by a defeat in the courts if a suit is launched against the adoption agency.
“When you have such a cocktail of law and competing rights, you have ample scope for legal argument, negotiation and compromise,” Mr. Addison stated.
Saying that British law surrounding the Sexual Orientation Regulations was “untested” and any legal action against the adoption agency would have an “uncertain outcome,” Addison concluded, “The Church may not win, but if Catholic agencies are to be closed and deprived of their right to provide these services, let that be done – and be seen to be done – by the Government and not by the Church.”
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