As States around the Country sign more civil rights bills into law designed to protect the rights of LGBT women and men, certain stumbling blocks ostensibly appear to be placed in the path of the work of some social-work agencies that have religious ties. Such is the case with Catholic Charities, the Roman Catholic affiliated nonprofit organization that provides, among other services, adoption and foster-care placement services. The seeming conflict is between the new laws and Catholic teaching. But is there really a conflict there?
Most matters that arise concerning Catholic teaching related to marriage and children have to do with procreation, more specifically a married couple’s openness to procreation as it pertains to the “marriage act” (i.e., sex). The conversation in this regard tends to be very act-oriented and doesn’t necessarily address the question of a non-act-based concern about the rearing of children already conceived and born. It seems, from my rather quick review of the discussion, that most arguments from a Catholic perspective are founded on inference more than explicit teaching. By which I mean that because the Church does not support same-sex unions (or any context for sexual acts outside of heteronormative marriage), some argue that children without families are somehow better off without family placements over being placed with loving gay or lesbian couples or even a single parent.
Other arguments that I have read stem from the catch-all qualifier of “natural law” or “order.” The reason I include quotation marks is that generally, as one looks over the theological tradition, one sees that “natural law” is often based on a conception of the created order as understood philosophically (as in rooted in Aristotelian hylomorphic metaphysics) and scientifically (insofar as one can anachronistically apply the term) from the standpoint of the thirteenth century (think Thomas Aquinas) or earlier. There are also presumptions made about gendered complementarity and influence of affective gendered difference on the rearing of children, thereby making an opposite-sex couple more fit to raise children than a same-sex couple.
Yet, I’m still curious about the actual church teaching as it pertains to adoption. Note that in this recent article about the Rockford Diocese’s Catholic Charities office includes references to the nebulous “Church teaching” but fails to cite the precise teaching.
Catholic Charities wanted to be allowed to refer unmarried or gay couples to other agencies, as it has for years.
Diocese officials said that allowing such adoptions or foster placements would violate teachings of the Catholic faith.
“The law of our land has always guaranteed its people freedom of religion,” diocese spokeswoman Penny Wiegert said. “Denying this exemption to faith-based agencies leads one to believe that our lawmakers prefer laws that guarantee freedom from religion.”
To be fair, the concluding paragraph mentions that, ultimately, the Catholic Charities policy that is invoked has to do with placing children in households with unmarried couples. “Catholic charity groups place children only with married couples or single people — not with couples living together. They consider couples in civil unions to be unmarried and therefore not eligible to adopt or provide foster care through their programs.”
So would Catholic Charities place a foster child with a single gay man or lesbian woman who was in a relationship with someone of another mailing address? I’m not sure that this argument really works, and, of course, now it certainly cannot work with the law including civil unions in the category of legally recognized marriage, hence the dispute.
I wanted to share this reflection with you to offer a forum for some thoughts. Do you have another perspective on the relationship between Church teaching as definitively defined and the matter of adoption and foster care? I am grateful to a reader who brought this recent article to my attention and I ask that you be respectful in posting your comments below.
What are your thoughts?