How many Catholic adoption societies have actually closed down; and how many are now quietly handing children over to gay adoptive parents?

Bishop Kieran Conry (Photo: Mazur)

What did you think has been going on, since the full implementation of the Labour Government’s legislation making it compulsory for adoption agencies — including Catholic adoption agencies — to place children with gay couples, or at least seriously to consider such adoptions? Cardinal Cormac made it plain that Catholic adoption agencies would have to close if they were not allowed to opt out of the new legislation, and some Catholic charities, like the Catholic Children’s Society, Westminster, and the Catholic Children’s Rescue Society in Salford did indeed decide to close their adoption services. Others agreed to accept the new regulations and cut their ties with the Church: some Catholic bishops, indeed, shamefully encouraged them to do so.

Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton argued that his local adoption agency was absolutely right to drop the word “Catholic” from its name in order to survive after the Government legislated for gay adoption. He explained that it was not worth the Church fighting a legal battle it was going to lose. The adoption agency connected to his diocese changed its name to the Cabrini Children’s Society and agreed to comply with the law. “It’s not that Catholics aren’t interested in this any more,” said Bishop Conry. “But we’re not going to have a public fight that we’re possibly going to lose and come out of it with everyone suffering.”

In other words, don’t fight whether you’re right or wrong: simply conform if we’re “possibly going to lose”. Did he tell them that not only were they no longer now a Catholic society, but that they could no longer raise funds from Catholic congregations? Of course not. But that’s what happened in the diocese of Lancaster. As Protect the Pope recounts, Bishop O’Donoghue directed (in line, I innocently supposed, with what all other Catholic bishops were doing), that the Diocese of Lancaster’s adoption agency, Catholic Caring Services, should refuse to co-operate with the new Act by insisting that it could not place children with homosexual couples because it was against the ‘primacy’ of the children’s best interests, and against the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. Catholic Caring Services, however, refused to follow Bishop O’Donoghue’s directive, its board of directors then voted to accept homosexual couples as adopters. Bishop O’Donoghue then informed Catholic Caring Services that it was no longer recognised as an agency of the Diocese of Lancaster, could no longer call itself a Catholic charity, and could not fund-raise in Catholic Schools and Catholic parishes.

Catholic Caring Services was then renamed ‘Caritas Care’ (Bishop Conry-style), and applied for membership of Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN). This, if you had never heard of it (and most people are barely aware of its existence) is, according to its website the official agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales for “domestic social action”. They are, they say, a family of social action charities collectively known as the Caritas network. The Caritas network claims to “work for the most vulnerable people of society across England and Wales, providing support for families and children, the elderly, the homeless, refugees, the disabled, and prisoners. The national team of CSAN, based in London, works to strengthen and facilitate the network, conduct policy and advocacy work and use its ‘voice’ at a national level.”

Have you heard its “voice” at a national, or any other level? Me neither. However, CSAN is, I’m sure doing its best; the important thing to note here is that it officially represents the Catholic Bishops’ conference. So, presumably it supports the Catholic bishops, no? So when Catholic Caring Services was renamed “Caritas Care”, and when it then sought membership of CSAN, a body whose membership is confined to Catholic organisations in good standing, it was presumably politely told that they couldn’t join them because their policy was not Catholic and neither were they? Actually NO, it wasn’t told that: it was told, come on in, who cares about Bishop O’Donoghue. (Actually, I made that last bit up, but I bet it’s not far from the truth of what happened).

Let us be clear what happened here. An official agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales deliberately ignored the competent legal authority’s decision to declare that Caritas Care is no longer an agency of the Diocese of Lancaster, and can therefore no longer call itself a ‘Catholic’ charity. This, in Deacon Nick’s words, was “a scandalous disregard of the authority of an ordinary by an episcopal conference”. It also appeared to be a de facto acceptance that Caritas Care, despite handing over children to homosexual adopters, is still a Catholic organisation.

That was a year or so ago; Bishop O’Donoghue retired in 2009. Has CSAN changed in any way since then? I see that Caritas Care is described on the CSAN website simply as “a major charity in the north west of England, whose Catholic roots inform its character and mission”. Hmmm. Nothing there about adoption, I see, nor about this as being still a Catholic organisation: just stuff about its “roots” (which I supposed it had deliberately pulled up). Has there been a change of policy? CSAN itself seems not to be entirely what it was. Since the grim events of Bishop O’Donoghue’s day, an English bishop of similar mind, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, has been appointed to CSAN’s very board of trustees. What does this portend? I don’t know: but I have an ineradicably optimistic temperament. CSAN’s patron is Archbishop Vincent Nichols, I see. Does his agreement to the appointment of Bishop Davies to the CSAN board mean that he is himself undergoing a Ratzingerian policy rethink? I think I must be joking: but wouldn’t it be really good if this were one of those true things spoken in jest? Wishful thinking? Of course it is. All the same, even more impossible things have been known…