Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Catholic Charities of Boston has decided to close up its adoption agency rather than comply with a Massachusetts policy that gays be allowed to adopt children. This charity had been facilitating adoptions for over 100 years, but placing foster children with gay parents is a violation of Church doctrine. On the one hand, I think they are completely wrong in their position on gay adoption. On the other hand, I respect the fact that they chose to withdraw from acting as an official state agency rather than compromise their beliefs.

Interestingly, the group decided not to ask for a religious exemption, which they can do under Massachusetts law, or to file a suit. I’m not surprised that they didn’t file a suit claiming a free exercise right not to be forced to facilitate something that offends their belief. Given a string of Supreme Court rulings, from Rust v Sullivan to Locke v Davey to the recent Rumsfeld v FAIR that have essentially declared that where government funding is concerned, they can put whatever strings on that money they see fit, it is unlikely they would have won such a case.

It does highlight the difficulty of drawing clear lines when church and state becomes entangled. While it’s true that the government can typically put conditions on activities that are funded with taxpayer money, there are limits on that as well. They can’t base such conditions on otherwise constitutional activities. For example, they couldn’t give food stamps but only to those who sign an affidavit supporting the war in Iraq. In this case, there are possible compromises.

In Massachusetts, adoptions are granted by the government but are facilitated by private groups. Some of those groups are charity organizations, some are businesses, some are religious groups, and so forth. One possible compromise would be to say that adoptions by gay couples or individuals is perfectly legal, but that no religious adoption agency is required to facilitate them. That would preserve the free exercise rights of Catholic Charities while still achieving the goal of allowing gay adoptions in the state.

There are lots of ways to look at a situation like this, just as there is with the related issue of doctors, hosptials and pharmacists who have religious objections to certain medical procedures or medications. These are the places where competing rights bump up against one another and judgement calls must be made no which is more important.


  1. #1 Gretchen
    March 12, 2006

    On the one hand, I think they are completely wrong in their position on gay adoption. On the other hand, I respect the fact that they chose to withdraw from acting as an official state agency rather than compromise their beliefs.

    While I’m glad they didn’t sue or seek exemption, I pretty much never have a problem with people compromising their beliefs if it is in favor of doing what I view as the right thing.

  2. #2 John Cercone
    March 12, 2006

    If I understand correctly, Catholic Charities has never have a problem with gay adoption. They have been placing children in the homes of gay parents for years.

    Suddenly, the Vatican has changed its tune and Catholic Charities is following orders.

    Quite a few members of the board have resigned in protest.

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    March 12, 2006

    Yes, that part is true. In fact, the board of Catholic Charities voted 42-0 to continue doing gay adoptions, but they were overruled by a committee of bishops appointed to make a decision. 8 of the board members resigned over it.

  4. #4 mw66
    March 12, 2006

    An institution guilty of massive coverups of rampant child molestation has no moral authority to pass judgment over the ability of gays to be good adoptive parents. It’s time to shut the Vatican Mafia down completely.

  5. #5 David C. Brayton
    March 12, 2006

    Would allowing religous groups to avoid gay adoptions would be a workable compromise? If sexuality is to be treated the same as other inherent traits such as race, making an exception for gay adoption would open the door to many distasteful exceptions. There are many who believe that the Bible tells us that certain groups of people, such as blacks, are inferior. If the government makes an exception for Catholics/gays, then where should the line should be drawn? Do we want government-funded adoption agencies that say things like “You’ll hafta go somewhere else. We can’t place you with any family because your great grandmother was black.” Or Indian or Muslim or Jewish or Irish or gay.

    On a related matter, you’ve gotta wonder what the comittee of bishops was thinking. Way, way too many children don’t have good foster homes let alone a couple that is willig to adopt them. Assuming that this couple can provide a stable, loving home (or whatever Massachusetts’ criteria are), are gay people so evil that Catholics simply shouldn’t facilitate any adoptions at all? I’m no expert on Catholocism but I’d like to see their sources/citations cuz I certainly didn’t get that message in Sunday school.

  6. #6 SkookumPlanet
    March 12, 2006


    I can tell you what the committee of bishops was thinking — politics.

    The globe article said Catholic Charities had been placing a few children, quietly, with gay couples, 13 out of 720 placed children. Media attention to this caused the bishops to act. As Ed said, they had many options. What they chose was the most headline-grabbing, extreme, and thematic option. It sends a subtle/subconscious message, roughly “The church must stand strong against the liberal, secular state and culture. We only want to help and love, but we are forced by the erosion of morality in America, to fight for ultimate right. The children will suffer because of these Godless, immoral, blah, blah people.”

    This is how the right’s psychomarketing works, like a giant, long-playing advertising campaign or story. 1) Just like a television series, the series’ “bible” is “published”, with characters and background and story themes, etc. 2) Then various scriptwriters put together detailed scripts, with their own unique variations on the “bible”. 3) Actors, with directors and technical staff, perform it for an audience with the goal of getting an emotional reaction [fiction doesn’t work if logic and reason can’t be overcome].

    So #1 are rightwing think tanks and psychomarketers. #2 are the various media voices — writers, “journalists”, radio talk show hosts — and other public mouthpieces. #3 are a host of people in individual situations that “act” on the “script” that’s been disseminated. Here, the bishops are the actors.

    The kids obviously don’t matter in the scheme of this larger fight. The bishops had a range of, many cost-free, options before they needed to take this ultimate step.

    This is how we are losing the war, bit by bit by bit.

    Here’s another set of actors performing another installment of the “series” in Missouri from today’s Kansas City Star via Red State Rabble.

  7. #7 Soren Kongstad
    March 13, 2006

    The good dlamming has another go at you on his blog

    He claims you have problems with your reading comprehension?

  8. #8 Ed Brayton
    March 13, 2006

    dlamming has fallen flat on his face again, intending to demonstrate my lack of reading comprehension and instead demonstrating his own. I’m heading out of town for a few hours at the moment, so I’ll have to reply in full when I get back.

  9. #9 David C. Brayton
    March 13, 2006

    Skookum–I don’t know if it was ‘politics’. As mentioned in the article, the Vatican believes that placing a child in a gay family is “gravely immoral”.

    I don’t understand why the Vatican believes it is “gravely immoral”. I’m not a Catholic theologian but everything that I’ve seen quoted about the “immorality” of homosexuality isn’t very convincing.

    Cardinal Trujillo stated in an interview: “[Gay marriage] destroy[s] piece by piece the institution of the family the most valuable heritage of peoples and humanity. In these unions there are no promises for the partners or for the children, no stability, nothing before society or God, but they demand all the benefits of authentic marriage…[Gay adoption] would destroy the child’s future, it would be an act of moral violence against the child. They say that children adopted by two people of the same sex are very happy. A child may be for a couple of years but when the child reaches the age of reason, when he grows up and becomes a young adult, how tragic it will be for him to let his friends know that his ‘parents’ are two women or two men? This situation endangers the child’s personality, balance, harmony.”

    Moral violence? Gimme a break.

    The alternatives to “no adoptions” are awful. Even assuming (for the sake of argument) that gay adoptions are less than ideal, everyone involved should realize that on balance, adoption is much more beneficial for the child. To stop doing adoptions altogether perpetuates the tragedy that has already befallen these children.

    It seems that the Vatican believes that people will quite literally rot in hell if they place a child in this situation. The Vatican’s position seems based on the perception of whether such situations will work in the real world.

    Is there anything in scripture that says gay people will rot in hell if they raise kids like any other parent?

  10. #10 TikiHead
    March 13, 2006

    Curious what their policy is on letting those of non-Christian faiths adopt… Does that not doom the little moppets to the fiery pit more certainly than letting Sodomites raise them?


  11. #11 TikiHead
    March 13, 2006

    Seriously, if they were claiming an exemption based on conscience in refusing to allow adoptions by Jewish, Muslim or Hindu couples, there would be an absolute nuclear sh*tstorm!

    Gays are still the safe refuge for ‘principled disapproval’ (bigotry) — just saying ‘gay’ to a child is like making them watch porn!

    So silly.

  12. #12 SkookumPlanet
    March 13, 2006


    I take your points. As Ed says, the church-state questions are difficult balancing issues. Also, I agree with your questioning of the church’s rationale and priorities, especially concerning the kids themselves. And I do think they have legitimate theological issues. Other commenter’s points too — I agree.

    But I wasn’t talking about the decision not to adopt out to gays, but the timing and manner in which they did it. They had options that would have been less dramatic and less publicly negative toward gays.

    Adoption into gay families had been taking place. Only when media got wind of it, was stopped by higher ups.

    If “the Vatican believes that people will quite literally rot in hell if they place a child in this situation.” why wasn’t it stopped earlier? Why wasn’t it stopped before the new law became effective? Why didn’t they at least wait long enough to judge if a religious exemption was possible through the legislature? Are they going to stop any other services to gays? What are they going to do with issues around children who are already living with gay couples?

    Also, the manner they chose. “Extra, extra, read all about it! Catholic Church Stops Adoption Services, All Because of Gays!” This went out, on Sunday no less, across the nation’s media. Probably the world’s. These things don’t happen by accident. This was carefully thought through and scheduled for maximum effect.

    Per my TV series analogy, the “local” script is the issue of placing kids with gays. But in the series’ bible it’s the “gays corrupt society so they must be stopped”, or similar, theme, and this a sub-theme of a larger one. Then the actors [bishops], director [Vatican officials], and technical crew [PR staffs in Rome and Boston, etc.] produce this latest installment.

    The far right’s use of psychomarketing in politics includes carefully analyzing how the media works and devising ways to leverage that knowledge; from using talk radio and blogs to put ethical pressure on political coverage; to using ratings competition to skew away from issue discussion and into shouting matches; to the White House releasing negative environmental news to the press on Friday afternoons, so when the full media staffs return to work on Monday, it’s old news and not covered. This type of process manipulation is well-researched, well-thought-out, and expertly executed. As far as I can tell, no one on the left even thinks this way, which in itself has gone on so long it’s become a boring story.

    Again, this is how we are losing the war, bit by bit by bit.

  13. #13 raj
    March 13, 2006

    A few points.

    I’m going to start with the crass one. More than a few of the eight Catholic Charities (CC) board members who resigned in protest represented private donors or donor organizations, many of which had anti-discrimination policies that included sexual orientation. Those donors and organizations threatened to pull their contributions if the CC persisted in insisting on the right to discriminate. I suspect, but cannot prove, that the bishops who were controlling CC believed that they could persuade the private donors to continue donating if they jettisoned the adoption issue. If the RCCi (Roman Catholic Church, Inc.) had persisted via a court challenge or through the legislature (MA Gov. Romney has threatened to submit legislation, but the leadership in both branches of the legislature have told him not to bother), CC might have taken quite a hit on donations. In short, it was probably a money issue.

    Two, CC’s 720 placements were over 20 years, meaning only 36 placements per year–and it isn’t if other operations couldn’t make up their slack–even the state’s Department of Social Services. 36 placements per year might sound like a lot to some, but it does not to me. Reports have mentioned that CC had been involved in adoptions for slightly over a hundred years, but apparently for most of that time they have been involved in placement of children of RCC parents, and they have had a more general contract with the state for only about a couple of decades.

    Three, yes, CC receives state funding under its contract, under which it receives state funding, but it strikes me that that is not dispositive in this case. (There are analogues regarding speech from right here from Massachusetts.) Certainly, the fact that CC does receive state funding means that they have to abide by the state’s anti-discrimination law, to the extent that its contract with the state requires them to. On the other hand, it strikes me that a blanket disposition that would allow an establishment of religion, such as the CC, to evade state law is a violation of the establishment clause. It allows one “establishment of religion” related operation to avoid state law, while not allowing other operations, which may not be related to establishments of religion, the same. Such a law would clearly be a law…respecting an establishment of religion, in contravention of the 1st amendment.

    Four, regarding the influence of the media in all of this, I had seen nothing in the media about CC and adoptions by gay people until the blow-up by the RCCi. The idea that the media was the precipitating cause of this brou-ha-ha is ridiculous in the extreme.

    I could go on and on about how and why the RCCi is making more conservative pronouncements–mostly because of their battle for adherents in the third world, but I’ll eschew that for the moment.

  14. #14 SkookumPlanet
    March 13, 2006


    My only source on this is Ed’s link above, to the Boston Globe’s website. It says,

    The controversy began in October when the Globe reported that Catholic Charities had been quietly processing a small number of gay adoptions, despite Vatican statements condemning the practice. Over the last decades, the Globe reported, approximately 13 children had been placed by Catholic Charities in gay households, a fraction of the 720 children placed by the agency during that period.
    Agency officials said they had been permitting gay adoptions to comply with the state’s antidiscrimination laws. But after the story was published, the state’s four bishops announced they would appoint a panel to examine whether the practice should continue.

    Otherwise, it sounds like you’ve been following this and live in Massachusetts [where I did my grad work], so I’ll defer to you. I’m curious, does the length of time they’ve actually been placing to gay couples coincide with the beginning of anit-gay-discrimination laws in Massachusetts?

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