Catholic Charities & Prop. 8

Like so many Americans, I owe a lot to Catholic Charities, the oldest and most active Catholic social service network in the country. Twenty years ago Catholic Charities of the Diocese of San Diego, California arranged the adoption of my younger brother. I remember the day he was brought home from the hospital as one of the happiest days of my life.

Over the past several months, groups in favor of California’s Proposition 8 – the proposition banning gay marriage in the state – ran ads exploiting the 2006 closure of Catholic Charities’ adoption agency in Massachusetts after anti-discrimination laws required that an agency receiving money from the state (which Catholic Charities does) could not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation against any married couple seeking to adopt. Catholic Charities of Massachusetts found itself caught between its desire to assist all adoptions (especially those of hard to place foster children) and the Vatican’s prohibition of adoption by same-sex couples. The California ads argued (evidently effectively) that the only way to prevent a similar end to Catholic Charities’ adoption agencies in California was to nip the equal right to marriage in the bud.

In the midst of the passage of Proposition 8 and ongoing public outage, I have been pondering the role Catholicism has played and should play in this controversy. One option for a Catholic like me – who supports both the universal right (rite) of marriage and the good and necessary role of Catholic Charities’ adoption agencies – is to continue to fight against propositions like 8, and in the event of their defeat, hope for the privatization of Catholic adoptions. The adoption service could then continue separately from the state and in line with the wishes of the Vatican.

However, a private Catholic adoption service that defines marriage solely along official church lines still perpetuates a form of discrimination. As a Catholic I often feel myself caught in the murky tide-water between the official stance of the Vatican and what I believe I am called to do as a follower of Christ. I feel caught not because I believe I should do what the Church tells me, but because of the good the Church does do. A church should not have to choose between religious freedom and good works, but the Church must also be open to changes in the hearts and minds of all its members such as those demonstrated by the resounding cry of outrage over the passage of Proposition 8. Rather than abandon adoption work or shuffle adoptions by LGBT couples discreetly to other agencies when the Church finds its values compromised, perhaps it is the values themselves that must be reexamined. Maybe then will we as one Catholic church, gay and straight prospective parents together, truly be able to extend our arms to the needy – especially when it is homes for children that we seek.

Rebecca Curtin lives in Somerville, Massachusetts and works for the English Department at Harvard University. She always misses California, despite its political liberal/conservative split-personality.


2 Responses

  1. Hi there Becky,

    Mostly I’m just writing because seeing your voice made me smile. But what you had to say also made me smile, and think, and realize how much what you are saying fits into things I’ve been pondering since the election.

    So, kind of like being in class with you again, which I do miss.

    🙂 Becky

  2. Talk abut cutting your nose off to spite your face … I am sad for all those hard-to-place foster kids who might have found a home in an appropriate same-sex household. Surely, there must be a way to be compassionate AND Catholic!

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