Gay Catholics have welcomed the decisions of the Charity Commissioners and the Charities Tribunal to refuse three Catholic adoption agencies permission to change their charitable objects in order to be able to refuse gay couples.
Commenting on the recent rejection of appeals by agencies in Birmingham and Leeds (Westminster did not appeal), a spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Caucus of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement in the UK said: "These agencies were seeking to exclude all lesbian, gay and bisexual people from the ambit of their services, including those who choose to live their lives celibately in strict accordance with Catholic church teaching."
The Caucus made a formal objection to the attempts by Catholic agencies to avoid the law on discrimination, arguing that such a stance was contrary to the values of the Church and the Christian faith.
Catholic adoption agencies generated publicity when the Equality Act Sexual Orientation Regulations (the "SORs") were debated in Parliament early in 2007. The then Archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy O'Connor, wrote to the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, seeking a statutory exemption to permit Catholic adoption agencies to apply a policy of refusing to assess same sex couples as potential adopters. He cited church teaching as the reason for the requested exemption and stated that if the exemption was not granted, the agencies would be forced to close.
The government refused the Archbishop's request but did grant a temporary exemption to permit the agencies to continue to apply such a policy until the end of December 2008 in order to provide time for them to decide how to adapt to the new regulatory environment.
Over that period, the majority of the Catholic agencies succeeded in finding a way of accommodating the change, in some cases by transferring the adoption work on to other agencies and in some cases by offering adoption services in accordance with the new regulations. Critics pointed out that the former Archbishop's concern that the agencies would be forced to close was therefore shown to be misconceived.
However, three agencies (Westminster, Leeds and Birmingham) announced their intention to continue to apply discriminatory policies and claimed that under Regulation 18 of the SORs they were entitled to continue to discriminate against same sex couples by applying an exemption under Regulation 18 of the SORs.
Regulation 18 applies to charities, permitting them to provide benefits to persons only of a certain sexual orientation if the objects of the charity are limited in this way by its charitable instrument. As none of the Catholic adoption agencies has a charitable instrument which falls within the terms of the exemption, these three agencies announced that they would apply to the Charity Commissioners for permission to adopt new objects specifically for the purpose of permitting them to continue to exclude same sex couples from consideration.
The Roman Catholic Caucus of LGCM wrote to the Charity Commissioners at the time of these applications and urged the Commissioners to refuse permission to make the relevant changes. It emphasised first that the applications to change the objects would be unlawful but also pointed out that such applications were profoundly contrary to the values of the Catholic faith.
The Catholic faith emphasises compassion and support for the vulnerable and in the view of the RC Caucus, adoption services should be focused on the needs of the child, not on passing judgment on the sexual behaviour of the potential adopters.
The Charity Commissioners refused permission to all three agencies to amend their charitable objects and after two hearings before the Charities Tribunal involving the Birmingham and Leeds agencies, the appeals against this refusal were dismissed.
The publication of the proceedings before the Charities Tribunal has publicised the actual drafting of the proposed charitable objects which the Leeds and Birmingham agencies wished to adopt.
Both draft instruments relied upon the following paragraph to gain the desired exemption: "The Society shall provide adoption services only to heterosexuals and only in accordance with the tenets of the Roman Catholic church".
The Roman Catholic Caucus of LGCM points out that, contrary to the general press comment about the appeals by these adoption agencies, the agencies were not seeking permission to place children only with married couples. They were seeking to exclude all lesbian, gay and bisexual people from the ambit of their services, including those who choose to live their lives celibately in strict accordance with Catholic church teaching.
"This proposed object is blatantly contrary to Catholic church teaching," comments the Caucus.
The Caucus says it also became clear in various discussions before the Charities Tribunal that the "adoption services" referred to include services to children who are to be placed or have been placed for adoption. The proposed wording would therefore have required the agency to ascertain the sexual orientation of any child who was placed for adoption as a condition of providing services to that child.
As the "adoption services" described include support after the child has been placed, this would also involve withdrawing after-care services to a family in which the adopted child comes out after the adoption has taken place. The LGCM Catholic Caucus says it considers that "most Catholics will find this proposal both offensive and contrary to the values of the Roman Catholic Church."
"The Caucus therefore celebrates the decision of the Charities Tribunal to dismiss the appeals and questions why any Roman Catholic organisation supported these three agencies in their attempt to obtain legal sanction for discriminatory policies," a spokesperson declared.