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Catholic Charities pulls out of adoption business

Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, president of Catholic Charities, speaks to the press prior to a dinner at the Boston Harbor Hotel on Dec. 9, 2005.
Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, president of Catholic Charities, speaks to the press prior to a dinner at the Boston Harbor Hotel on Dec. 9, 2005. (Globe Staff Photo / Evan Richman)

Catholic Charities of Boston announced today that it will be pulling out of the adoption business by the end of this fiscal year because it cannot comply with state laws that require it to accept gays and lesbians as adoptive parents.

"We have encountered a dilemma we cannot resolve," said Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, president of Catholic Charities of Boston and Jeffrey Kaneb, chair of the board, in a joint statement. "In spite of much effort and analysis, Catholic Charities finds that it cannot reconcile the teaching of the church, which guides our work and the statutes and regulations of the commonwealth."

"The world was very different when Charities began this ministry at the threshold of the twentieth-century," the statement added. "The world changed often and we adapted the ministry to meet changing times and needs. At all times we sought to place the welfare of children at the heart of our work."

The announcement of the decision means they have abandoned plans to wage a political and legal battle to win an exemption from state anti-discrimination laws, and are eager to align themselves with the Vatican's pronouncements made in a 2003 document that say gay adoptions are "gravely immoral."

The state's four Catholic bishops said earlier this month that the law threatens the church's religious freedom by forcing it to do something it considers immoral. Eight members of Catholic Charities board later stepped down in protest of the bishops' stance. The 42-member board had voted unanimously in December to continue considering gay households for adoptions.

The decision also has profound implications for its identity as one of the state's largest social service agencies and its finances. Catholic Charities of Boston began more than 100 years ago as an adoption agency, but has had a contract with the state for the past two decades. Its contract with the state expires June 30.

While the agency offers an array of other social services, such as food pantries, day care and immigration assistance, it will be dropping it's core mission. Over the past two decades, the agency has helped 720 children find adoptive homes, 13 of whom were placed with same-sex couples. More than half of the children it helps place are foster children who have been abused or neglected.

It also has hundreds of staff workers dedicated to adoption services, who may now have to work elsewhere. It is also unclear how much of its $35 milion in revenue could be affected by dropping its adoption services. Currently, 54 percent of its revenue comes from government contracts, and 19 percent from United Way organizations and other private fundraising.

Some 682 foster children are waiting for adoption in Massachusetts, according to the state Department of Social Services. The bulk of adoptive children are placed by DSS, rather than outside agencies such as Catholic Charities, the agency said.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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