A love found wantingMartin Reynolds
- 27 January 2007
This week, the Catholic Church stated that its adoption agencies would have to close if the Government forced them to accept applications from gay couples. Here, a gay Anglican priest describes how he and his Catholic partner took on a child and why they wish to do so again
We are a family with mixed religious backgrounds. Chris, my partner of 27 years, is a Roman Catholic and I am an Anglican priest. Our son is 19 now and preparing for college. We first got to know him 15 years ago, and for 10 years we were respite carers, with him staying with us for a third of his time. Then five years ago his family relationships broke down. He came to live with us permanently and we became his long-term foster carers. He is a wonderful lad whose severe learning difficulties and behavioural problems are but a tiny part of that whole person we have come to love with all our hearts.
At first we were reluctant to take him on full time for we already had my mother living with us and her frailty and health problems did not seem to be a good match with his needs. We should not have worried; they are firm friends and co-conspirators when our son is in the doghouse.
Our lives have all been transformed by this new family member and the extra-special care his needs demand. His prayer is awesome in its simplicity and directness and until recently he has enjoyed going to Mass with my partner. He occasionally comes with me - but he wants to say the Mass with me, and some of the congregation find that distracting.
While he has been preparing himself to start going to college in September our son has said that the one thing he wants more than anything else when he comes home are brothers and sisters. Chris and I were taken aback by this but, after a lot of thought and seeing how great he is with younger children in the family, we decided to try.
"Trying" in our case means applying to fostering and adoption agencies, and we did try, among others, the local Catholic adoption agency here in Cardiff, offering our experience and a loving home for two more children. Perhaps Chris was a little naive in thinking that as a Christian home bringing up the kids in the Catholic faith, this would somehow make the difference. As well as wanting the confidence that comes from dealing with fellow Christians, the Catholic adoption agencies have a super record of placing children with severe disability and giving first-class support afterwards.
The selection process for all adopting families is exhaustive. Highly skilled social workers spend long hours intruding very rightly in every area of your life. It takes many months of meetings to prepare a report for the adoption panel that will decide to support your application or not. Having been a panel member for many years I know how detailed and revealing these reports are and the struggle people endure to complete the process.
When we telephoned our local Catholic agency, the St David's Children Society in Cardiff, we explained our circumstances truthfully. The receptionist told us that they did not accept gay couples as adopters. To be turned down without even being asked your name, seems, in the circumstances, rather a harsh dismissal. Gerry Cooney, the agency's director, was disturbed by this account, and says, "Our policy written into our procedures for at least the last two years has been to redirect gay couples to local authorities and other voluntary agencies sympathetically and supportively." There are other agencies of course, and two have taken a keen interest in taking us to the panel stage, but since that day of rejection Chris has not taken our son to Mass at a Catholic church. Nor has he been able to go to Mass alone - a source of great sadness for both of us since our faith has been a driving force.
Rejection is something you must expect in this difficult process, we may still meet that at the end of the road when the adoption panel meets late in the year, but to meet rejection at the front door of your own Church is hard to bear and Chris is suffering.
The process of becoming a long-term foster parent or adopting is discriminatory in itself, and for the sake of the children it needs to be. The children we are contemplating taking into our lives and homes are among the most challenging (and rewarding) in our community. But we believe they deserve our getting a hearing. And if, after all the careful sifting and detailed analysis, we are found wanting, then so be it.
Of course we are not unaware that the language coming from the Vatican in recent years about gay couples has been increasingly tempestuous. But each time it seemed that the sensible bishops of the English and Welsh hierarchy have had the sense and compassion to rush to moderate its bitterest edges.
The document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2003 saying that giving adopted children to gay couples was "doing them violence" was a particular low point in my partner's relationship with his Catholic faith and each week he would remove pamphlets that referred to it from the back of the church. Now the bishops of England and Wales appear to want to toe the Vatican line. Last Tuesday I noticed that the Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols, refused to take part in a live debate with the Labour MP Chris Bryant on Channel 4 News and insisted on being interviewed separately. Earlier in the day, Archbishop Peter Smith of Birmingham told Premier Christian Radio that he did not have time to discuss the issue with me on their Drivetime programme. I think the archbishops are afraid that we are going to ask some very difficult questions.
The fact is that there is great inconsistency in the Church's approach. Some Catholic adoption agencies in England and Wales welcome applications from unmarried couples with no faith - singles and even gay or lesbian singles. The real question here is that of civil partnerships, for the solid legal foundation that civil partnership (and marriage for same-sex couples elsewhere in Europe) offers to lesbian and gay people is being perceived by Rome as an enormous threat, and the adoption issue is almost a side bar to that.
In the end, of course, it all comes down to money. The Catholic Church might continue to discriminate against lesbian and gay couples if the Church found the millions of pounds it costs annually to run its adoption societies. In the current system most of the money comes from the Government and it will find it hard, if not impossible, to give the exemptions the Church asks for.
This is not an argument with two sides. This is not a debate between Catholic rights and gay rights - this is about very vulnerable children, thousands of them, waiting in inappropriate conditions for a loving family to help mend broken hearts. Many of these kids have disabilities - many have been in as many as 20 and more different short-term placements.
The children in our care system are who we should be putting first and for their sake alone the Catholic Church should move on. If its agencies place children with a gay or lesbian couple the whole world knows it will not be because they want to but because those acting for the children's best interests think that that is where that child might flourish - and if it is a home like ours, where the child would be taught the faith, so much the better.
And what of us? We have already had mentioned to us a couple of children who have such profound disabilities that they will never know the gender, yet alone the sexuality of the loving parents they need. They cannot see nor hear and will only know love from the tender way they are cared for. If only the Church could know this love.