LONDON – The Catholic Church in England and Wales has lost a legal battle to retain its few remaining adoption agencies.
The government’s Charity Tribunal ruled June 1 that the Catholic Care social services agency of the Diocese of Leeds, England, could not continue as an adoption agency unless it assessed same-sex couples as potential adopters and foster parents.
A Leeds diocesan spokesman said in a June 2 statement that “it seems likely that the charities will need to close their adoption services and a flagship service will be lost.”
“We are concerned about the possible impact this will have on potential adoptive parents and children,” the spokesman added.
The agency, which finds new families for about 20 children each year, wanted to continue to serve the church as a diocesan charity.
In 2008 it had applied to the Charity Commission, the organization that regulates charities in England and Wales, to change its constitution so it could appeal for an exemption under Regulation 18 of the Sexual Orientation Regulations that ban discrimination against homosexuals in the provision of goods and services.
Regulation 18 allows limited discrimination “in pursuance of a charitable instrument” or if “the restriction of benefits to persons of that sexual orientation is imposed by reason of, or on the grounds of, the provision of a charitable instrument.”
But the agency lost its case and the Charity Tribunal, which hears appeals of decisions by the commission, upheld the ruling, saying that it would be unlawful to allow Regulation 18 to be used as a defense.
It noted that the proposed alteration of the agency’s objectives “arose substantially out a desire to maintain a principled stance rather than being specifically designed to advance the … charitable purpose of the support, relief and care of children and young people without families to care for them.”
The decision leaves Catholic Care with the option of appealing the decision to the High Court. The agency also could close down or break from the church and become an independent, secular adoption agency, a policy already chosen by most of the 11 Catholic adoption agencies in England and Wales.
The decision also represents a setback to the Catholic Children’s Society of the Archdiocese of Westminster, the only other Catholic adoption agency fighting the new law. It had suspended its adoption assessments pending the outcome of the case.