England’s last remaining Roman Catholic adoption agency has lost the latest round in a long-running battle to preserve its religious ethos in the face of sexual orientation laws.
Yesterday the Charity Tribunal upheld a decision by the Charity Commission that Leeds-based Catholic Care must be willing to provide adoption services to homosexual couples.
The adoption group says it may appeal against the decision. The Tribunal said it had to balance the “loss to society” if the agency shuts down against homosexual rights.
Homosexual activist group, Stonewall, applauded the result. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Leeds said the agency was “very disappointed” and he said vulnerable children will suffer the most from this ruling.
Of the eleven Roman Catholic adoption agencies operating in England and Wales in 2007, Catholic Care is the only one which has not yet closed down or dropped its religious ethos because of sexual orientation laws.
Catholic Care upholds the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage when placing children for adoption with couples.
But opponents of the policy claim it is acting unlawfully by not considering homosexual couples.
However, the law gives some charities the right to restrict their services to one sexual orientation group. A charity can do this if it is attempting to act within its stated aims as set out in its trust deed.
This is a benefit to some homosexual charities that wish to restrict certain services, for example counselling services, to help homosexuals only.
Catholic Care wants to use this legal right to restrict its adoption services to heterosexual married couples only. It says its ethos attracts potential adopters who would not otherwise come forward.
The agency applied to the Charity Commission to clarify this position in its official charitable objects, but in 2008 the Commission refused to allow the clarification.
In March last year the High Court ordered the Commission to reconsider its decision. The following August, having reconsidered the matter, the Commission once again refused to allow a change.
Yesterday, that decision was backed by the Charity Tribunal, which hears appeals against the decisions of the Charity Commission.
It looks as though Catholic Care is nearing the end of the road in its long-running legal dispute, but the group says it may yet appeal.
Responding to the ruling, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Leeds Arthur Roche said: “Catholic Care is very disappointed with this ruling. The trustees are considering their position and whether or not to appeal.
“It is unfortunate that those who will suffer as a consequence of this ruling will be the most vulnerable children for whom Catholic Care has provided an excellent service for many years.
“It is an important point of principle that the charity should be able to prepare potential adoptive parents, a service recognised for its excellence by the local authorities who are responsible for placing children, according to the tenets of the Catholic faith.”
Deputy chief executive of homosexual activist group Stonewall, Laura Doughty, said: “There should be no question of anyone engaged in delivering any kind of public or publicly funded service being allowed to pick and choose their service users on the basis of individual prejudice. This ruling makes the law in this area crystal clear.”