The U.K. Catholic adoption agency associated with the diocese of Leeds has won its case in the high court allowing it to continue to function according to the teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage and family life. Catholic Care chief executive, Mark Wiggin, told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) that he was pleased but not surprised at the ruling.
“We always felt we had a strong legal case,” Wiggin said. “In law we felt we were justified. We felt very strongly that we had over a hundred years of history as a Catholic charity providing services to children.”
Wiggin said that Catholic Care chose to fight in court so they could remain true to their beliefs. “Our trustees are committed to the teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage and family life and they cold not disassociate themselves from it,” he said.
The case stems from legislation by the Labour government, the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) of the Equality Act, that force all services, businesses and charities to consider homosexuality a category especially protected from “discrimination.” The passage in 2007 of the SORs resulted in the closure or secularization of nearly all of the country’s Catholic adoption agencies after the government, under then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, refused to allow an exemption. Blair gave the agencies two years to adapt or close, an ultimatum he called a “compromise.”
Catholic Care had argued, however, that the SORs admitted of an exemption that would allow them to continue to function according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, and refuse to adopt children to homosexual couples. Regulation 18 of the SORs says, “Nothing in these Regulations shall make it unlawful for a person to provide benefits only to persons of a particular sexual orientation, if (a) he acts in pursuance of a charitable instrument, and (b) the restriction of benefits to persons of that sexual orientation is imposed by reason of or on the grounds of the provisions of the charitable instrument.”
The Charity Commission held that this exemption did not apply to the Catholic adoption agencies. But on Wednesday, Mr. Justice Briggs disagreed, ruling that the agencies should be allowed to continue to function according to their Catholic religious ethos.
The court ordered the Charity Commission to revise its rules to consider the good of children being adopted by faith-based agencies. The court ruled that Regulation 18 could apply to any charity subject to its being “in the public interest.”
Wiggin told LSN, “We were faced with a simple choice, either go to court and challenge on the point [of Regulation 18] or close. We didn’t have the option of other Catholic adoption agencies to secularize.”
He said that the other adoption agencies had decided individually not to pursue their case in court. In the last two years, despite efforts by some bishops to prevent it, all the Catholic adoption agencies in the country have chosen to secularize or close.
In November 2008, religious discrimination law expert Neil Addison told LSN that these agencies had known about the exemption in Regulation 18, and that their decision was based on a refusal to reform their policies to be in accord with Catholic teaching.
Each of the charities, Wiggin said, had to “make their own minds up” about whether to capitulate or fight. For Catholic Care, “The essence of what we were about” is the Catholic faith. “If we gave up being a Catholic charity, we’d become just like every other charity.” He pointed out that the work of Catholic Care is often regarded as a “last resort” for children who are difficult to place. Local council adoption authorities turn to the Catholic agencies when all other resources have been exhausted in attempts to place children.
Wiggin confirmed that Catholic Care does not consider unmarried or cohabiting couples, but does consider suitable single people for adoption. He acknowledged that some might consider this policy discriminatory. He said that his agency does not refuse couples who have been divorced and remarried: “We’re looking at marriage under the law of the country.”
“We will assess single people, but not same-sex couples and not heterosexual couples who are not married,” he said. This policy, he said, is not meant to be “discrimination” in the modern, negative sense of the term, but for “upholding the Catholic ethos of the charity.”
Bishops Arthur Roche of Leeds, John Rawsthorne of Hallam, and Terry Drainey of Middlesbrough, who backed the court challenge, had said the law appears require Catholic agencies to act “with disregard to the Church’s teaching on marriage and family life.”
“Our position is that it is in the interests of children to continue our work,” they said.
At the same time, an amendment has been introduced in the House of Lords that will offer protection for faith-based adoption agencies who wish to restrict their consideration to married heterosexual couples. Senior Liberal Democrat Peer, Shirley Williams brought the amendment forward with the support of Lady O’Cathain and Lord Waddington. It is expected to be debated Tuesday, March 23.
Read related LSN coverage:
British PM Blair Celebrates Passage of Sexual Orientation Regulations at Homosexual Activist Banquet