Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Attempting social engineering at gun-point, the State of Massachusetts recently ordered the Catholic Church to place adoptive children with gay and lesbian couples. In response, Catholic Charities of Boston was forced to discontinue its entire adoption program or risk prosecution for its “discriminatory” practices. Although Massachusetts’ governor Mitt Romney advocates a bill that would grant religious exemption, the bill is controversial and its passage unlikely. In the wake of these events, other dioceses across the country, such as the archdiocese of San Francisco have discontinued their practice of placing children with gay and lesbian couples, while still other dioceses, such as the Archdiocese of Denver, have reasserted their longstanding policy against the practice.

With a few exceptions, the response from the mainstream media has been the claim that, once again, the Church is allowing strict adherence to its antiquated ideals to interfere with the welfare of flesh and blood human beings”and this time, children are obliged to suffer for the Church’s folly.

The argument packs a strong emotional punch. On a visceral level, even those who argue that the real issue is religious liberty and not discrimination could understandably feel a profound sadness that an orphaned child’s dreams of a home may be delayed or denied for any reason. The best orphanage is still a terrible place for children, and foster care is no replacement for a stable home. Considering the alternatives, there is a strong temptation to seek out any home that will accept the child.

And yet, in Deus Caritas Est , Pope Benedict asserts that there is a difference between social work and social justice. Mother Teresa observed this when she argued that her Missionaries of Charity “weren’t social workers.” Social work is about meeting a need, while social justice has to be about meeting the need in a way that chiefly highlights the godly dignity of both the person being served and the person doing the serving. Even if you aren’t particular about how your need is met, I undermine the dignity of my own personhood if I serve you in a way that I believe is contrary to your dignity as a child of God. As Pope Benedict wrote, “Those who work for the Church’s charitable organizations must be distinguished by the fact that they do not merely meet the needs of the moment, but they dedicate themselves to others with heartfelt concern, enabling them to experience the richness of their humanity. Consequently, in addition to their necessary professional training, these charity workers need a “formation of the heart”: they need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others.”

It is tempting to ask what it would hurt. Why shouldn’t we let a well-meaning homosexual couple take in a child? But this is the wrong question. The real question is, “How can the Church serve at all if the Church is compelled by the state to serve in a manner that detracts from its primary mission; to point to eternal truths, to be a means of sanctification, and to stand as a witness to the Christian anthropological foundations of the human person?” If the state will not allow the Church to be Church, then whatever else it does, the Church cannot allow itself to become a social service agency that stinks of incense and good intentions.

There is a second objection voiced by those who oppose the Church’s stance on placing children with heterosexual couples exclusively. This objection is based upon the erroneous belief that the Church’s stance is rooted in a fear that children raised by homosexuals will be “turned gay.” While the etiology of homosexual attraction continues to be hotly debated, the Church has never said that this is the concern. The 2003 document Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons , for example, states, “As experience has shown, the absence of sexual complementarity in [homosexual] unions creates obstacles in the normal development of children who would be placed in the care of such persons. They would be deprived of the experience of either fatherhood or motherhood.”

Moreover, it is disingenuous to attempt to undermine Church teaching on the natural family by arguing that there is no evidence that children raised by homosexual parents are damaged by the experience: There is no evidence of harm because there is no evidence at all. In their recent book, Destructive Trends in Mental Health: The Well-Intentioned Path to Harm , Nicholas Cummings and Rogers Wright argue that, especially in the area of sexuality, psychologists have abandoned all pretense of scientific inquiry and allowed themselves to become high priests of a religion of political correctness.

It is well known, for instance, that the APA declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder by fiat in late 1973. What is less known is that the same resolution insisted on further scientific research and rigorous study of the matter. What is even less known is the fact that, according to Wright and Cummings, no further significant research has been conducted on the matter, much less published in a mainstream, professional, peer-reviewed journal. While other authors have made similar criticisms of the mental-health professions, Wright and Cummings’ assertions are especially stinging because, in addition to having no cultural agenda to push, they are the two men most responsible for establishing psychology as a medical profession on par with psychiatry and convincing insurers to offer third-party payment for psychotherapy.

Still, wouldn’t it be better for the children to give them at least some kind of home? In the event, this question requires that there are significantly more children waiting to be adopted than there were heterosexual couples waiting to adopt. And this is simply not the case. According to statistics provided by both the National Survey of Family Growth and the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute there are approximately 120,000 children in the United States waiting to be adopted each year. About half of these children are adopted by family members, leaving about 60,000 children who are waiting to be adopted by non-related adoptive parents. By contrast, each year there are anywhere between 70,000 and 162,000 married couples in the United States who have either filed for adoption or in process of filing. That means that in any given year, there are between 1.2 and 2.7 married couples per waiting child. In other words, there is no child-centered need to open up adoption to homosexual couples.

More, in the unlikely event that there was a state in which there were not enough married, heterosexual couples waiting to adopt, before a Church agency could approve a homosexual adoption, it would have to be shown that there were no other regional agencies capable of placing the child. Again, this is not the case. As with most cities, Boston has many adoption agencies, and many of them are more than happy to place children with homosexual couples. There is absolutely no need”unless one allows for the obsessive need of the gay-rights movement for cultural validation”to insist that Church agencies change their placement practices.

Even if there were not enough adoptive, married heterosexual couples and there were not a plethora of other agencies offering adoption services, the Church would need to have extraordinarily serious reasons for even considering placing a child with a homosexual couple, especially in the present atmosphere. The absence of a religious exemption clause in the Massachusetts legislation clearly shows that the sole purpose of this recent initiative was to find some way, any way, to force the Church to accept the legitimacy of gay marriage. If you add to the mix the fact that the diocese in Massachusetts”weakened by its practically criminal response to the sex-abuse scandals”still continues to oppose gay marriage, then you see that the Church of Boston presented a tempting target.

In this politically electrified environment, for the Church to make an individual exception would be tantamount to capitulation to those committed to destroying the natural family. Under less hostile circumstances it might be possible to advance some kind of reasonable casuistry on a very limited basis, perhaps even along the lines as was being practiced before the state attempted to strong-arm the Church. But things being the way they are, it is difficult to imagine how anyone could think that such a pastoral practice would be anything other than material cooperation in the war against the natural family and Christian anthropology.

Despite an understandable tug on the heartstrings, there is simply no substance to any argument against the Church’s courageous, and ultimately compassionate insistence that all children, especially adoptive children, deserve both a mother and a father.

Gregory K. Popcak is executive director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, author of seven books on Catholic thought and psychotherapy, and the host of the nationally syndicated radio progra Heart Mind and Strength