The Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland announced that they are closing their adoption services in the wake of a government ruling which allows unmarried couples and same-sex couples to adopt. The said in a statement on Friday: “It is unreasonable for legislators to oblige faith based organisations to act against their fundamental and reasonable religious beliefs in the provision of services that contribute to the common good.”
The Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland announce, with regret, that the long established relationship between the Catholic Church and the adoption services provider The Family Care Society (NI) will come to an end. The agency has offices in Belfast and Derry:
Our announcement follows the outcome of a judicial review of adoption law in Northern Ireland initiated by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in 2011. Ruling on the case in October 2012 the High Court determined that couples in Northern Ireland who are not married, those in civil partnerships, and same-sex couples could, for the first time, apply to adopt. This judgement was subsequently upheld by the Court of Appeal in June 2013. An application by the Department of Health to the UK Supreme Court seeking leave to appeal the Court of Appeal judgement was turned down in December 2013. As a result the Family Care Society is now legally obliged to receive and process applications in accordance with the new and wider interpretation of adoption law established by the High Court decision.
Regrettably, this development leaves us in the same position as that faced by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales some years ago when, given the legal obligation to apply policies that are contrary to Catholic teaching and ethos, they were left with no option but to disengage from the adoption agencies they had founded and with which they had a long and cherished link. Since the provision of adoption services in Northern Ireland now also involves acting against the Church’s teaching and ethos, we too have no option but to end the long established relationship between the Church and The Family Care Society (NI).
We believe equality would be best served by support for a diversity of adoption providers, with reasonable accommodation in law for those adoptive parents who value the support of an agency with a particular religious ethos. We lament the fact that the Family Care Society (NI) is no longer free to provide adoption services consistent with a Catholic ethos, valued by so many adoptive parents over the years. The law now makes it impossible for this agency to continue with the support it has enjoyed up to now from the Church.
We are concerned that many Christians and others will see this development as a further erosion of their fundamental right to exercise freedom of conscience and religion in the public square. Reasonable accommodation of religious conscience in public policy and legislation ought to be the very hallmark of an authentically diverse, equal and pluralist society. It is unreasonable for legislators to oblige faith based organisations to act against their fundamental and reasonable religious beliefs in the provision of services that contribute to the common good. Religious freedom cannot be restricted to matters of private thought or worship. Pope Francis has spoken about a “false concept of tolerance” that “ends in persecuting those who defend the truth… and its ethical consequences”(1). Many Christians and others believe the pendulum has swung too far, and that a calm, rational debate about rebalancing the rights of citizens in terms of greater respect for freedom of
conscience and religion is urgently needed. We support the call for such a debate.
In conclusion, we wish to commend the professionalism and dedication of the staff of The Family Care Society and to thank them for their immense contribution to the good of children and society as the largest specialist adoption agency in Northern Ireland. We will continue to support the Family Care Society over the coming months as its Board decides how to respond to the new legal situation, on the understanding that Church funds will be used only for purposes consistent with the Church’s doctrine and ethos.
(1) Address of Pope Francis to the Conference on ‘International Religious Freedom and the Global Clash of Values’, 20 June 2014.