By Susan Gately - 05 December, 2014
The Catholic bishops of Northern Ireland have announced the withdrawal of the Church from adoption agencies in NI following changes in adoption legislation allowing unmarried couples and same-sex couples to adopt.
In a statement yesterday, they said that “with regret” they were announcing that the 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.
The Family Care Society (NI), the largest specialist adoption agency in Northern Ireland, was formed in 1998 from The Catholic Family Care Society (NI) which had been established years earlier to provide Adoption and Child Care support.
In 2011, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission brought a judicial review case of adoption law. The High Court found that couples in Northern Ireland who were not married, those in civil partnerships and same-sex couples could, for the first time, apply to adopt.
This means the Family Care Society must now receive and process applications in accordance with the new and wider interpretation of adoption law established by the decision – allowing unmarried couples, and those in civil partnerships including same sex couples to adopt.
“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),” said the bishops.
In the UK some years ago, the Catholic Church also disengaged from the adoption agencies it had founded for the same reason.
“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,” said the bishops.
“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 bishops said many would 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, they said adding “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 bishops supported calls for a “calm, rational debate about rebalancing the rights of citizens in terms of greater respect for freedom of conscience and religion,” which they said was “urgently needed”.