It’s refreshing to see the Archdiocese of Boston in the national news for something positive. Under heavy fire from advocates of gay adoption, it has acted on principle. The short-term consequences of this principle-based action have been more bad press and a whole lot of confusion. Its long-term benefits, however, will be reaped by anyone who cares about children and religious freedom. A pause in the action for reflection is in order, for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Boston’s Catholic Charities has decided to end its 103-year participation in the adoption business rather than comply with a state requirement that adoption agencies not discriminate against same-sex households. Since 1977 the agency has had a contract with the Department of Social Services to provide special needs adoption services to children with severe emotional and physical needs. In the past two decades, it has placed 720 children in adoptive homes.

An hour after Catholic Charities’ announcement, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney promised to file a bill allowing religious organizations to seek an exemption from the state’s anti-discrimination laws to provide adoption services.

Newspaper executives know headlines like “More Gay Bashing” are provocative and sell quite nicely. But the issue at hand is not about respect for homosexuals — that should be a given. It is about children’s rights and religious freedom. In Boston, both are at risk.

When it comes to adoption, we all believe some discrimination is good. The commonwealth of Massachusetts is the first to recognize some people are likely not to make good adoptive parents. With this in mind, in the screening of prospective parents, they discriminate regularly against the poor, the elderly, the unstable, and the sick.

Catholic Charities believes the absence of a mother or a father is another valid basis for adoption discrimination. They look for family atmospheres most likely to provide a well-rounded, integral development for the child. Sometimes they make mistakes. But their job is to make educated decisions based on professional expertise and common sense, including the recognition that, “Mom” can’t be replaced by a second dad, or vice-versa. The jury is still out about what long-term effects single-sex parenting has on children. Time will tell. But until then, as Catholic Charities sees it, prudence would support following nature’s dictates and providing a mom and a pop whenever possible.

And it is possible. Married couples on long waiting lists to adopt are the first to agree. They gasp at the often used sophism that there are not enough traditional families willing to take in the numbers of children up for adoption, and thus the need for adoption by gay couples.

We would be ingenuous to say religious belief is not involved in Catholic Charities’ decision to terminate its service. Christianity teaches homosexuality is objectively sinful, while exhorting its followers to love and respect all of God’s children. When a Catholic agency refuses to place a child in a homosexual environment, it is not a sign of intolerance. It is not an act of disrespect or a lack of love. It is simply refusing to condone a lifestyle in contradiction with its core beliefs.

There is a danger of overlooking the real bashing that’s going on, the bashing of religious freedom, which is at the center, if not the front, of this controversy. Advocate groups for gay adoption will fight Governor Romney’s attempts to keep religious groups in the business of helping needy children. They will argue that all social services, including private institutions, should be required to participate in the rogue experiment of new forms of parenting, even when this participation compromises the core religious beliefs of the institutions.

In the dense fog of rhetoric that will dominate the press between now and the June 30th termination of Catholic Charities’ contract, it will be hard to decipher what this story is all about. We will be invited to think of the good, loving, and responsible homosexuals we know, and to wonder why they couldn’t make good parents.

If that becomes our line of thinking, the rhetoric will have won out against reason. For this is not an issue of gay rights, or even of tolerance. It’s an issue of children’s rights and religious freedom — the right to have a mom and a dad and the right to help the needy without compromising faith.

God bless, Father Jonathan

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