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Adoption and doctrine

IT IS not a newspaper's role to advise a church on doctrine. When religious organizations carry out public policies, however, there will often be some friction at the intersection of the sacred and the secular, and that intersection deserves full public debate.

In seeking to reverse the longstanding practice of Catholic Charities of Massachusetts, by which 13 children have been adopted by same-sex couples in the last 18 years, the four Roman Catholic bishops in the state must have known they would generate an uproar. In any event they have, both within the church and without.

Here is the dilemma. Catholic doctrine declares that homosexual relationships are immoral. But state law governing the adoption process bars discrimination, including that based on sexual orientation. The bishops are planning to seek an exemption, but Governor Romney says he doesn't have the power to grant one, and legislative leaders say they don't have the inclination to vote one. If the church fails to get an exemption, it may face the choice of living with the current situation or directing Catholic Charities to bar gay or lesbian couples as prospective parents, which might well stop the agency from helping children in the custody of the Department of Social Services.The latter would be a tragedy. Catholic Charities has been helping children, many of them unwanted or abused, find loving homes for a century. It has handled 720 adoptions since 1987. And it is known for successfully placing children with difficult physical and emotional problems.

While respecting the church's right to its opinion, it has become increasingly hard to demonstrate what harm might come from gay adoptions. Many studies, including a 2004 article in the journal Child Development, research from 2002 by the Child Welfare League of America, and a major survey in 1995 by the American Psychological Association all conclude that children brought up by single-sex couples were virtually identical to other children in academic performance, socialization, and sexual orientation. One study indicated a very slightly greater willingness by girls brought up by lesbian parents to ignore gender stereotypes and seek training as doctors, lawyers, and engineers. The Vatican may be moved in part by Massachusetts' legalization of single-sex marriages, but again, with the law in effect for more than 21 months, the institution of heterosexual marriage has survived quite well.

Also, while respecting the church's immediate predicament, it is hard to sympathize with an absolutist approach. The church abhors poverty, and works valiantly worldwide to relieve it, but doesn't sell every painting in the effort or scorn the support of the wealthy. Also, Mayor Ray Flynn, while not an agent of the church, was an ardent opponent of abortion, but did nothing to stop them at City Hospital, because it was the law.

Scores of children in Massachusetts will be better off if Catholic Charities continues to guide their care.

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