Catholic Charities reviews its gay adoption policy

  • by Matthew S. Bajko
  • Wednesday March 22, 2006
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Ask George Randall-Saldivar about his parents and a smile takes over the 10-year-old's cherubic face.

"I have two gay parents and they love each other," said George. "I love them."

George's parents, "dad" Christopher Saldivar and "pop" Mark Randall, adopted him on Father's Day two and half years ago out of the foster care system. George had bounced between three foster homes and social workers began to think he was not adoptable.

Social workers considered George a special needs child. He had behavioral issues and was taking several medications at the time. But the San Francisco couple instantly took a liking to George. After several meetings and a couple overnights at home, they knew they wanted George for a son.

"Shortly before we got involved they told us if we didn't succeed it was unlikely he would be put up for adoption again," said Randall. "If you go by statistics, in seven or eight years he would have ended up homeless, drug addicted, or in prison. It is pretty clear-cut and almost unbearable to think about."

Placed in a permanent, loving home, George's demeanor turned for the better. In time, he stopped taking his medications and stopped acting out. Today, he and his dads quarrel more over brushing teeth or eating at McDonald's.

"When I first was with them I had tantrums. It was hard to adjust," admitted George. "It's easy now I have gotten into the routine. They order me around sometimes, they say 'Brush your teeth or go to bed.' One day, I wish they would stop."

"You know when we will stop asking? When you do it on your own," interjected Saldivar, a middle school health teacher. "Hence, no McDonald's" he added.

Randall, a retired Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation employee, said, "George has come a long way. He is attached to us. He has a family. He has a stable life."

It is a life Catholic Church leaders want to now deny to other children in the foster care system. Former San Francisco Archbishop William Levada, now prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith and elevated to cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI, said on March 9 that Catholic Charities cannot allow same-sex couples to adopt.

Levada also said, "Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children."

The order resulted in Boston's Catholic Charities deciding to end its adoption services this month and confusion over how San Francisco's Catholic Charities will deal with the Vatican's edict. Newly installed Archbishop George Niederauer issued a statement last week that flamed speculation the local charitable organization would likely have to stop placing children with gay and lesbian couples. Since 2000, the agency has placed five out of 136 children with same-sex couples.

"We fully accept and faithfully teach what the Catholic Church teaches on marriage and family life. In light of these convictions, we currently are reviewing our adoption programs to determine concretely how we can continue to best serve children who are so much in need of a home," said the statement. "We realize there are people in our community, some working side-by-side with us to serve the needy, who do not share our beliefs, and we recognize and respect that fact."

Stories on a conservative Web site Saturday, March 18 and in the San Francisco Chronicle Tuesday, March 21 reported that the church had ordered Catholic Charities to "halt" the gay adoptions. Different statements made by archdiocese spokesman Maurice Healy only led to further confusion on what the archbishop meant by his statement.

He told the Chronicle, "These kinds of adoptions are not in sync with church teaching, and we've committed ourselves to being in sync with church teaching," while he is quoted by the Advocate as saying, "Our teaching on marriage and family life precludes these kinds of adoptions. We need to find another way to help this vulnerable population. How remains to be worked out."

In a phone interview Monday with the Bay Area Reporter , Healy said no decision on whether to stop the gay adoptions had been made as of yet and that the policy was "under review." He did not say what the timeline for making a decision would be.

"We want to see how we can continue in a concrete way to meet the needs of the children. That review is going on now," he said. "Expanding our adoption pool is one way but all those answers have yet to be determined."

Brian Cahill, executive director of Catholic Charities in San Francisco, was adamant that any story saying his agency had stopped allowing gay parents to adopt was "completely inaccurate."

Asked by the B.A.R. in a phone interview Monday about Niederauer's statement, Cahill replied, "He did not announce Catholic Charities would not place children with gay couples." Unlike Boston, Cahill was optimistic his agency could find some way to resolve the issue without shutting down its adoption program.

"We are reviewing our adoption program in light of church teachings and the crucial need to look out for the best interests of these children," he said. "I would also say we are going to try to do something different from Boston. If I could get some time, that is what I want to focus on.

"That being said, God love the couples who have come forward to love and protect and nurture these very vulnerable children," Cahill, who has a gay son, added.

Nanette Miller, a lesbian and member of Catholic Charities' board, said she is also hopeful the agency can come up with a positive solution, such as when the archdiocese figured out a way to adhere to the city's requirement under the equal benefits ordinance that it extend domestic partner benefits to employees so as not to lose its funding.

"In the past when Levada was here, we came up with creative solutions to resolving some issues where there was stress between the teachings of the church and needs of the clients of Catholic Charities. I am praying we can come up with something at this point," said Miller, a parishioner at Most Holy Redeemer in the Castro. "I do know the adoptions they have done have been successful from the standpoint the children are in loving, caring homes and in better situations than in foster care. We have had successful adoptions in the past and I would like to see them continue."

While Mayor Gavin Newsom has criticized Levada's comments and stance as "divisive," he refused to criticize Niederauer this week and told reporters Tuesday that he is also hopeful a solution amenable to both sides can be worked out. Though he had yet to speak to the archbishop, Newsom said he had talked with Cahill to clarify what Catholic Charities is doing.

"I have confidence in the new archbishop that we can work through this. I don't want to see Catholic Charities' mission put at risk because of the archbishop's stance," he said.

When asked how easy it would be to revoke the city's funding of the charitable group, Newsom said, "It won't take much. It can be done very easily," though he added that it would be premature to say if the city would take that route.

"They are continuing to move forward and allow same-sex couples to adopt. If they don't, I will respond when that is the case," he said.

As for Levada's comments, Newsom said, "I am shocked as a San Franciscan. I am shocked as a Catholic. I have talked to Catholics, people in the church hierarchy, who are stunned by what was said."

Beyond the mayor's support for gay marriage, the issue of gay couples adopting is especially personal for Newsom. His chief of staff, Steve Kawa, adopted two children with his male partner.

"They are remarkable parents," said Newsom. "I am concerned about the statement made that same-sex couples do violence to children. It is a remarkable statement and I find it mean-spirited. If they believe that then a lot of education is needed to understand the capacity for caring same-sex couples can have for these kids."

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution calling on Levada to withdraw his "discriminatory and defamatory" directive to Catholic Charities, calling it an "insult to all San Franciscans" and "such hateful ... rhetoric... both insulting and callous." The author of the resolution, Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who is gay and a Catholic, was blunt when asked about the consequences of Catholic Charities following Levada's order.

"We couldn't fund them," said Ammiano. "Nobody wants that because they have been doing great work."

The San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee on Tuesday unanimously adopted a resolution condemning San Francisco's archbishop over the adoption issue and urged local, state, and federal officials to condition government funding for Catholic Charities on compliance with applicable antidiscrimination laws, including those that apply to LGBT people.

Gay adoption

Oakland resident Johnny Symons, who with his partner of 12 years, William Rogers, was the first gay couple to adopt a child from San Francisco's Catholic Charities in 2000, said he has been dismayed by the current controversy.

"It just shows how out of touch the leadership of the Catholic Church is with what the needs are of children," said Symons, who is not only raising Zachary, now 6, but also his brother, Kenyon, 4, with Rogers. "I think mostly it strikes me as being really sad because there are so many children who need homes and so many loving gay and lesbian individuals and couples who can provide them. The Catholic Church has a long history of helping children in need find loving, permanent homes. What is happening right now is a rejection of that history."

At the time of Zachary's adoption, Symons said he and his partner faced no resistance from the church or the charitable agency. The couple, who have been together 12 years, ended up at Catholic Charities because a social worker a friend recommended to them had joined the agency. Symons, who directed the film Daddy & Papa about his experience, said they were never told their sexual orientation would prevent them from adopting.

"She said, I totally support this and said she sees gay men and lesbians adopting as an untapped resource so let's make this happen. She encouraged the leadership to allow us to be certified. It was a very positive experience all the way around," said Symons. "Would the timing have worked out to have these particular kids in our lives if we went somewhere else? Probably not. I have Catholic Charities to thank for that. Our family wouldn't be the same."

Randall and his partner used a secular agency to adopt George, and while other couples will still be able to adopt foster care children regardless of what Catholic Charities decides, he said the church's position on the matter would still have a negative impact. Randall, who was raised Catholic, fears the church through its teachings may sway some people supportive of gay couples adopting to now be against it.

"What troubles me about the church's position is so many of the good people whose instincts we've experienced are influenced by the Catholic Church. It has tremendous influence," said Randall. "Early on in the process we were in Chicago having dinner with my folks, who are conservative Catholics, and I asked them what they thought about us adopting. Instinctively, their response was that would be wonderful. I wonder if I asked that question today if the answer would be the same. I would like to think so but I know their church wields great influence."

To George, his parents' sexual orientation means little. He sees no reason why another kid in foster care shouldn't have a chance at what he now has – two devoted parents who love him and provide him with a loving home.

"I don't care about gay or lesbian. What is wrong with gay parents? There are less fortunate kids out there who need parents," he said. "I want people to know kids in foster homes deserve to have a family. Just give them love."