Regulations concerning adoption in Virginia have been under much debate. Below is a joint statement from the Virginia Catholic Conference and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington concerning their participation in comments given to the State Board of Social Services.
On April 20, the State Board of Social Services voted 7-2 in favor of adoption regulations supported by the Virginia Catholic Conference – regulations that had been amended by the Virginia Department of Social Services after a public comment period (ending April 1) that featured written submissions by the Conference, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, other faith-based organizations, and individuals. Representatives of six faith-based organizations, including the Conference and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, also appeared personally at the April 20 board meeting to offer public remarks in support of the amended regulations. The groups also reiterated their objections to the prior version. At the conclusion of the meeting, the board approved the amended regulations.
Commenting on the outcome shortly after the vote occurred, Conference director Jeff Caruso observed, “Today, religious freedom was affirmed; freedom of conscience was affirmed; the freedom of all agencies, including faith-based agencies, to continue doing the great work they are doing was affirmed.”
Art Bennett, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, agreed:
“Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington has been providing adoption services consistent with the principles and moral teaching of the Catholic Faith for the citizens of the Commonwealth for nearly 65 years. We are relieved that the Board for the Department of Social Services will uphold religious freedom and thus allow Catholic Charities to continue providing adoption services that integrate our Catholic Faith.”
The full text of the Conference’s April 20 testimony to the board follows.
Comments on 22 VAC 40-131-170B
State Board of Social Services Meeting (April 20, 2011)
“On behalf of the Virginia Catholic Conference, I wish to convey support for the agency’s changes to 22 VAC 40-131-170B, which is part of the proposed Minimum Standards for Licensed Child Placing Agencies. The Conference is the public-policy agency of Virginia’s Catholic bishops and their two dioceses. My comments reflect the shared perspective of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington and of Commonwealth Catholic Charities and Catholic Charities of Eastern Virginia within the Diocese of Richmond.
The newly proposed 22 VAC 40-131-170B states: “The licensee shall prohibit acts of discrimination based on race, color, or national origin to: (1) Delay or deny a child’s placement; or (2) Deny an individual the opportunity to become a foster or adoptive parent.”
This new version brings the provision squarely into line with federal law and eliminates inconsistencies with state law that were inherent in the prior version. The new version is also responsive to comments submitted by the Conference on March 31 that objected to the inclusion of items such as sexual orientation, family status, religion, and age.
Including “sexual orientation” and “family status” would have posed conflicts with the missions, beliefs, and practices of organizations, such as ours, that profess certain deeply held convictions and religious beliefs regarding the institution of marriage, the family unit, and human sexuality. Indeed, including these items could have forced some agencies into a choice of whether to follow their own missions or to adhere to the law. Forcing this choice would have been an unacceptable violation of the freedom of conscience upon which our pluralistic society is based, and even of the religious freedom upon which our Commonwealth and our country were built.
It is also important to note that some agencies may currently have requirements for prospective adoptive parents regarding age, and may consider religion when making certain placements. Birthparents may also consider such factors and should, along with agencies, be free to continue doing so.
In conclusion, faith-based agencies play a vital role in the fabric of our Commonwealth, and their right to carry out their mission in the services they provide must be respected and preserved. The agency is right to affirm the current federal and state law and the paramount principles of religious freedom and freedom of conscience as the correct paths to follow. These paths empower all agencies, included those that are faith-based, to continue the great work they are doing.
Thank you for your consideration of the perspective of Virginia’s two Catholic dioceses and their agencies in this matter.”