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Thursday, April 26, 2012

An Elegant Catholic Voice for Adoptee Rights

The Vatican's recent rebuke of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the largest group of Catholic nuns in the U.S., for failing to speak out more forcefully on social issues like contraception, abortion, and the ordination of women, was disappointing, to say the least.  So is the Catholic bishops' decision to ignore the adoption views of so many of its front-line social workers.  Some thoughtful people have left the Church because of the hierarchy's stubborn refusal to allow new facts to inform its social policy deliberations.  Others have elected to stay and fight.

Among the defectors are former nun Mary C. Johnson and well-known author Anna Quindlen.  Johnson explains, "I left (missionary service) in part because I couldn't believe that God preferred blind obedience to intelligent, creative ministry and growth."  Quindlen in a recent NPR interview explains that at a certain point, she could no longer ignore the child molestation scandals, the church's reaction, and the bishops' "constant obsession with gynecology." ...  "Every time I sit in the pew," she thought, "I ratify this behavior, and I'm not going to ratify it anymore."

Electing to stay within the Church and speak out for social justice -- particularly for adoptees -- is the Rev. Thomas F. Brosnan, an adoptee himself and a priest at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Bayside, NY.  Brosnan's eloquent views on adoption are evident in two of his keynote addresses:  "Strengthening Families," which he delivered in 1996 in San Antonio, Texas, to the National Maternity and Adoption Conference of Catholic Charities USA, and "Dualism in Adoption," a speech he delivered at St. John's University in 2000.

In "Strengthening Families," Brosnan tells what it meant to him personally to discover members of his original family and then talks about the psychological barriers that secrecy creates, even in the most loving of adoptive families.  He shows the depths of his feelings when he writes, "I pray for the demise of the closed adoption system."

He goes on to describe the healing power of truth.  "Acknowledging truth about loss," he explains, "means first of all to give up the lies of what actually happened."  We need to accept events as they really occurred, he says, and not make up explanations such as "you were chosen," that we think might soften the blow.

Brosnan also debunks the myth of birth mother confidentiality, writing: "Why was the name given to me at birth by my birth mother printed on the very adoption papers given to my adoptive parents, if indeed the state wished to assure my birth mother of confidentiality?  Why?  Because confidentiality for the birth mother was not really ever intended.  It is a myth."  ( My adoption papers also list my birth name, as do the adoption papers for my adopted brother.)

Those who attended the 1996 Catholic Charities conference noted that Father Brosnan left the podium to "thunderous and prolonged applause."  It would seem that many within the Catholic Charities fold are conscientious objectors, of a sort.  They probably do not agree with the continuing efforts of the US Catholic Conference of Bishops to block the very adoption reforms that would eliminate the sealed records and the secrecy and lies that corrupt the current system.

In his "Dualism in Adoption" address, Brosnan explains the danger in the type of either-or thinking that often informs the opinions of those who oppose adoption reform.  "The desire to settle for an either/or answer in a complicated world is the essence of dualistic thinking," he writes.

Opponents to adoptee rights bills frequently display this kind of thinking.  In their mind, adoption is the simple answer to complicated problems.  Either you are for adoption, or you are against it.  Either you are a "good adoptee," who accepts that you are less than equal under the law and are grateful just for having been born and taken in, or you are a "bad adoptee," who seeks the truth for yourself and others and would like the laws to reflect best adoption practice.

At its core, adoptee rights is a classic civil rights struggle.  As Brosnan notes, adoptees are "the only citizens who have no right to know the names with which they were born and the names of the parents who gave them birth."   It is unfair and unconstitutional to isolate a portion of the population and deny them the rights that all other citizens enjoy.  Adoption may be complicated, but the right course of action is not.  Adopted adults are people too, and they should have the same right to their birth certificates that every other American has.

God bless the Rev. Thomas F. Brosnan for his honest and wise words.  God bless the members of Catholic Charities who recognize his wisdom.  We can only hope that the Conference of Catholic Bishops will someday see the wisdom there as well.

To read more, see:

Strengthening Families

Adoption & Faith: Dualism in Adoption


  1. Thank you for this thoughtful article. As a former Catholic for 15 years, I find that my frustration with the dualistic, nuance-free, black-n-white approach of Catholic doctrine, teaching, and behavior increasing consistently. I'm trying to get a handle on this frustration, and am sensing that channeling it into activism for open adoption. I'm an adoptee who just recently reunited with birth family, and I consider myself very lucky. I'm so grateful to have been referred to your blog and I look forward to reading more.

  2. Hi Carl,
    Thanks for your comment, and I hope you will join the movement to open up birth records for adult adoptees. We need many voices from all sides of the adoption circle, as the opposition is unyielding and well-funded. In a way, I am a good one to speak out because my original mother is that mother the opposition says it is trying to protect. She had never told anyone about me except for her mother and did not wish to have a continuing relationship. She was, however, willing to have a conversation, and it is unbelievable to me that opponents to adoptee rights bills and some legislators would oppose even that. I'm glad you found the blog -- I'm still a bit technically challenged but hope to learn more at my Apple session tomorrow!

  3. "Adopted adults are people too, and they should have the same right to their birth certificates that those born to their biological parents do."

    Should this say "those KEPT by their biological parents". I know I'm nitpicking but we are all Born to our biological parents.

    I enjoyed the post.

    1. Right you are, Robin! I'll try to figure out how to go into and edit that post! Thanks for reading and for keeping me on my toes. That statement does sound rather ridiculous!

  4. Query: The NYS Legislature RE: 'Bill of Adoptee Rights'; aka S02490A & A00909 have acquiesced for 10 years now, mainly because of significant-paid 'lobbying' of the Roman Catholic Church of the New York Diocese. Do you have their ADDRESS and that Name and Address of 'their lobbyists'? Thank-you for a reply. rems


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