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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Money and Power Stymie Adoptee Rights Bills

Adoptee rights bills are a hard sell in state legislatures, because their main opponents come from two powerful and moneyed groups: the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, and trade associations representing adoption practitioners, whose income depends on their success at "selling" adoption as a simple, win-win solution to complex societal problems.

We'll never know exactly why New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie "conditionally" vetoed an adoptee rights bill last year that had been approved by both the State Senate and Assembly.  But we do know that he received considerable pressure from the NJ Catholic Conference of Bishops and the NJ State Bar Association to do exactly what he did -- replace a simple civil rights bill with an unworkable and unacceptable system of state-appointed confidential intermediaries.

Shortly before he issued his directive last June, Gov. Christie received a letter from Newark Archbishop John J. Myers, president of the NJ Catholic Conference of Bishops, asking him to "conditionally" veto the bill.  Expressing concern for "birth mother privacy," Myers wrote, "Reunion between adoptees and birth parents should only be after mutual consent."

Now to the uneducated reader, such a statement might seem logical.  But studies have shown that mutual consent registries have a failure rate of over 90 percent.  Confidential intermediary systems are expensive, obstructive and demeaning to the adopted adult, who is asking only for what every other citizen takes for granted: access to his or her own legal document of birth.

Not all adoptees search, and not all seek reunions, but most would like access to their own truth.  One would think from the Bishops' and the NJ Bar Association's position that original mothers live in dire fear that their grown offspring might someday contact them.  However, DYFS Adoption Registry statistics show that 95 percent of original parents welcome contact, and in Oregon, where adult adoptees have had access to their original birth certificates for 11 years, fewer than a quarter of one percent of original mothers have filed "no contact" preferences.

Whatever reason the Catholic hierarchy has for opposing adoptee rights bills, it would seem that "birth mother privacy" is not really the issue.  One has to wonder at this point just what it is that the Catholic Church is so eager to hide.  Is it their unsavory adoption practices of the past, which profoundly hurt so many young, vulnerable women?  Or is it their desire to shield the Church from any scandal or controversy at all costs?

Recently, I came across a most interesting website entitled "Children of Catholic Priests."  Possibly, at least some of the Bishops' motivation for opposing truth in adoption can be uncovered there.

Ronald A. Sarno, Esq., has published a paper entitled "A Legal Guide" for mothers or expectant mothers of the children of Catholic clergy.  In it, he cautions the women explicitly not to seek any help from the Church itself.

"Be wary of attorneys who represent the Catholic clergy," he writes, "who offer to tell you what legal rights you and your child have; they are being paid to help the institution and to save it as much money and scandal as possible."

Later, he explains, "There is no point in using any canonical procedure to seek help.  No matter what the canons say in theory, in practice canonical courts and/or inquiries have as their sole purpose the protection of the Church from financial responsibility, and to keep embarrassing facts out of the media."

Sarno wants women to know that the Church currently "discourages any showing of parental responsibility on the part of the 'celibate' official who has fathered children and frequently handles the situation by seeking "settlements" and transferring the father out of the state where the mother resides.

A settlement offer, Sarno explains, is an agreement in which the parties pledge not to go to trial.  "The father and the Church want secrecy," he writes to expectant mothers, "and a promise from you not to continue a lawsuit or to go to the media."

The terms of a settlement may require the Church to make regular money payments to the mother until the child is "emancipated," or financially independent.  In some cases, says Sarno, the mother may be prohibited by a court order or settlement agreement from telling her child who the father is.  If she does disclose the truth, she may be in danger of losing her financial settlement.

While none of this information is surprising, given what we know about the Catholic hierarchy's history, it does offer some insight, I believe, into the Bishops' position regarding adoptee rights.

What I would like to know is this: Why doesn't the media further explore these issues?  Why are the lame objections to adoptee rights that the Bishops and the Bar Association make year after year not subject to more scrutiny?  "Birth mother privacy" is not the issue, and these groups would not fight for so long and so hard if it were.

Truth, transparency and accountability are good values, and ones we should be striving to incorporate into every area of life.   Why should adoption be the lone exception?  The answer, sadly, is quite simple.  In the world of politics, money and power tend to speak louder than established facts.


  1. I had not thought of this angle, Susan. Like you, I wonder "Why doesn't the media further explore these issues?"

    Sounds like a story ripe for Dateline, 20/20 or Primetime Live.

    (Having trouble getting through your Captcha.)

  2. What's the matter, Sue? No one with a dissenting opinion has a voice on your blog? Was that how it was in your classroom? You're aware, I'm sure, that more sexual abuse takes place in our public schools -- every day -- than ever was perpetrated by clergy.

    1. Respectful disagreement is always welcome -- personal attacks are not, as you will see in my policy statement at the top right corner of my blog. If you can keep your comments fact-based and respectful in tone, your voice will be welcome. If you cannot, your comments will be deleted.

    2. As a retired, 40-year veteran public school teacher, Anonymous-One you are incorrect. It is nice to be a devoted Catholic, but lets face it, priests are not Jesus, and for certain not God. They are humans and therefor not perfect...
      From Anonymous-2

  3. Another thought-provoking post. Thank you...

  4. Life-long NJ Catholic here, so I think I have a right to an opinion. In answer to anon 9:00AM, yes, child sexual abuse happens everywhere including public schools. It is not only a problem in the Catholic Church. But the real problem in the Church is the coverup by the Bishops, the buyouts to silence victims' families, the transferring of known pedophiles to other parishes where they still have access to kids without those parishioners being made aware of the unsavory history of their new priest. When public schools or other venues discover a pedophile, they are fired and the police are called. This was not the case in the Catholic Church for many years until outspoken survivors of abuse forced the Bishops to take notice and change their tune.

    I think that the Church wants to cover up its adoption misdeeds much in the same way that it tried to cover up and deny pedophilia for years. The issue of "Fathers" who are also biological fathers raised here is one thing, but there is much more that Catholic Charities did wrong in terms of adoption over the years that they would prefer to keep hidden.

    An interesting bit of old local lore here; in the 1930s the young woman who was the rectory housekeeper went away, and came back with a baby girl. She never told who the father was, but the child was supported by someone in fine style, beautiful clothes, private school, yet the Mom still had some menial job. The local priest, by all accounts a good priest and good man, had red hair as did the little girl. There was talk, but nothing was ever proven and people preferred to look the other way.

    This could have been a good man providing for his child on his own, or some kind of Church settlement. No adoption in this case, but certainly cause to wonder what else the Bishops want kept under the rug where they have swept it. Christie does whatever the Bishops tell him. No separation of Church and State there.

  5. We must remember this is about a piece of paper - the same piece of paper that is given openly to all non-adopted citizens born in the USA.

    WHY this discrimination occurred is less important than WHEN it will end - ASAP!


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