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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In Life and in Adoption, History Matters

I have just returned from a three-week whirlwind tour of Spain with my daughter, her family and 30 high school kids.  Daughter Jenn, her three children, a dear friend of mine and I spent the first two weeks based in a Madrid apartment.  The last week, when all our husbands arrived, Jenn and her family stayed on in the apartment, while my friend and I with our spouses moved up a bit to a nearby Madrid hotel.  What an adventure we had visiting Barcelona, Segovia and Toledo, and touring all the highlights in Madrid -- the world-class art museums, parks, plazas, cathedrals and royal palaces.

To visit Spain is to witness the enduring aspects of history -- the aqueduct systems designed and built by the Romans, the old Jewish quarters that remain even after their inhabitants were driven out hundreds of years ago when they refused to convert to Christianity, the cathedrals and museums that house art from the Middle Ages and in some cases, artifacts that date to the time period before Christ.

                                      Grandaughter Grace by the Segovia Aqueduct

The fact is that before Christianity became intertwined with power and politics,  people from different faiths -- Muslims, Jews and Christians, lived together peacefully in Spanish cities like Toledo.  But from my perspective, the Christian faith became distorted when it was ordained the official faith of the land by powerful kings and queens.  The tolerance and understanding that had existed among different religious groups gave way to ultimatums and purges.

Today, we continue to see intolerance and a lack of understanding among some Catholic bishops in powerful leadership positions.  With all my travels this month, I haven't had time to post any articles on my blog.  But I remain dismayed that the Catholic Bishops in New Jersey continue to oppose an adoptee rights bill that would simply grant to adopted adults the same right to access their original birth certificates that every other American citizen enjoys.

While bishops in other states are beginning to testify in support of adult adoptee birthright bills, the  Conference of Catholic Bishops in New Jersey and New Jersey Right to Life continue to oppose such legislation -- and unfortunately base their stances on false information that has been disproved in every state that has restored the civil rights of adopted adults.

Even more depressing, the Conference this past spring hired Princeton Public Affairs Group,  a powerful lobbying firm, to represent its interests in the State Legislature.  The Bishops’ agenda in New Jersey includes opposing a bill that would extend the statutes of limitations on lawsuits for child sex-abuse cases and unfortunately, opposing the Adoptee Birthright Bill that was approved by the NJ Senate 30-8 on June 20 after it had passed unanimously 9-0, with one abstention, out of the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee.

The Bishops in New Jersey continue to insist that the issue revolves around “birthmother confidentiality,” even though the courts have ruled that no such legal right exists. The data from states that have opened birth records to adopted adults shows that most birthmothers -- 95 percent, by conservative estimates -- do want to know what has happened to their children.

Clearly, there is something else at stake here, that the Catholic Conference would spend an exorbitant amount of money to hire a prestigious firm like the Princeton Public Affairs Group to obstruct bills that would give a voice to those who for many years have had no voice.

According to the Newark Star Ledger, the firm’s founder, Dale Florio, Esq., is the “consummate Trenton insider.”  (The Auditor: Catholic Bishops Hire New Lobbyists, June 9, 2013)  In 2009, he was named one of the most influential people in the state in “The Power Issue” of New Jersey Monthly.  He served on the Finance Committee for Gov. Chris Christie’s successful gubernatorial campaign, and was key advisor to Christie Todd Whitman during her successful primary and general election wins in 1993 and 1997.

It is truly disillusioning to see the kind of power and money that is being enlisted to distort documented facts and promote the NJ Catholic Conference’s agenda.

Governor Chris Christie, as he campaigns for re-election and considers a possible run at the presidency, says he wants to be viewed as an independent thinker who takes action based on the truth and what is right, as opposed to what is politically expedient.

In 2011, Newark Archbishop John J. Myers, president of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, wrote a letter to Gov. Christie, asking him to “conditionally veto” a bill approved by the Senate and Assembly that would have given adopted adults equal access to their original birth certificates.  Unfortunately, Gov. Christie did just what Archbishop Myers requested.  (“Gov. Christie conditionally vetoes adoptee birth certificate bill,”  Susan K. Livio, Newark Star Ledger, June 24, 2011)

The question in the coming year, as the Birthright Bill moves through the NJ Assembly, is this:  Will Gov. Christie continue to defer to the church, and its powerful lobbying group, on this issue?  Or will he respond to the will of the elected Legislature and to the evidence that has been accumulated in states that have enacted Adoptee Birthright Bills?

We would hope that there is someone in his inner circle who would counsel the latter, especially as the Catholic Conferences in states like Michigan, Georgia and Ohio have now acknowledged the facts and testified in favor of Adoptee Birthright Bills.

Representatives of Dioceses that were formerly opposed to adoptee birthright bills in states that have since passed such legislation, like New Hampshire and Maine, now say the laws have caused no problems or adverse effects on adoption.  Marc Nutty of the Diocese of Portland, Maine, says. “We know of no problems or complaints and have been pleased with the outcome.”

Catholic Charities of Atlanta, testifying in favor of a pending Birthright Bill in Georgia, stated, “We believe strongly that Georgia-born adult adoptees should have their civil right to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate restored to them.”

Gov. Christie needs to know that there is more to this issue than what he is hearing from the New Jersey Catholic Conference.  In seeking good counsel, he might start by conversing with his fellow Republican, Senator Diane Allen, who has been sponsoring Adoptee Birthright legislation and hearing testimony on the issue for the past 17 years.

Following the committee hearing on June 13, during which 17 people testified for the bill and no one publicly testified against it, Senator Allen said, “It’s a civil rights issue, and it’s appalling to me that we treat (adopted) people so poorly.  We have made them a separate class, an inferior class, because they are adopted.  How absurd is that?”

In the coming months, as the Catholic Conference and its powerful lobbyists continue to promote the myth that birthmothers were promised and desire confidentiality from their own offspring, I hope legislators will look beyond the rhetoric, absorb documented data, and remember Senator Allen’s words.


  1. A person cannot read this and not wonder what is really at stake for the Catholic Church in New Jersey. I generally don't like to ascribe ulterior motives to people, but something just doesn't "smell" right here. Thanks for your excellent summary, Susan, and your persuasive presentation.
    Karen Caffrey

  2. The Bishops and Right to Life in New Jersey continue to insist that this issue be addressed by systems of "mutual consent," a position that sounds reasonable to people who have no reason to look below the surface. Mutual consent and confidential intermediary systems are unfair, unwieldy and ineffective, as easily-available statistics show time and time again. I too wonder what is at stake for the Catholic Bishops in New Jersey.

  3. What is likely at stake is the names of priests showing up on these original birth certificates.

  4. The names of the fathers were not required on the original birth certificates of children born from unwed mothers. And in states that have updated their laws with Adoptee Birthright Bills, there have been very few complaints. Where there is a lack of transparency, there can very easily be a lack of accountability. The Bishops no doubt would rather we not look at past adoption practices too closely.

  5. There are probably many reasons for the continued secrecy, none of them having to do with any kind of "birthmother privacy" issues. The powers that be don't want the parties to find each other and compare notes.

    ...about who the biological father was and how the mother became pregnant.

    ...about how the mother was treated by the church and the adoption agency.

    ...about inconsistencies in what the adoptive parents were told about the ethnicity, religion, education, occupations, and socio-economic status of the birth family.

    ...about inconsistencies in what the birth parents were told about the ethnicity, religion, education, occupations, and socio-economic status of the adoptive family.

    My adoptive parents were Jewish. The agency told them that both my birth parents were Jewish and were "too young to get married". The agency's own records say that only my mother was Jewish and that my father was 28. I was the product of a casual relationship. I guess I was more marketable as 100% Jewish and the product of a long-term relationship.


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