All three of my children were baptized by Father Michael Doyle at Sacred Heart Church in Camden. They were baptized at an altar that has been visited, through the years, by Mother Theresa, Cesar Chavez, Mairead Corrigan, Martin Sheen, Thich Naht Hahn, and many, many other admirable peacemakers, including Father Michael himself.
|My mom and Joseph in July of 2013
I thought of this two weeks ago when I opened The Catholic Star Herald and, to my great dismay, saw the headline: "Birth parents must take action to preserve their privacy." Ironically, it was right below a picture of a family next to a banner that read "Thirsting For Truth." Thirsting for truth, indeed.
Here is what, in a spirit of truth, I wish the article had said: First, the title. "Adopted Adults to Gain Access to Their Original Birth Certificates" sounds good to me. It is a statement of fact informing readers of the law that was signed on May 27th, 2014 (less than two months after my mom's passing). That law goes into effect on January 1st, 2017. In the 13 other states that have already enacted similar laws, thousands upon thousands of adoptees and birth parents (especially birth mothers, from what I have witnessed) have benefitted (For powerful insight into how this law actually helps birth mothers, see Jean Strauss' short film Four Birthmothers: https://vimeo.com/119964199).
"For well over a century, the Catholic Church in New Jersey has provided adoption services." That is true. That can stay. "Throughout all those years, the Church promised to honor the privacy of birth parents and adoptees. That promise of privacy also was assured by law and affirmed by the State Superior Court." This is an outrageous lie. Birth certificates were originally sealed to protect the adoptee from the "shame" of illegitimacy, a practice that is, thankfully, no longer needed. And birth mothers never really had any rights (see, for example, actress and birth mother Kate Mulgrew's beautiful memoir, Born With Teeth. Her experience with the Catholic adoption agency where she relinquished her child is one I have heard echoed again and again and again: "Before I left ... there were things to do. I wanted to look [the director of the Catholic Charities adoption agency] in the eye and ask her for mercy, a sliver of mercy, nothing too untoward. I wanted to ask her if my baby was all right ... I wanted a photograph of my baby ... I pleaded, struggling to maintain my composure ... [making no progress, she then goes to speak to the director of the Catholic Home Bureau maternity services, who tells her, "You gave up that right when you relinquished your baby, didn't you?]
|Me with Genevieve, now 9, on her baptism day at Sacred Heart.
"Any birth parents who wish to preserve their privacy must submit a Redaction Request Form to the New Jersey Department of Health ... the New Jersey Catholic Conference will be working to alert birth parents ... We need help. We ask everyone to spread the word that birth parents must take action to preserve their privacy. We need to notify family members, friends and neighbors that birth parents could lose their privacy. If you know a person who placed a child in adoption, please tell them that if they do not file a Redaction Request Form, their name and other information could be given to the adoptee." Oh my. Words like "alert" are so alarming! How about: "While those closely involved with adoption recognize that hearing from a relinquished child may, in some cases, be upsetting to a birth parent, they also recognize that all human beings have a right to know their identities. This fundamental right has been upheld by the United Nations, which in Article 8 of its Treaty on the Rights of the Child confirmed that " State Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference [and]  Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all elements of his or her identity, State Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily his or her identity. Adult adoptees who obtain their original birth certificates are seeking the truth of their own lives, and in thousands of cases they have been able to do this while respecting the privacy of their birth parents. Thus, we need your help. Please let anyone you know that is adopted or that has given up a child for adoption that starting on January 1st, 2017, adoptees in New Jersey will (finally) have access to their original birth certificates. Birth parents can file a "Contact Preference Form" stating whether they would like contact directly from the adoptee, through an intermediary, or not at all (in which case they will be asked to fill out a medical and family history form). In other states where records have been unsealed, thousands upon thousands of adoptees and birth parents have found peace and healing after years of secrecy. More information about this law and what it means for adoptees and birth parents is available at http://www.nj-care.org/. How about that? How about: Because the New Jersey Catholic Conference values truth, mercy, and justice, it stands by this law, despite its former opposition to it.
We are all thirsting for truth. May each one of us some day stand on the altar of those who have given their lives fighting for it and find ourselves worthy. " And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:32).
|Reunion in Montreal. Love rejoices in the truth... (Corinthians 13)