Thursday 11 December 2008 will forever be etched in my memory, because it was on that day that the relationship between the Diocese of Lancaster and Catholic Caring Services suffered an irretrievable breakdown. This relationship which had been forged by countless thousands of laity and clergy over more than 100 years ended when the Trustees voted 9-1 in favour of dropping 'Catholic' from their title, signifying their capitulation to Government legislation on 'same sex' adoption with no attempt at resistance.
The Trustees rejected out of hand my repeated pleas in writing and at Meetings of the Board and with the CEO that we should seek an exemption under Human Rights & Religious Freedom Legislation, or failing this, attempt a legal challenge.
Where does this leave us as the Diocese
of Lancaster? As Bishop, I have now been forced to resign from
the Board of Trustees of Catholic Caring Services because
I consider such membership incompatible with my duty as a Catholic
Bishop, with a responsibility to safeguard doctrine and morals,
and to care for the well-being of the Catholic children and parents
of this great Diocese of ours. One of the fundamental responsibilities
of a Catholic Bishop in the current climate is to protect and
defend the sacrament of marriage. My insistence that Catholic
Caring Services cannot have an 'Open Policy', that includes
'same sex' partnerships, rests on the fact that children develop
and thrive best in the context of marriage. The Church's teaching
on marriage rests on Jesus' re-iteration of His Father's revelation
in Genesis, 'Have you not read that the Creator from the beginning
made them male and female and that He said to them: This is
why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to
his wife, and the two become one flesh. (Matthew 19:4-5; cf.
It is God's intention that children are nurtured and raised by a loving father and mother, who become role models to boys and girls about what it means to be a husband and wife, a mother and a father. That this is seen as an unrealistic ideal by some in politics and the media shows how far our society has distorted morality. If Catholic Caring Services truly hold that the needs of children are paramount it would do whatever possible to ensure that a child is placed with a father and a mother.
Whatever devalues marriage and the fundamental importance of a child having a mother and a father must be resisted by all Catholics and people of good will, because not only is the good of the child put at risk, but also the good of society. This does not mean that I do not value the love, devotion and self-sacrifice of single parents, but it is also my duty to safeguard the ideal of marriage, particularly when it is under such sustained attack.
Consequences of the Trustees' decision
I would want to make it clear that the new charity is no longer a Catholic charity and can no longer operate as an agency in the name of the Catholic Church of this Diocese (cf. Canon 300; cf. 216). As a direct consequence of the Trustees' decision, it is with great sadness that the Diocese will now begin the process of implementing the actions that I outlined in my letter of 5 October 2008:
a) The Charity Commission will be informed by the Diocese that the Trustees of Catholic Caring Services are no longer prepared to act in accordance with
Catholic moral teaching and for that reason Catholic Caring Services is no longer regarded by the Church as being a Charity acting in the name of the Catholic Church.
b) The Trustees must now approach the Charity Commission to ask their approval of the name change from Catholic Caring Services to Caritas Care. They must also change the Objects of Catholic Caring Services, removing the reference to "the Roman Catholic Church both in this diocese of Lancaster and elsewhere in the United Kingdom". It will be up to the Charity Commission to decide whether the Trustees of Catholic Caring Services are lawfully entitled to make such changes.
c) With deep sadness I must declare that all churches, parishes, schools and other Catholic organisations or societies are to have no formal associations with Catholic Caring Services and the new charity is no longer entitled to have access to Diocesan Collections - The Good Shepherd (Bishop's Fund), or the Christmas Crib collections.
d) With regard to the properties in the ownership of the Diocesan Trustees, but currently occupied by Catholic Caring Services including Tulketh Rd, Wellington Rd and Marian House, Beech Grove (all in Preston) it will be now be necessary for the Diocesan Trustees to conduct a review of the terms of the leases to determine:
i) whether there is any potential breach of the terms of occupation
ii) whether the new charity's responsibilities are within our Memorandum and the Articles of Association.
e) The Diocese will, of course, now need to review the receipt and usage of past and future legacies and/or bequests made in favour of Catholic Caring Services and determine whether it is appropriate for any past legacies and/or bequests to be repaid to the diocese or future legacies/bequests to be retained by the Diocese.
It pains me beyond measure to make the above decisions, and certainly, I have done everything in my power to prevent this tragic rejection of the Church's moral teaching.
Catholics must follow the teaching of the Church
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has stated that allowing children to be adopted by persons in homosexual unions is gravely immoral. (CDF, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons. 2003). All Catholics have a clear obligation to abide by the moral teaching of the Church. If, in conscience, they decide that they cannot follow the Church's teaching they should resign as a matter of integrity from any position of authority they hold in the Church or an agency of the Church.
In my judgement the Government is imposing a great injustice on the Catholics of this country by forcing Catholic social agencies to choose between co-operating or not cooperating with acts that are gravely immoral. It is a violation of our consciences and our religious freedom.
Though I accept that the Trustees of Catholic Caring Services have been faced with a difficult decision, I cannot accept their unwillingness to challenge this unjust law. It is this unwillingness that has left me with no choice but to make this painful decision. Though Catholic Caring Services are involved in a whole range of valuable work with the disabled, the disadvantaged and the marginalised, how can I allow the Catholic Church to be associated with a body that has chosen a path that co-operates with actions that are against the explicit moral teaching of the Church?
Renewing our commitment to social caring
Now the diocese is faced with a pressing challenge and opportunity, because Catholic Caring Service's decision to break with the teaching of the Church does not mean that the Diocese of Lancaster is abandoning our work with the disabled, the disadvantaged, and the marginalised. Furthermore, I am determined that we will continue to support the marvellous commitment of parents who adopt children.
As we look confidently to the future there are three positive and practical steps to take which I would recommend for immediate action:
1. The formation of a new Diocesan Adoption/Fostering Support Service with the task of positively encouraging and canvassing married couples to adopt/foster. The offer of help, pre-and post adoption, will also be in this brief. The funding of this Service will come from the Christmas Crib, Good Shepherd and other Collections etc.
2. The Diocese will take steps to increase its engagement with individuals, groups and organisations (i.e. SVP) in establishing a systematic programme of active social care in all of our parishes and deaneries. I know, too, that much is being done in this field already.
3. The Diocese will set up a Social Care Commission to develop and facilitate increased support at parish-level for all involved in the care of the vulnerable, especially children wherever they may be. They are truly the caring face of the Church! The immediate priority for the new Social Care Commission will be the establishment and oversight of the Diocese's new Adoption/Fostering Support Service. Please do all you can to strongly support the Crib Collection in your parish this Christmas and send the proceeds marked 'Adoption Support Service' directly to:
Mr Paul Ryan,
The Diocesan Finance Office,
The Pastoral Centre,
The money that people donate to this collection will be used to help improve the lives of vulnerable children and a sign, too, of support for the Diocese and its Bishops in their decision.
I would like to thank those members of the clergy and laity who have supported and advised me during some of the most difficult months of my episcopacy, including social work professionals, moral theologians and lawyers. I would also like to thank all who have offered their prayers for the resolution of this crisis. Please continue praying for the success of the work ahead of us.
With every good wish and prayer this Christmas,
As ever in Christ,
Bishop of Lancaster