Church changing view on open adoption: Dallas diocese leads the way; 5 N.J. sees fight state proposals National Catholic Reporter December 16, 1994
The article starts of talking about open adoptions in Texas and how Catholic Charities is leading the way to open adoptions but then it switches it tune…
However, there are some “sad exceptions” to the practice of open adoptions, Betzen said, pointing to New Jersey where the state’s Catholic conference has fought two bills that would open the state’s adoption records, sealed since 1940. On Dec. 5 legislators passed Assembly Bill A-1273. It restores the right of New Jersey-born adoptees over age 18 to get a copy of their original birth certificate from the state registrar, including the name of their birth parents.
Birth parents would have a year from the time the new law takes effect to remove their names from the birth documents. The state bar association joined the bishops in opposing the bill, noting that a year’s notice is “inadequate,” given that birth parents may have left the state or even the country.
The bill requires passage by the more conservative Senate and approval by the governor to become law. A similar Assembly bill passed in 1991, but wasn’t considered in the Senate.
Unsealing the past
The New Jersey Catholic Conference, representing the state’s five dioceses, sided with the birth parents in testimony before both Senate and Assembly committees. It argued that Catholic adoption agencies had pledged lifetime confidentiality to birth mothers at the time they surrendered their child for adoption.
Unsealing these records would be “shattering” for many birth mothers who have hidden their pasts from their husbands or families, said Regina Purcell, associate director for social concerns at the NJCC. What the conference supports in place of open records is a “mutual consent adoption registry” whereby adoptees and birth parents can make it known that they wish to contact each other.
And then it gets better and better and better and then next comes this…
Faye Cheeseman of Edgewater, Fla., who directed the Pregnancy and Adoption Services of the Trenton, N.J., diocese from 1972 to 1993, told state senators that social workers like herself used to “play God” with clients, assuring adoptive parents that if they provided an adoptee with a nurturing environment, the child would never question his or her heredity.
But Cheeseman said she had altered her thinking over the years as she witnessed adoptees yearning to learn who they were and why their parents had given them up. She told NCR that “confidentiality isn’t credible anymore.” Today, unwed mothers give birth because they love their child and they want to stay connected to the child after delivery even if they can’t raise it, she said.
A chilling effect
Throughout New Jersey and in other parts of the nation, the battle to unseal the records is one pitting the civil rights of the adoptee against the right of the birth parents to anonymity. “The church was allegedly doing adoptions 20 to 40 years ago in the best interest of the child,” Betzen said, “even though this involved giving false names at maternity homes and many other abuses.
“Now we have to look at what these children are asking for; we can’t ignore them,” he said. Betzen said that birth mothers had no choice where their child went and “no choice but to sign those papers,” often no chance even to read them.