Boston, Mar 11: Boston's leading Catholic charity, abiding by Vatican teachings that describe same-sex adoptions as ''gravely immoral,'' said it would halt adoption services, raising the stakes in a dispute over a state law allowing gays and lesbians to adopt children.
The Boston Archdiocese's Catholic Charities yesterday said the state's statutes ran counter to Vatican teachings, setting the scene for a debate in the state Legislature over whether to change nondiscrimination laws designed to protect gay rights.
The battle reflects deep divisions in a state that is at once a bastion of Catholicism and leader in gay rights, and where the Catholic Church is struggling to regain its moral authority after a scandal over pedophile priests that erupted in Boston in 2002 and spread nationwide.
Massachusetts' Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon who may run for the White House in 2008, said he would propose a law to make the Catholic Church and other religious institutions exempt from the state's nondiscrimination act.
''I find the current state of the law deeply disturbing and a threat to religious freedom,'' Romney said in a statement issued within minutes of the adoption announcement. Several political analysts expected Romney's proposal to be easily defeated in the Democratic-controlled state Legislature.
Boston's Archbishop Sean O'Malley has urged Romney to seek an exemption for Catholic Charities -- one of the state's leading adoption agencies -- from laws prohibiting discrimination against gay and lesbian couples.
''My impression is they seem to be upping the ante by suggesting they will no longer do any adoptions and trying to force the issue,'' Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin told Reuters.
The announcement follows a policy disagreement within the 103-year-old charity, whose 42-member board unanimously voted in support of same-sex adoptions in December.
Yesterday's about-face came after eight board members, including several prominent business leaders, abruptly resigned in recent weeks after the state's four bishops began a public campaign to ban Catholic social service agencies from conducting adoptions by gay couples.
The bishops' tough stand could alienate Catholics and put a squeeze on financial contributions for the social services arm of the Boston Archdiocese, which already faces a 93 million dollar bill to settle cases involving about 1,000 sex-abuse victims.
That could hit hard at a time when the nation's fourth-largest archdiocese has already shut more than 60 churches to raise money since 2002.
''They may lose some private funding,'' said Stephen Pope, a theology professor at Boston College. ''The more liberal donors are going to be disappointed and may want to withhold their usual contributions.
''On the other hand, more conservative donors might increase their's because their commitment to Catholic Churches has been reinforced by this decision,'' he said.
Since it entered into a contract to provide special needs adoption services with the state in 1977, Catholic Charities has placed 720 children in permanent homes through adoption. Of those, 13 children were placed with same-sex families.
''We have encountered a dilemma we cannot resolve,'' said a joint statement of Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, president of Catholic Charities, and Jeffrey Kaneb, chair of its board of trustees.
''In spite of much effort and analysis, Catholic Charities of Boston finds that it cannot reconcile the teaching of the Church, which guides our work, and the statutes and regulations of the Commonwealth'' of Massachusetts, it said.
The Vatican has campaigned against gay marriage for several years, issuing a stern document condemning gay adoption in 2003 that said allowing children to be adopted by same-sex couples ''would actually mean doing violence to these children'' and was ''gravely immoral''.