Missionaries of Charity Sisters in India, the order founded by Mother Teresa, are withdrawing from adoption work over fears that single gay and lesbian folks might welcome a child into their homes.
Appealing to India’s Central Adoption Resource Authority, the Missionaries have “sought de-recognition” of 13 of their 16 orphanages in the country, reported The Huffington Post.
New guidelines from the Ministry of Women and Child Development which permit individuals to adopt caused “ideological differences,” explained by Sister Amala, who runs an orphanage in North Delhi. She explained:
” ‘The new guidelines hurt our conscience. They are certainly not for religious people like us. … What if the single parent who we give our baby [to] turns out to be gay or lesbian? What security or moral upbringing will these children get? Our rules only allow married couples to adopt.’ “
In an interview with The Independent , Sister Amala said that children “may not receive real love” if they are not placed with a heterosexual couple. The Times of India reported two incidents where Missionaries rejected single parents already, though whether it was due to their sexual orientations is unclear.
The new guidelines, aimed at increasing transparency, do eliminate the Missionaries ability to discriminate at will against LGBT people and others seeking to provide a loving home for children. The sisters also object to the fact prospective adoptive parents will be able to choose from one of six children, rather than being assigned by the Missionaries themselves. While adoptions by the Missionaries of Charity have ceased, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi is hopeful that because “they are good people,” the sisters can be persuaded to reverse their decision, reported National Public Radio.
In the meantime, other organizations already strapped for resources, including Catholic ones, are forced to fill gaps left by the Missionaries’ decision. The Washington Post reported:
“In New Delhi, [the Missionaries of Charity] has transferred six unadopted children to Holy Cross Social Services, a Catholic organization. . .
” ‘We are seeing a sudden rise in children coming to our adoption home. It could be because the Missionaries of Charity is not accepting any more,’ said Lorraine Campos, assistant director of Palna, one of the oldest adoption homes in the capital.”
Veerendra Mishra, secretary of the Central Adoption Resource Authority, is clear in her comment to Hindustan Times that for any progress, the Missionaries of Charity will “have to abide” by the new rule. She continued:
” ‘We told them there is a no reason to refuse a single parent who is eligible and fulfills all conditions in the guidelines. Why deny a good home to a child where there are such a large number of children in orphanages waiting to be adopted.’ “
The question is a good one given that India has an estimated 30 million children who have been orphaned or abandoned, according to The Washington Post. This is the highest number in the world and india’s adoption system is woefully inadequate at the moment with only 0.4% of such children being adopted.
It is an admittedly broken process to which the Missionaries of Charity should be positively contributing rather than withdrawing from over ideological purity. As The New Civil Rights Movement editorialized:
“Thirty million children in need of loving parents? Perhaps someone could explain to the nuns of the Missionaries of Charity that when Jesus said ‘Suffer the little children…’ this was not what he meant.”
Denying adoption to parents in nontraditional situations goes back to Mother Teresa herself, according to one Hindustan Times columnist, who suggested the foundress “had very definite ideas on who could be a parent and who could not.” Lalita Panicker suggested that Mother Teresa and her order have “narrowed down the definition of humanity to exclude certain categories of people.” Panicker wrote:
“This is a retrogressive and harmful mindset, given the fact that many potential parents who wish to adopt children may not be able to fit the rigorous moral conditions of the Missionaries. And why on earth would a person’s sexual orientation be tantamount to a risk to the child? It is no one’s case that strict background checks not be conducted on prospective parents. . .
“The central principle of adoption is to give the child a happy upbringing in a secure and safe environment. The only consideration should be that the prospective parent/parents can provide this. . .If the Missionaries were to impose their conditions on adoption, chances are that we will have a lot more babies waiting for a very long time to get a home.”
The Missionaries of Charity’s decision seems particularly punitive given the state of sexual rights in India, which not only still bans adoption by lesbian and gay people but also re-criminalized homosexuality in 2013, a decision that was actually criticized by Catholic leaders.
The order’s decision primarily affects the 30 million orphaned and abandoned children, but also harms LGBT people whose very lives are at risk in India. This is highlighted by Vikram Johri at BoomLive, who characterized the Missionaries’ act as “a generalised, insensitive statement on the morals and values of the LGBT crowd.” Johri wrote:
“For gay people wanting to raise children, MoC’s argument can be exploited by right-wing groups looking to strip LGBT persons of their (already negligible) rights. The organisation has sought to frame its argument as a necessity for the protection of to-be-adopted children, and has thus played into vicious stereotypes that portray gays as incapable of being responsible adults, or worse, pedophiles. . .
“With poor adoption rates, the government should do everything in its power to ensure that more interested parents are able to adopt. LGBT couples make a natural choice in this regard.”
Indeed, if 30 million children lack loving homes and LGBT people are willing to provide them loving homes, it is eminently reasonable for these adoptions to be facilitated by the Indian government and Catholic organizations alike. Not facilitating these adoptions may adhere to the letter of the law of Mother Teresa’s ministry, but deviate from the spirit of her work. Though she was negative about lesbian and gay people, preferring to call them “friends of Jesus” rather than acknowledging their sexual orientation, the Missionaries under her leadership have set up AIDS hospices.
To not participate in Indian adoptions is not only discrimination and a deep injustice against LGBT, single, and divorced people, but is the act which actually denies children the security, moral upbringing, and real love the Missionaries profess. The Missionaries of Charity should look beyond a harmful legalism and dated prejudices to embrace instead Christ’s expansive love and accompany all those on the margins whom God loves most. That would be a real act of charity.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry