The Church’s concern over the welfare of adopted children is reflected in the Code of Canon Law and some magisterial documents, in her longtime collaboration with the United Nations, and in her deference to civil laws which respect the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration in matters of adoption. Complications arose in recent decades when some nations began to legalize “same-sex marriage” and, consequently, the adoption of children by same-sex couples which are both contrary to Church tradition.
This theological investigation allows social sciences to dialogue with magisterial teaching. Scientific theories on child development explain the significance of the child’s early upbringing, family relationships, and sub-systems where the child belongs. However, critiques of recent studies on the outcomes of same-sex parenting versus heterosexual parenting reveal that most of these studies do not meet the rigors of scientific research. Moreover, much multidimensional research work is still needed for a better understanding of the link between heterosexual parenting and gender development.
Church teaching that holds the educative role of parents as key to child development relies on a tradition that establishes marriage as being between two persons of the opposite sex which opens them to life, to fatherhood, and to motherhood. This is the basis for her position that adoption by same-sex couples is against the best interests of a child because it deprives the child of the experience of fatherhood or motherhood. Still, if the argument were to continue in this direction, an inconsistency appears when casuistry is applied to compare adoption by same-sex couples with embryo adoption.
A better context for the Church position is thus proposed to clarify why the Church has a negative evaluation of adoption by same-sex couples: The Church cannot undermine the doctrinal integrity of its teachings on human sexuality and marriage that is based on a physicalist interpretation of natural law. As regards handling exceptions, the Church has shown the capacity to offer pastoral adaptations while maintaining doctrinal integrity as it did and continues to do so in difficult cases involving contraception. As regards handling conflict between morality and civil law, the Church endorses two different approaches. The first is to work so that civil law becomes aligned with Catholic morality, on the basis that both can be seen in the light of natural law as the guide to what persons ought to do. The second, which is more mindful of the freedom of conscience of individuals in a pluralistic society, is to create a moral climate where Catholic values are communicated to the community simply by the authentic living out of these values.