Adoption agency: 'We don't answer to Catholic Church'
Body reiterates its independence after DUP drags it into gay adoption row
The boss of Northern Ireland's only independent adoption agency has vowed to go it alone rather than close if the Catholic Church withdraws its funds in the gay adoption row.
She also said that the agency was willing to place children with same-sex couples now that the law permits it to do so.
Rosemary Hurl, the chief executive of Family Care Adoption Services (FCAS), said: "We are not a Catholic agency and to put that out is very alarming. The bishops are aware of this. We are not their adoption agency and we are not closing."
The agency has recently received a new contract from the Health Board and a £1m grant from the Big Lottery fund as well as other donations. Ms Hurl was reacting to a meeting involving the DUP and Bishop Noel Treanor, who represented the Catholic hierarchy, in Stormont on Tuesday.
Afterwards the DUP in particular raised the issue of the "Catholic Adoption Agency" and gave it its full support.
The party was seeking the support of the Catholic Church for a Bill being proposed by Paul Givan to allow people to refuse to provide goods and services which offend religious beliefs. The Catholic delegation expressed support for the principle, giving same-sex adoption as an example of something that could close the agency. However, it reserved a final judgment until the end of the consultation period and Bishop Treanor warned that any change to the law would have to be carefully defined, to prevent it from leading to "spurious claims of religious conscience".
Fr Tim Bartlett, who took part in the delegation as Bishop Treanor's aide, insisted the agency could close and said it would be a matter for the board to decide.
"It is in danger of closure," he stated.
"It is a Catholic-funded adoption agency, they have to leave the Catholic premises they are in now. If they apply Catholic teaching and don't provide adoption to same-sex couples, then the State will withdraw its funding.
"The Church has told them we will continue to fund them for 12 months while they decide as a board and a society what they want to do."
Ms Hurl denied anything of the sort was on the agenda, warning that such rumours could put off clients.
"That isn't even an issue in front of our board. What our board is attempting to do is secure services we were already providing. For instance, we have just obtained a contract from the Health and Social Care Board. The money the Church gave us has been given, in their eyes, as a donation because of our historical links, and we appreciate that."
FCAS was set up to replace two existing Catholic adoption agencies and holds historical information from these agencies and from Catholic children's homes going back to 1914. These records are used for such purposes as tracing relatives when adopted people ask it to.
"Within our society we normally use the Church grant for that work so that function would be in danger of closing if we don't get funding for it," said Ms Hurl.
"Unfortunately, we can't afford to run a service for which we do not get income."
Family Care Adoption Services was set up to replace two existing Catholic adoption agencies, but is legally an independent body serving the whole community. It says it places children with people of all faiths and none and specialises in placing children with problems with single people or families. After the DUP said it would support the "Catholic Adoption Agency", FCAS's chief executive stressed the body is not a Catholic agency and would be willing to place children with same-sex couples now the law allows it.