A woman smiles as she is greeted by Sister Marica of the Missionaries of Charity at a home for the elderly in the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu, Nepal, July 4. CNS photo/Anto Akkara

Sign of the times

  • October 22, 2015

For several decades a cornerstone of the work undertaken by the religious order founded in India by Mother Teresa was finding safe homes for orphaned children. Thousands of destitute and abandoned children have met loving parents through adoptions arranged by the Missionaries of Charity.

But no more. Recent changes to India’s adoption laws — intended to create what a government minister calls a “uniform secular agenda” — have reluctantly forced the sisters to stop providing adoption services.

“The new guidelines hurt our conscience,” said one of the sisters. “They are certainly not for religious people like us.”

The decision was painful, but principled and brave. Although it will face inevitable criticism, it was the only choice the MoC could make in order to remain true to the ideals of its founder. Blessed Mother Teresa was unapologetic in her staunch defence of Church social doctrine, particularly as it affected children, born and unborn.

Falling into step with modern trends, India’s new adoption laws prevent the MoC from placing children only in homes with a married man and woman. The sisters can no longer deny adoptions to singles, men or women of any sexual orientation, divorcees, unmarried couples or same-sex couples. All these non-traditional types of parenting are legal in India through an online adoption process.

Also unsettling for the sisters, the new law also allows prospective parents to go to an orphanage and pick one child from up to six candidates, like picking a puppy at an animal shelter. The sisters find this offensive, understandably so. They have never allowed couples the option of saying no to one child and yes to another, to reject girls or disabled children, for example.

“Allowing prospective parents to choose the child they want is like treating it like a commodity,” one sister rightly argued.

News of the sisters decision broke around the time Cardinal Thomas Collins, at the Vatican, was telling the Synod of Bishops on the Family that the Church must uphold its “sacred truths” and maintain its “evangelical integrity” in a culture that presents grave challenges to the Christian view of family. He wasn’t speaking about the sisters, but their predicament exemplifies the bleak cultural situation the cardinal described.

“Our mission is to make disciples but secular culture is more effective in unmaking them,” he said. “This is nowhere more evident than in the secular vision of the family, of sexuality, of gender, of fidelity and of the human person.”

The Missionaries of Charity will still provide sanctuary for orphans but, rather than facilitate adoptions, the sisters will focus on caring for children with special needs. It’s a capitulation to the times made necessary in order to respect their faith and honour the legacy of Mother Teresa.

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