Whether you are a birth mother who is contemplating placing your baby for adoption or a hopeful adoptive parent who wants to learn more about the process of adoption, you may be wondering if Catholic adoption different than regular adoption. The short answer is yes, and no. Faith-based adoption can be different from secular adoption in many ways. Thus, we can answer the question, is Catholic adoption different than regular adoption, in a few different ways. This article seeks to offer information on Catholic Adoption and how it is similar and different in certain ways from regular adoption, but maybe not in the ways you think!

1. Catholic Adoption Overview

Is Catholic Adoption different than regular adoption? In certain ways, yes. It is important to understand how and why Catholic adoption is different than regular adoption. Differences in the two aforementioned adoption types can be attributed to the upholding of religious values and the following of the Catholic Catechism in the placement of children. This is also true for Catholic adoptive parents, or expectant parents, building their family through adoption or creating an adoption plan in accordance with their Catholic faith. Catholic Catechism does not address the adoption of a child directly but does state, 

“The Gospel shows that physical sterility is not an absolute evil. Spouses who still suffer from infertility after exhausting legitimate medical procedures should unite themselves with the Lord’s Cross, the source of all spiritual fecundity. They can give expression to their generosity by adopting abandoned children…”

Catholic adoption was addressed by Saint John Paul II, who stated in 2000, in a message to adoptive parents that, 

“To adopt a child is a great work of love. When it is done, much is given, but much is also received. It is a true exchange of gifts… Adopting children, regarding and treating them as one’s own children, means recognizing that the relationship between parents and children is not measured only by genetic standards. Procreative love is first and foremost a gift of self. There is a form of ‘procreation’ which occurs through acceptance, concern, and devotion. The resulting relationship is so intimate and enduring that it is in no way inferior to one based on a biological connection. When this is also juridically protected, as it is in adoption, in a family united by the stable bond of marriage, it assures the child that peaceful atmosphere and that paternal and maternal love which he needs for his full human development.”

These beliefs and religious teachings in Catholicism are not that different from the reasons secular adoptive parents, or believers of another faith, might look into adoption.

2. History of Catholic Adoption

The history of Catholic adoption is intricately entwined with the history of adoption in America; it can be important to understand these roots. In 1898, the Catholic Home Bureau was founded. This Catholic organization was opened in New York as the first Catholic adoption agency to place children in a forever home, rather than keeping children in an institution, such as an orphanage. In 1910, 400 individuals met at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, at what was eventually called the National Conference of Catholic Charities (NCCC). In 1986, the National Conference of Catholic Charities was renamed Catholic Charities USA. Currently, there are 165 local Catholic Charities across the United States of America. Most of these local agencies are very active in adoption and foster care services. Many of these local Catholic Charities chapter organizations were founded during the first part of the twentieth century to provide adoption and foster care services. Eventually, the Catholic Charities expanded their programs and services to assist children and families through a multitude of services. These new services include support for poverty issues, access to healthcare, immigrant services, elderly services, and others. These services are normally targeted to provide for the members of the adoption triad. The adoption triad is a term generally used to describe the intricate relationship created by adoption. The triad consists of the child (the adoptee), the adoptive parents, and the birth mother (or birth parents).

3. What are Some of the Requirements in Catholic Adoption

Catholic adoption can be different than an average adoption in the explicit requirements of the adoption triad, especially the hopeful adoptive parents. All prospective adoptive parents must meet certain state requirements in order to be considered eligible to adopt. A generally accepted step in the adoptive process is the prospective adoptive parents completing an adoption home study. Home studies usually consist of one of two visits to the household by a certified caseworker, who can assess the capability of the potential adoptive parents to raise a child, and the safety of the environment. Caseworkers are not searching for perfection, in fact, far from that. The best advice is to be sincere and human with your caseworker. Be prepared to share the details of your life, and your faith, as they assess if the adoptee would be a good fit in your household. As a hopeful adoptive parent, if you are seeking to build your family through intercountry adoption, you will have to meet additional country requirements, that differ from country to country. There are also additional requirements if you are hoping to adopt from a Hague Convention country. On top of all of these requirements, if you are hoping to complete a Catholic adoption, you will need to meet the specific requirements for your Catholic adoption service provider.

Catholic Charities are the most prominent adoption service providers. When working with an expectant mother to place children with hopeful adoptive families, most Catholic Charities want to ensure that the child is placed within a family with a mother and a father, who are legally married. Many of the adoption agencies require that married couples have been together for a certain length of time before adopting. Many Catholic Charities who are placing children with hopeful adoptive parents in their area will require that the family live within the local diocese. In the Roman Catholic Church, a diocese is essentially a geographical boundary division, which is led by a bishop. 

Hopeful adoptive families who are using a Catholic Charities adoption service provider to complete their adoption do not need to be Roman Catholic. Some Catholic agencies require that families practice religious faith, while others do not. Most Catholic Charities require that the adoptive families baptize their adopted child, or conduct an equivalent religious service if they are not Roman Catholic. Some Catholic adoption agencies will require a letter of recommendation from a clergy member to endorse the adoption.

Often the question of single parenthood arises in the discussion of how Catholic adoption differs from regular adoption. Most Catholic Charities allow single parents to become adoptive parents through specific adoption programs. The answer to whether or not single parents can adopt from a Catholic agency differs from agency to agency, as well as from program to program. 

Most Catholic adoptions completed through Catholic Charities also require that the adoptive child receives all vaccinations. 

Obviously, each Catholic agency and local Catholic Charity will be different; most will have requirements that are specific to their Roman Catholic faith and overall faith-based mission. Asking each respective agency what their specific requirements entail, as a birth mother, or hopeful adoptive parent, is important at the early stages of the process.

4. How Is Catholic Adoption Different Than Regular Adoption for the Adoption Triad?

As shared earlier, the adoption triad is made up of the adoptive parents, the birth parents, and the child who is adopted. A Catholic adoption can be different than a regular adoption for each of the triad members. The main differences affect how each individual may personally view the adoption, as well as their personal journey within the world of adoption. 

A birth mother, or expectant parents, with a strong Roman Catholic faith, may feel strongly about placing their child for adoption with a Roman Catholic family who is active in their diocese and congregation. They may want an adoptive family who will baptize their baby in the Catholic church and raise them in the faith, traditions, and sacraments. 

When expectant parents are contemplating an adoption plan for their baby, interviewing Catholic adoption agencies is a great first step in learning more about the adoption process. Many Roman Catholic mothers who feel strongly against abortion may look at adoption as a good option if she is unable to parent her child. The Catholic agency you interview should answer all of your questions without any pressure to make an adoption plan for your baby. You may even begin or get far along in the adoption process and change your mind on your adoption agency, or even the decision to place your baby for adoption, and that is more than okay. No adoption agency should ever coerce you to create an adoption plan for your baby. This decision is your decision and your decision alone. 

The adoption agency, whether you decide to use a Roman Catholic agency or secular adoption agency, should assist and guide you in finding adoptive parents for your baby. You can be specific with all of your desires for your baby’s adoptive family. You can request a Roman Catholic family who will raise your child in the church with the Sacraments. Your adoption agency can help you design your individual adoption plan and view profiles of hopeful adoptive parents who meet your requirements.

As a hopeful adoptive parent, you too may be wondering, “is Catholic adoption different than regular adoption?” and how it is different as an adoptive parent. You too have the option to use a Catholic agency to match you with a birth parent and complete your adoption journey. You may desire to work alongside a Roman Catholic agency that matches your values and beliefs. However, you may also work with an adoption agency or adoption attorney that is not Roman Catholic. As a part of the adoptive process, you can state your hopes and dreams for the child you wish to adopt. You can share your faith, and why it is important to build your family through adoption. 

As a hopeful adoptive family, you may have dealt with the pain and loss of infertility. The Roman Catholic Church, in the Catechism and teachings, dissuades families from using interventions to overcome infertility. These interventions may not be an option for you as a hopeful adoptive family who has not been able to get pregnant. You may view adoption as a blessed option to build your christ-centered family. Sharing this in your family profile and with your adoption service provider can be very important. This information could be shared with the expectant parents: why you wish to adopt their child, and why you made the decision, in general, to build your family through adoption. An adoption agency or adoption attorney will help you share all of this in your family profile with birth mothers. This will help Catholic or non-Catholic birth mothers understand your faith and why it is important to you. Even non-Catholic expectant parents may want their child raised in an adoptive family where faith is important to them. Other birth mothers may be Roman Catholic and only seek to place their baby with Roman Catholic, practicing, adoptive parents. Either way, if your Catholic faith is important to you, and it is the tradition in which you wish to raise your child, then it is important to share in your family profile.

You may view adoption as a gift from God; for you, as the adoptive family, for the child, and for the birth mother. The birth mother has chosen life for her baby and you have chosen to give that child a safe, loving forever home. 

5. Follow Your Heart on This Adoption Journey

The journey to adoption for all expectant parents and hopeful adoptive parents is beautiful in its complexity. The journey may be one they did not know they would walk or a journey they have felt called to for a long time. Either way, having faith can carry you through the highs and lows of this lifelong adoptive journey. Leaning on fellow parishioners, your priest, deacons, or Catholic support groups can be very helpful. Catholic adoption forums like the ones found on Adoption.com can be a great way to connect with other Catholic expectant parents and Catholic hopeful adoptive parents to discuss their journey to adoption. 

Jennifer Mellon has worked in the child welfare field for more than a decade, serving in varying capacities as the Executive Director and Chief Development Officer of Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS) and the Corporate Communications Program Manager for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI). Jennifer has served on the Board of the Campagna Center, which provides critical educational services to children and families in the DC Metro Area and on the Development Committee for the National Council for Adoption. She is the mom of three children and resides in Alexandria, Virginia.