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Religious groups put adoption services in limbo 

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The charitable arm of the Catholic Church hasn't announced anything yet. But Mark Rohlena, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, says his organization really could stop providing adoption services in the state.

Last year, with church support, Republicans in the state Legislature waged an epic battle to kill a civil-unions bill. That bill actually had included language that would have allowed faith-based adoption agencies to exempt themselves from placing children with same-sex couples; it wasn't enough to appease conservatives.

This year, the Democrats entered the Legislature with a comfortable majority. And they wasted no time in introducing, shepherding and approving a similar bill — this time, without the exemption.

Catholic agencies have cried foul. Rohlena notes they could have their license pulled, or invite discrimination lawsuits, if they refuse to place with gay couples. Says Rohlena: "I don't think that in order for other adoption agencies to place in a civil union ... we have to be out of the arena."

"We don't think that it's a zero-sum game," adds Kathy Thayer, vice-president of Life Connections, the program that oversees Catholic Charities' adoption services. "But we may be forced to stop."

Pinpointing overall adoption numbers in Colorado is complicated: The state Department of Human Services, which oversees foster care and adoptions of kids in foster care, doesn't track private adoptions. But when asked how many adoptions they handle in El Paso County, Catholic Charities officials acknowledge that they average only two or three a year.

So, hand-wringing aside, would their absence even be felt? Rohlena says yes. He points out that his organization also contracts with the county to provide "relinquishment counseling," for parents who are considering voluntarily severing their parental rights. Last year, Catholic Charities counseled 59 people, many of whom chose to maintain those rights. The expertise that Catholic Charities brings to this counseling service, Rohlena says, is directly related to its experience facilitating adoptions.

Others envision ripple effects following a Catholic Charities pull-out. For one thing, says Stephanie Roberts of Creative Adoptions, a private adoption service, people might get a skewed sense of their options if arguably the highest-profile adoption provider disappears.

"If they aren't going to be providing this service," she says, "I'm afraid that people are going to think that there's no services for them to tap into."

That's not the case, of course. Creative Adoptions, for one, is based in Wheat Ridge, but works across county lines. A handful of other private agencies work locally.

Whether they're affordable is another question. "There are private adoption agencies that are not faith-based, but they are significantly more expensive," says Debi Grebenik, executive director of Maple Star, a child-placement agency that contracts with the county to provide foster care. The faith-based agencies, she points out, are usually subsidized by their other functions.

While most of the half-dozen private adoption organizations we called didn't respond to interview requests, Bill Blacquiere, president and CEO of Bethany Christian Services, provided a statement saying his organization wouldn't "speculate on what may happen in the future." Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains has stated that the law won't impact their operations.

In similar situations in Illinois and Massachusetts, Catholic Charities has closed down its adoption services. But each local branch of Catholic Charities is largely autonomous, according to Rohlena, meaning that a local board will make the final decision on how to respond to the new law.

chet@csindy.com

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