CHARLESTON — South Carolina families hoping to share their lives with an adopted child will now have the option to do so through their local Catholic Charities office.
The Diocese of Charleston has partnered with Catholic Social Services in the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C., to set up a location at St. Philip Neri Church in Fort Mill.
Adoptions will be handled through the Charlotte office, but prospective parents can meet with CSS officials at the church or at diocesan Catholic Charities locations around the state.
This relationship between the two dioceses is not new, however. Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Charleston facilitated adoptions until the 1980s and then referred calls to Charlotte.
The effort to set up a local program started two years ago, according to Deacon Ed Peitler, diocesan director of Catholic Charities, but when Bishop Robert J. Baker left, the agreement had to be finalized between the interim administrator, Msgr. Martin T. Laughlin, and Charlotte Bishop Peter J. Jugis.
Catholic Charities applied for the necessary licensing and now the program has the support of Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone.
“We’re fully cooperative with that program because we want to promote adoptions through Catholic agencies for those who want them,” Deacon Peitler told The Miscellany.
Elizabeth K. Thurbee is the executive director of Catholic Social Services for the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C., Inc. They deal with domestic and international adoptions.
“In South Carolina, we’ve had a lot of requests from Catholic families who wanted the opportunity to work with a Catholic agency for adoption,” Thurbee said in an interview. Previously they provided international adoptions and wanted to provided domestic services too, she said.
Catholic Social Services offers pro-life counseling to women considering adoption. They take a before, during, and after approach to the birth of the child. In their Charlotte offices, they continue to work with families after the adoption takes place.
Thurbee said their work has just begun when a family adopts a child. “We have ethical and moral responsibilities to be of assistance as long as needed,” she said.
Thurbee said they will work with the existing structure of adoption referrals in South Carolina.
The Office of Family Life, Respect Life coordinators, Birthright and similar agencies are already reaching out to women dealing with unplanned pregnancies, so CSS will offer help and encouragement to make a plan for life.
“They will refer those who wish to consider adoption to us,” she said. “We are not duplicating services of Respect Life outreach groups in South Carolina; we would like to compliment and supplement them.”
As a pro-life agency, Thurbee said CSS has a responsibility to offer pregnancy services to women struggling with their decision and demonstrate to them that a Catholic agency can help them make the decision that is best for them and their child.
That decision is multifaceted: whether to parent their child or give their child to adoptive parents, who those parents are, what sort of relationship they have after the adoption takes place, if any, and what path the mother’s life takes.
“Our focus has always been to certainly recognize the person making the decision is the birth parent,” Thurbee said. “It must be right for them, right for their child, and a decision they can live with.”
The service in South Carolina will be slightly different than that of the Charlotte diocese.
“At the outset we are going to be just for people interested in adoption because we don’t have the staff yet to have the kind of coverage we need to provide in-depth pregnancy counseling,” Thurbee said.
They currently place more children from other countries than they do domestically. The international adoptions come from Russia. Thurbee is working on establishing relationships with agencies in Taiwan and Jamaica.
“The international adoption program is very clearly based on the needs of the child,” Thurbee said. “I feel strongly that the best place for a child is with his or her own parents, then within that, to stay within their own culture. Every child has a right to a family; if it cannot be one from his or her own family or his or her own culture, then we look at international adoption.”
Thurbee said the philosophy of Catholic Social Services is that they are looking for families for children and not children for families.
For now, the Diocese of Charlotte is handling the cost of running the South Carolina program.
“We have received some generous donations that will help fund our assistance to birth parents,” she said. “We will use existing staff to provide case work services, and the pastor of St. Philip Neri [Oratorian Father John Giuliani] has offered the space to us free of charge.”
More information about the adoption program can be found at www.charlottediocese.org or by calling (888) 789-4989.