The Missionaries of Charity founded by Mother Teresa says it has shut down its adoption services in India over religious objections to the country's new adoption rules. The Catholic sisters known for their blue and white habits and vow of free service to the poor say they have asked the government to de-register 13 orphanages.
The secretary of India's central adoption agency, Veerendra Mishra, told The Indian Express newspaper that there were two points of dispute: "First, [Missionaries of Charity] will not allow adoption by single parents; second, they also have issues with couples, one or both of whom has had a divorce earlier."
A liberalization of adoption guidelines this summer has brought ideological differences between the conservative Catholic order and the Indian government to a head.
India has opened up adoption to prospective parents who are single, divorced or separated.
Under the name Nirmala Shishu Bhawan, the Missionaries' network of homes provides shelter, food, medical care and schooling to abandoned and destitute children, including those with special needs across India. The adoption services were ended Aug. 1, according to Sister Amala, the nun in charge at the Missionaries' home in North Delhi.
Speaking about the decision not to offer adoptions, Sister Amala told local media: "The new guidelines hurt our conscience. They are certainly not for religious people like us. ... What if the single parent who we give our baby [to] turns out to be gay or lesbian? What security or moral upbringing will these children get? Our rules only allow married couples to adopt."
A sister at the same home who asked not to be identified said the Catholic missionary society had been thinking "for some time" about shutting down its adoption services in order to "look after special needs children who had not been adopted." She added, "It was a well-thought out discussion."
The controversy comes as the Catholic Church wrestles with modernity and changing social mores. Pope Francis faced criticism over his recent meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who has refused on religious grounds to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. While many saw her defiance as anti-gay bigotry, others called it the courage of a religious conservative.
As for adoption, it is rare in India, fraught with taboos and red tape. The Telegraph newspaper cites a 2011 study estimating that there are 20 million orphans, but less than 0.04 percent of abandoned children were adopted through official agencies.
Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi wants to greatly increase the numbers of children adopted in India. She told a conference on women and children Thursday that the Missionaries of Charity did not want to "come under a uniform secular agenda." However, she added, "We are trying to persuade them, they are good people."