Sunday, August 25, 2019

Woman who says priest forced her to give up her child files federal suit to help others

"You have to think of your daughter as dead," a priest told a friend of mine whose daughter was adopted through a Catholic agency. Chilling words if ever was told to a natural mother upon relinquishing a child.

I was reminded of this the other day when I read a story in The Washington Post about a woman who sued the Archdiocese of Omaha and the Wisconsin province of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuit order) for forcing her, as a teenager, to lose her son to adoption. In this case, the word "lose" is called for, as numerous influences operating with a jaded idea of what's right forced her to accept a adoption she never wanted.

While Kathleen, 18, and her boyfriend at at Saint Louis University (a Catholic school) were already talking about marriage, the nurse she had initially confided in began talking about adoption as if it were a done deal. The nurse called her mother, and soon Kathleen was on her way home. Father Thomas Halley was sitting in her parents' living room when she returned home to Omaha. It was the late Sixties, and the "Swinging Sixties" certainly were not happening in Omaha or St. Louis.

The title says it all:
The Baby Scoop Era
Father Halley told her she had committed a mortal sin, which is easily forgiven by the Catholic sacrament of confession. Instead of confession and compassion, he made her feel like dirt: "I have his words etched in my brain," said Kathleen today. "He made me sound like a slut, like a streetwalker, like the worst person in the world."

Father Halley--all with her parents' approval--convinced her to move in with a Catholic family during the pregnancy. At one of her last checkups, she learned that she was supposed to sign the termination-of-parental rights papers immediately after giving birth. She called Halley for help, but he now convinced her that she couldn't give the baby what a good Catholic family could. We who have lived adoption have heard some version of this ourselves, and so further commentary is not necessary--though I found my blood hitting simmer as I read this story.

In October of 1968, Kathleen awoke in a pool of blood, and was dropped off at the hospital by the good people she lived with. She has no memory of the birth--she was probably put under anesthesia immediately--and awoke with her arms and ankles tied down. And there was Father Halley, the authoritative representative of the Catholic Church she grew up in. Boldly, she grabbed her arm and said she wanted to see her baby. Instead, he left and took her child with him.

Kathleen Chafin spent years of her life searching for him and battling severe depression. In 2015, her son saw an ad she had placed on an adoption website and reached out. They reunited soon after. He says his growing up was not unhappy. In other words: a good adoption.

After writing to Church officials, Kathleen received a letter stating that after interviews with her and 16 others, "Ms. Chafin was subjected to great pressure by her circumstances and her parents," and that Halley "acted from a good faith desire to alleviate that pressure by helping her find a good home for her baby," according to a copy of the letter made available to the WP reporter, Emily Davies.

While Kathleen's suit for engaging in “adoption conspiracy” was dismissed by the local and state courts in Nebraska where she filed suit for being long past the statute of limitations, she has taken her case to the federal court. She hopes in doing so to advocate for other women who were pressured into giving up their children by Church officials in a similar fashion. Father Thomas Halley will not have to account for his actions in this world, for he is dead.

I was raised a Catholic, but one of the things that I have always been grateful for is that I did not end up with a Catholic adoption agency when I relinquished my daughter in 1966. Oddly enough, I don't think Rochester, NY had one then. Or if it did, I didn't know about it.

The attitude expressed in the letter that Kathleen received from the Church hierarchy and their lawyers says so much about the CYA spin the Church has put on its involvement in forced adoptions, not only here but especially in Ireland, where the infamous Magdalene (even the name screams whore!) laundries destroyed women's lives and many of their children's.

The same attitude prevails in the Catholic Church's opposition to unsealing the birth records of adoptees in various states. When New Jersey finally opened its birth records with a birth-mother-veto in place if registered by a certain date, Catholic Council of Bishops went out of its way to make sure it was publicized as if they were sure that many women must want to stay anonymous from their offspring. (The number who finally did apply for a veto was around 550.) The overall percentage of mothers who ask for a veto or "no contact," according to the study by the American Adoption Congress, is less than two percent.

What has always gone unsaid is that surely a good number of priests from the era of the great sexual abuse scandals in the church must have fathered many children who were put up for adoption. 

The Church of course does not shoulder all the blame. Kathleen's parents reflected so much about the era, and not just in Catholic homes. The shame of the entire family suffered, and the enormous pressure to relinquish one's child is hard to imagine today, but it was pervasive and unrelenting, and many of us were caught in its web.

As for my friend who was told that she must think of her daughter as dead? Shortly after I found my daughter by using the anonymous "Searcher," she used the same route and located her daughter in Pennsylvania. My friend and her daughter, who looks so much like her, reunited soon after. On adoption, the Catholic Church has much to atone for. --lorraine
‘I want to see my baby’: A priest forced her to give up her child 50 years ago, a woman says

The Baby Scoop Era: Unwed Mothers, Infant Adoption and Forced Surrender
By Karen Wilson-Butterbaugh
July 11, 2017
Finally, an author tells the heinous truth about coerced (forced) adoptions during the Baby Scoop Era. Unwed mothers were ostracized, dehumanized by society, punished severely, and left with no other options but to surrender. If the acts of cruelty and illegalities that occurred during the Baby Scoop Era happened in this day and age, it would make front page news...These girls did not so much has even have a lawyer present before they were forced to relinquish their much wanted child to mere strangers....The damage that happened to those in the past can never be reversed. It is a lifelong sentence without parole. A must read for all!

Are You My Mommy? The Search For My Birth Mother (Tales of Adoption Book 2)
By Janet Louise Stephenson
This is a story where you will read....and see why it is important to forgive.
I can't imagine how hard it is to grow up with so many unanswered questions.


  1. The statute of limitations should be extended in coercive adoption cases just as it has been in sexual abuse cases.

  2. And a class action against the worst of the worse adoption agencies and practitioners would be a blessing.

  3. I have many thoughts about this: I consider what was done to me when I was an 11 year old pregnant abuse victim to BE sexual abuse and I have considered contacting an attorney. I read the article in the Washington Post. Certainly what was done to some of us was at the very least emotional abuse, in my case, involving restraint and sadistic "penance." The Church ( and churches) behind coercing mothers and mothers' families into giving their own family members away need to acknowledge the harm they've done. Finally, Lorraine commented that about Catholic adoption agencies in Rochester. Just after I awakened from "twilight sleep," I was told in 1965 that my baby was "dead," "dead to me," "with another family" (true) and "in Rochester.
    I know of a college aged mother from the mid-1960's whose adoption was handled by Catholic Charities in Rochester. I don't know how this non-Catholic woman came to be connected with Catholic Charities in Rochester, but she found them to be very helpful and kind. When I started my search, I was told by Catholic Charities in Syracuse that local adoptions were handled by Catholic Charities in Rochester. Also, the Syracuse Catholic Charities made a point of telling me that they had no affiliation with the "Magdalene" program in the House of Providence, which is the orphanage in Syracuse which is now repurposed as Catholic Charities local headquarters. I was severely abused in the House of Providence.

  4. I wonder if Child Services (state) could be held responsible... sued by those of us who were foster children and who simply weren't allowed our parental rights in the first place.

  5. Amen! I was subject to Catholic "good will" and will forever be grieving. I don't see any good resolution, even in reunion. It creates such emotional chaos for many adoptees that they are unable to reconcile the dissonance.



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