Small Truths

The directors of the Joint Council on International Children's Services challenge E.J. Graff's contention that the international orphan crisis is a myth.

E.J. Graff ("The Lie We Love," November/December 2008) rightly argues that international adoption should serve the best interests of children rather than the needs of potential adoptive parents. But she misses the larger picture by arguing that the world orphan crisis has been invented to meet the "demand" of wealthy Westerners.

Graff falsely asserts that children are manufactured because potential adoptive parents are unwilling to adopt older or special needs children. This statement fails to account for the thousands of special needs adoptions completed each year, including nearly half the children adopted from China.

Additionally, studies of Romanian children in institutions and long-term foster care show that many physical and developmental delays emerge after a child has lived in an institutionalized setting. Based on Graff's thesis, these formerly young, healthy children would have been adopted immediately as "prime candidates" before these conditions could develop.

Although it is true that intercountry adoptions into the United States increased earlier this decade, Graff conveniently does not report that international adoptions are down nearly 24 percent in the past four years. This decline does not reveal the absence of need; rather, it reflects an increase in regulation and, in some cases, overzealous implementation that spurred countries to halt intercountry adoption altogether.

No credible professional who serves children would argue that adoption should be easy, but that does not mean we should shut the door to a viable option for finding children a safe, permanent, and loving family. No child in need should ever be labeled a myth.

  -- Thomas Difilipo & Joelle Ruben
CEO and Director of Education & Research
Joint Council on International Children's Services
Alexandria, Va.

E.J. Graff replies:

Thomas DiFilipo and Joelle Ruben distort my findings. Yes, there is a world orphan crisis. It has two parts. First, millions of families need assistance and support to care for their children. Second, hundreds of thousands of abandoned or fully orphaned children -- ones who are mostly older and have special needs -- need homes. I have enormous admiration for organizations and adoptive parents trying to repair, support, or help these families and children.

The myth is that the world orphan crisis involves healthy babies. Outside China, that is rarely the case. Children generally find their way into institutions when they are older or after a crisis, but Westerners mostly seek to adopt healthy children 3 and under.

Of course, no one manufactures children, as DiFilipo and Ruben state. What's manufactured is their "orphan" status. Western adoption agencies pour disproportionately large sums into poor, corrupt countries -- with few questions asked -- in search of such healthy adoptable children. That money induces some people to take children away from their families.

Yes, international adoption is declining. Apparently, that's because China (the largest source for international adoptions) is allowing fewer of its children to be adopted internationally, and the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption -- though far from perfect -- appears to be successfully curbing some of the corruption.

As the myth is debunked and regulatory oversight improves, fewer Western families may be able to adopt foreign children. But at least those who do can be more confident that their children were not bought or stolen.


Speaking The Gospel

Stephen Colecchi of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is inspired by John Allen's "Think Again: Catholic Church" to call for a new partnership between the church and state.

John Allen ("Think Again: The Catholic Church," November/December 2008) makes a number of provocative arguments in addressing popular myths about Catholicism. Three of his observations, in particular, warrant more attention from international policymakers.

First, that far from "shrinking," the Catholic Church is actually in a period of enormous growth, particularly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Second, the "official positions of the church" are not simply "conservative"; the church consistently defends human life and dignity. Third, the church serves poor people throughout the developing world through its "vast network of schools, hospitals, and social service centers."

What lesson should foreign-policy practitioners and policymakers draw from these observations? They should view the Catholic Church as a potential ally and resource. Catholic social teaching provides a moral framework for addressing the toughest global challenges, and the on-the-ground experience of the church can contribute to finding policies that work more effectively.

The recent reauthorization of the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is a good example. The church worked on a bipartisan effort to expand the plan’s funding and expand its reach through a "conscience clause" that permits religious institutions to participate in HIV/ AIDS prevention, care, and treatment without violating their moral principles. The church also supported provisions that promote monogamy and other behaviors that research shows are highly effective in reducing HIV infection rates.

Hopefully, world leaders will see past the caricature and view the Catholic Church as a powerful ally in building a world of greater justice and peace.

-- Stephen M. Colecchi
Director of the Office
of International Justice and Peace
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Washington, D.C.

John Allen replies:

Stephen Colecchi is part of a remarkable brain trust at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops working to bring the Catholic Church’s teaching and human capital to bear on pressing social issues in ways that defy conventional partisan ideology. I can only say "amen" to his hope that international policymakers will pay greater heed.

Of course, the "caricature" of the church to which Colecchi refers is not entirely the fault of secular commentators. On a wide range of issues, the church itself has not always been effective in communicating its desire for "a world of greater justice and peace" or in mobilizing its resources to achieve it.

As Pope Benedict XVI has said, too often the world knows what the church is against, but not what it's for. This challenge will become steeper in the United States under the Barack Obama administration, as differences between church and state over "life issues," especially abortion, may complicate the effort to find common ground in other areas. Both sides will need to look beyond caricatures, and one hopes that talented Catholic professionals such as Colecchi will lead the way -- not just in calling upon politicians to think in new ways, but Catholics, too.