Religion, Reunion, and Christian Adoption
Although Paton did not subscribe to the New York Times, she kept up with its contents from correspondents, who frequently forwarded her pertinent stories concerning adoption and unmarried mothers. One clipping that was sent to her in October 1959 discussed the New York State adoption law, which required that a prospective adoptive couple profess a religion in order to adopt a child. Otherwise they, along with atheists and agnostics, would be turned down. The unintended consequence of the law, which was leading to conflict between the Roman Catholic hierarchy on the one hand and Jewish adoptive parent groups on the other, was that, when practical, a child would be placed only with persons of the same religion as the birth parents. The strict observance by Catholic welfare leaders of preserving the status quo resulted in childless Jewish parents being deprived of a chance to adopt a child because few Jewish women gave birth to children out of wedlock, and no agency would place a baby in a home of another religion.
Paton was moved to respond this story. She wrote to the editor of the New York Times, noting that in the course of her research with adult adoptees she had discovered that the religious issue was indeed present, but not in the manner in which Catholics and Jews were presently fighting over. She then succinctly expressed the concept of a Christian adoption and the problem it was designed to solve into a single sentence: “It has seemed to me that the religious aspect of adoption is in the fact of forgiveness and the grace of God, as these make possible relief from the otherwise impossible burdens of illegitimacy and prohibition of contact between natural parents and adopted children.” Recognizing the denseness of the sentence, Paton “translated” it into a suggestion, which she believed might alleviate the prospective destructive battle that was brewing. She suggested that if “the extreme barrier” between the birth parents and the child was withdrawn and if from the very beginning of the adoption, knowledge of the birth parents, including their religion, was shared with the child, the entire focus of the debate could shift. But as long as society allowed the eradication of the adopted child’s background information, Paton predicted, “we foment confusion and conflict on the religious issue.” Again, she felt a need to explain herself in order not to be misunderstood. Paton did not deny that there existed a conflict between the various faiths. But she wanted it understood that she believed that “Christianity is the only religion which gives heart and hope to the unwed mother. I think this is what makes Christian adoption more favorable than any other adoption.” Paton confessed ignorance when it came to deciding whether Catholicism or Protestantism was more Christian. She had talked to adult adoptees of both faiths and found that their problems did not differ. She closed the letter with what sounded very much like a homily: “let it be hoped that the opening of this horrid war of religion, over the little babies out of bastardy, can bring finally to fruit an attitude of forgiveness, can encourage us to let the grace of God take effect in this, as perhaps in other matters, too.”