Thursday, May 28, 2009

Testimony - NJ State Legislature 1994

New Jersey State Legislature Committee
Testimony regarding proposed legislation S560
October 12, 1994
Thomas F. Brosnan

My name is Thomas F. Brosnan. I am a Roman Catholic Priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn. I am currently Coordinator of the Korean Apostolate for the Diocese of Brooklyn and Administrator of St. Augustine Yu Chin-gil Korean Catholic Center in Brooklyn. I am an adopted person, having been relinquished by my mother soon after birth and, after six months in a foster home, adopted through the Catholic Home Bureau of the Archdiocese of NY. I come here today to join my voice with other adopted persons, birth parents and adoptive parents who believe that sealed records in adoption constitute a grave injustice to all members of the triad, but especially to the adopted person who is forbidden to know his name and the names of his mother and father. I now voice my support for S560 as written, and to urge the New Jersey legislature to pass S560.

I was deeply saddened upon hearing the testimony of the New Jersey Catholic Conference which so adamantly opposes this bill. I believe that the NJ Catholic Conference however is not so different in its point of view from many other individuals; thus permit me to respond to a few points made by the NJ Catholic Conference, which represents the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey.

By its own testimony the NJ Catholic Conference admits that adopted persons have rights and that the Bishops feel compassion toward those adopted persons seeking reunion with their birth mothers. Yet the Bishops say they must firmly defend the promise of confidentiality given to birth mothers at the time of relinquishment. This right of privacy, the right of a mother to remain unknown to her own child, the Bishops say, "is a fundamental right to be preserved in law." So convinced are they of this that, despite what the Conference has testified as an understandable and obvious desire on the part of the adopted person to know the woman who gave him birth, they must insist that the state seal that person's identity because if he were to know his name some terrible damage might be done.

The Bishops of New Jersey hold fast to this position despite the fact that in 1987 the Catholic Church through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a document entitled Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and the Dignity of Procreation: Replies to Certain Questions of the Day (The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is an instrument of the teaching authority of the Catholic Church; the NJ Catholic Conference is not).

The document states that " is through the secure and recognized relationship to his own parents that the child can discover his own identity and achieve his own proper human development." And further, "that depriv(ation) of the filial relationship with his parental origins ...can hinder the maturing of (the child's) personal identity."1

The Bishops of New Jersey, by their own testimony, admit that the adopted person has a right to know who he is, but should be forbidden that crucial knowledge because of the negative consequences which might result. In fact, by its own testimony the NJ Catholic Conference admitted effecting certain acts which would, they thought, guarantee anonymity. This is evidenced in the procedure of issuing Baptismal Certificates which clearly state that the adopted person was born to his adoptive parents. In some cases, in order to avoid those negative consequences they perceive will ensue, the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey permit certificates to be issued on which the very name given at Baptism is completely changed, thus undermining the very essence of the meaning of Baptism which is the naming of the human person before God. Or, in the case of some adopted persons, issuing two certificates with two different dates, leading people to believe they were baptized twice, a practice strictly forbidden by the very church the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey are supposed to represent.

Was I the only person shocked to have heard the testimony of the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey who publicly testified that women were knowingly admitted into Catholic maternity homes under assumed names. Will the Bishops find it necessary at some future date to defend the same practice now employed by sperm banks across this country? Was I the only person dismayed by the public testimony of the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey who refer to the birth of a child as a dark secret. Is this how the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey respect life, by so adamantly defending a mother's right to privacy from her own child, that they will spend the church's time and money to ensure that that secret is kept from the woman's spouse, from her relinquished child's brothers and sisters; keeping from the adopted person his genetic heritage and social inheritance? Would the Bishops of New Jersey condone such duplicity in other areas of life? Do they think it is morally justified or psychologically wise for a woman to keep such a secret and further, that it should be "preserved in law". Make no mistake the weight of that secret falls not on the Bishops' shoulders, but on the shoulders, and on the head, and in the heart, and in the very womb of the woman asked to forget that she has given birth. Am I the only one in shock at such testimony by those so sworn to respect life?

The Bishops testify that they fully understand the adopted person's need to know his identity, but mutual consent must first be given. Indeed, the representative of the Conference shared as proof of that concern, his good feeling not only at placing children in adoptive homes, but of reuniting them later with birth mothers. I would have liked to have asked what happens to those adoptees who wish a reunion, but whose birth mothers do not. Is it then that the NJ Catholic Conference offers the therapy alluded to in its testimony? And if so, is that not a tacit acknowledgement of the damage done the adopted person who is forbidden his name?

Michael Novak, founder of the conservative Catholic journal Crisis, sums up what St. Thomas Aquinas said was the essence of the human being: "For Aquinas, the most decisive human trait is that human beings are truth-seeking animals, moved by love for the truth come what inherent is this drive in human nature it is an imperative ...To address a human being in any lesser mode is to do his nature violence."2

The Bishops oppose the bill, they say, because damage might be done to the parties involved; yet, when the person, damaged because his identity is withheld from him, stands before them, damaged because of the policy they themselves support, they work strenuously against his best interests. But, the Bishops say, to uphold the adopted person's right to know his identity might cause negative consequences, and so the fundamental right to one's name should be denied by law.

The Bishops of New Jersey hold fast to this position that the right of the adopted person to know his name must be denied if perceived negative consequences might ensue. Thus, falsification of documents, assumed names, dark secrets, lies, are all condoned to accomplish this end. All this despite the fact that Pope John Paul II in his most recent encyclical, The Splendor of Truth, teaches that we cannot do evil acts to achieve good ends, no matter how desirable we perceive those ends to be. When I listen to the testimony of the NJ Catholic Conference I hear that old adage in the back of my mind: "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." I submit that in opposing this bill the NJ Catholic Conference contradicts the very teaching of the church it purports to represent; thus, it exceeds its competent authority and its testimony as regards this bill should be judged duplicitous and specious.

Opponents of this bill argue that a balance of rights should be guaranteed. But rights can only be balanced when they have the same weight. I submit that a human being's right to his name, to his identity, weighs far more in importance than the right of a woman to privacy from her own child. I submit that the right to know one's name is an inalienable right. And so the question is not what good or bad consequences might result from the passage of this bill; but rather, whether the premise of this bill is just and in accord with the spirit of freedom and the philosophy of rights enshrined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Thank God Abraham Lincoln did not base his decision to emancipate the slaves on what negative consequence might result. Thank God that the desegregation of the south through civil rights legislation was not abandoned out of fear of what negative consequences might result. I submit to you today that your deliberation regarding this bill carries, for adopted persons, the same weight; for by your vote of either yes or no, you will establish or deny the right of every human being in New Jersey to know his own name. This right to identity is inalienable; I plead with you not to succumb to those who fear the consequences that may or may not occur; but to search your conscience and ask this basic question: does a human being have the right to know his name or not? Does every person have the right to know his unique identity and heritage or not? Make no mistake - this is the issue.

John Courtney Murray, a Jesuit priest and theologian, recognized to have been one of the great American Catholic theologians had this to say about the loss of identity:

"Self-understanding is the necessary condition of a sense of self-identity and self-confidence, whether in the case of an individual or in the case of a people...the peril is great. (t)he complete loss of one's identity is, with all propriety of theological definition, hell. In diminished forms it is insanity."3

A priest friend of mine once told me of a visit he made to a home for emotionally troubled young adults. He entered and heard a young man singing Danny Boy. The boy had his back to the door and as the priest listened he was moved to tears by the young man's singing. When he had finished, the priest walked over to tell him how much he appreciated the young man's rendition. The priest touched his shoulder and the young man quickly turned, revealing an Asian face. The priest instinctively laughed. "I'm sorry," he said, "I thought you were Irish." The young man's eyes filled and he replied in anger: "I am Irish, my name's John Sullivan." 4

Irish names with Asian faces are perhaps obviously incongruent to most of us, for we can quickly surmise the adopted situation. It is not so obvious to those of us adopted into same race families and sealed records. Adoption can become an extension of the dark secret - as if it were contagious. The lie told to avoid the shame of unwanted pregnancy becomes the lie of many adoptive parents so desperate to forget the pain of infertility, becomes the lie preserved in the falsified documents ostensibly manufactured to protect the child from the stigma of illegitimacy. I am illegitimate. When I was ordained a priest I needed a special dispensation, because bastards were not free to seek ordination in the Catholic Church. Today I do not seek or want the sympathy or protection of either state or church regarding this fact of my existence. In fact, I gladly embrace it, for it is infinitely better to know the truth than to live a lie. To deny me my inalienable right to know my name is to deny me my unique identity. I would rather be the bastard who knows his name, than the slave who does not.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Lost identity is, with all propriety of theological definition, hell. I urge this committee to pass S560 as written. I urge you to stand on principle, so that the fundamental right to know one's name will be established for all citizens of this state, and no lobby, whether religious or civil, will have the power to alter this current of freedom which seeks to wash away this last vestige of slavery in America.


1. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. "Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and the Dignity of Procreation: Replies to Certain Questions of the Day" in '...And the Truth Will Make You Free' Series.
San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1982.

2. Michael Novak. "Thomas Aquinas, The First Whig" in Crisis. 10/1990.

3. George Weigel. "The Achievement of John Courtney Murray" in Crisis. 11/1985.

4. The young man's name has been changed.

No comments:

Post a Comment