- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2009

A Virginia man who is HIV-positive is suing Catholic Charities USA and its local affiliate, claiming he and his wife were denied the opportunity to adopt a baby with Down syndrome because he has the virus.

A church official said Catholic Charities does not discriminate against people with HIV - the virus that causes AIDS - and that the organization hopes to settle the lawsuit soon.

The man and his wife, who live in Stafford County, filed the lawsuit this week in federal court under the Americans With Disabilities Act. The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, was filed anonymously to protect the couple’s privacy.

According to the complaint, the man and his wife have three biological children, including one with Down syndrome. They wanted to adopt a baby with Down syndrome in part because of the positive experience they’d had with their own child.

The couple was cleared to adopt through United Methodist Family Services, which found the couple would “provide a loving and stable home for any child” and determined that both husband and wife were in good physical health.

In April 2008, the Methodist social worker learned of a 4-month-old baby with Down syndrome that was eligible for placement through Catholic Charities.

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs were the only couple that had applied to adopt the baby, but their application was rejected. The husband’s HIV status was the stated reason for rejecting the application, according to the lawsuit.

But Mark Herrmann, chancellor for the Arlington Diocese, said the church and Catholic Charities, which functions as a separate corporate entity but remains under the control of Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde, do not discriminate against people based on HIV status.

Mr. Herrmann said the adoption was denied in part because the birth family had concerns that caring for two children with Down syndrome would be overwhelming.

He said there was a miscommunication that apparently led to the couple’s belief they were being discriminated against.

Catholic Charities does have a policy requiring all potential adoptive parents to have good physical and mental health and a normal life expectancy. Mr. Herrmann said that policy would not automatically disqualify people who are HIV positive because of the advances made in treating the virus.

The lawsuit states that the man does not have any symptoms of AIDS.

Bebe Anderson, HIV project director at Lambda Legal, which defends the civil rights of gays, lesbians and people with HIV, said a person’s HIV status qualifies for protection under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

She said Catholic Charities cannot assume that a person with HIV won’t have a normal life expectancy.

Denise St. Clair, executive director of the national center for Adoption Law and Policy at Capital University School of Law in Columbus, Ohio, agreed that a blanket policy barring people with HIV from adopting would be unlikely to withstand a legal challenge.

But adoption cases are complex, and a variety of factors can be considered in determining the best interests of a child, she said.

“Adoption is a very individualized process,” Miss St. Clair said.

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