Priest lobbies for children
At the annual Red Mass, a priest urges reform of parental rights
The legal and social standard that says it is best for neglected or abused children to live with their kin should be overturned in favor of placing children with families that want them, said the founder of a program responsible for 170,000 adoptions nationwide.
The Rev. George Clements told a crowd of about 300 people at the annual Red Mass yesterday that "no child deserves to be consigned to a lifetime of languishing year after year in the cold legal system simply because their biological parent refuses to relinquish parental rights."
Gov. Linda Lingle and about 50 other public officials from the federal, state and city governments attended the service at Our Lady of Peace Cathedral. The Red Mass, held here at the opening of the state Legislature, features prayers for God's wisdom and guidance for public officials. The tradition, which began 700 years ago in France, continues in Washington, D.C., and other U.S. cities. It takes its name from the red vestments which are used for a Mass of the Holy Spirit.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Bishop Larry Silva presided yesterday at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace during Red Mass.
Clements, a Chicago priest who founded the One Church-One Child adoption program and adopted four abandoned boys, said the parents who have hurt or abandoned their children "need to be told they are not going to be able to keep doing this, they have already turned their backs on their own flesh and blood.
"I'm begging you to please speed up the legal process of termination of so-called legal parental rights, the rights those biological parents supposedly have over these homeless keiki," Clements said in remarks addressed to judges and others in the legal system. "There are a lot of people out here willing to bring them into their arms and their homes. We need to give those children to someone who has love, so much more important than any kind of so-called biological tie.
"So many children have the State of Hawaii as their legal parents. They are our modern-day orphans. If we turn our backs on these kids, I guarantee you their transition into adulthood very possibly will be to our jails," he said.
After the service, Lingle said change is under way in the state and nation in dealing with parental rights. "People are recognizing in practice it may not always be in the best interest of children. So you see movement to change inside of the state government, and I think you see people across the country taking a look at it." The governor said she would seek a briefing on the adoption issue from Department of Human Services Director Lillian Koller.
"Just as an individual, though, I feel ... why would they put children back with those people who are abusing them?" said Lingle.
The story of Clements, 73, the first Catholic priest in the United States to adopt a child, was told in a made-for-TV movie starring Lou Gossett Jr. It started when his Chicago parishioners failed to rise to the challenge of helping homeless children, he told the crowd yesterday. "I got up and announced, 'Since you refuse, I myself will adopt.'" A month later, 80 families had signed on to adopt, and his One Church-One Child movement was launched. The program now exists in 39 states and has placed 170,000 children in homes, he said.
Among the participants at the Mass were Scott and Peggy Leong, whose three young children, Rachel, Racquel and Kainoa, were adopted. The youngsters carried the communion wafers and wine to Hawaii Catholic Bishop Larry Silva, who presided at the Mass.