August 20, 2019
By Emily Davies
When she saw him through the window of an Omaha hotel lobby, her eyes welled up with tears. There he was, a man with a silhouette just like her boyfriend’s decades ago. A minute later, Kathleen Chafin hugged her son, Tom Rouse, for the first time in her life.
“It made me alive again,” Chafin recalled in an interview with The Washington Post, crying as she remembered the meeting in August 2015. “He took my hand, held it firmly, and he never let go the whole time. Just seeing him, oh my.”
Chafin had spent decades searching for a son she says she never wanted to give up for adoption. When they finally did meet, her years of despair turned into anger at the Catholic Church and one of its priests, who she alleges manipulated her and then removed her son from a hospital room 50 years ago.
Chafin has filed a federal lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Omaha and the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus, alleging on Wednesday that a Jesuit priest named Thomas Halley forced her to give her son up for adoption. She’s seeking $10 million for damages and relief.
Neither Catholic organization immediately responded to requests for comment late Monday. But when Chafin first raised concerns about the adoption in 2015, an investigation from the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus concluded that Halley operated within the law and that his actions were “born of a desire to avoid scandal and find good homes for babies of unwed mothers,” the Omaha World-Herald reported.
Chafin contends the investigation was fraudulent, and she never received a copy of its findings.
“The process of the investigation was full of the same lies and manipulation I have experienced all my life,” she said. “I was furious.”
Chafin’s allegations aren’t unique. She became pregnant in 1968, during a time some academics call the “Baby Scoop Era.” From post-World War II until the Supreme Court legalized abortion in its 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision, many women were chastised and shunned for having children out of wedlock. Experts estimate more than 1.5 million unmarried women in the United States were forced to give up their babies for adoption during that period, according to Ann Fessler’s 2006 book, “The Girls Who Went Away.” Institutions such as the Catholic Church helped isolate single mothers and pressured them to sign away their children.
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