Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor has expressed his disappointment at the decision by the Prime Minister not to grant an exemption from anti-discrimination legislation for Roman Catholic adoption agencies.

The Cardinal, who is the head of the church in England and Wales, adopted a conciliatory tone in his comments, in contrast to his assertion last week that agencies would close rather than consider gay or lesbian couples as adoptive parents.

“We are, of course, deeply disappointed that no exemption will be granted to our agencies on the grounds of widely held religious conviction and conscience,” he said.

“We look to the forthcoming Parliamentary debate to address some of the fundamental issues centred on the well-being of the child, whose needs must always be put first.”

The Sexual Orientation Regulations will be laid before Parliament next month are should become law by April.

The Roman Catholic adoption agencies have been given until the end of 2008 to adjust to the new rules, which outlaw discrimination against gay, bisexual and lesbian people when they access goods or services, including adoption services.

Fr Martin Reynolds, an Anglican priest who along with his civil partner has fostered a child with learning disabilities for 15 years, told PinkNews.co.uk that he was happy that the government had not granted the Roman Catholic church’s calls for an exemption from the regulations.

Speaking on behalf of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, he said:

“The LGCM has always believed that the only rights involved in this have been those of the children to a safe and loving home.

“We deeply regret the intransigence of the Vatican that has led to this crisis.

“The Prime Minister’s decision gives nearly two years to ensure these vulnerable children do not lose the outstanding skills of those working with Catholic agencies.”

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said that the Prime Minister had listened to the church’s concerns with regard to adoption, and welcomed the adjustment period for all adoption agencies that Mr Blair announced this afternoon.

“This debate has raised crucial issues for the common good of our society. We believe there is an urgent task to reach a new consensus on how best the public role of religious organisations can be safeguarded and their rights upheld.”