Three decades after adoption, DNA test reveals painful truth
For four years after their 2004 meeting, Phil Bloete, left, and Ron Ryba formed a bond based on their belief that they were father and son before a DNA test proved otherwise. (Baltimore Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum / July 14, 2009)
He had come to meet the son he and his high school sweetheart had never dared to look at when they gave him up for adoption nearly three decades earlier. Now, the baby was a grown man. What would he say to him? What would he look like?
For Phil Bloete, too, the 2004 meeting at a Phillies game, was the culmination of a lifelong dream. He was 28, a high school English teacher in New Jersey. He had enjoyed a happy childhood, and was well-loved by his adoptive parents. But he had always wondered about his birth parents.
Mostly, Bloete said, he wanted to know more about his genetic heritage. He and his wife wanted to start a family, and "if there were any inherent risks, I wanted to know about them."
Their meeting was warm, if a bit tentative. "We laughed a little bit, and talked, and hugged," Ryba recalled. And he was astonished at Bloete's appearance.
Bloete is 6 feet 2 inches tall, 240 pounds with dark hair. He's been a swimmer, lifeguard, soccer coach. Ryba played football in high school and college, but he's blond, 5 feet 8 inches tall, and tips the scales at 175.
"I'm thinking to myself ... 'Man, did he get the good genes,'" Ryba said.
As it has turned out, Bloete, Ryba, and Ryba's high school girlfriend, Kathleen Butler, share no genes at all.
More than three decades after Ryba and Butler gave up their baby son to Catholic Charities of Trenton, N.J., for adoption, and four years after the agency facilitated their "reunion" with Bloete, genetic testing revealed last year that none of them are related.
Lisa Thibault, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities of Trenton, acknowledged that the situation is "tragic," and that a "mistake" was made somewhere. But she said the agency has done all it is legally able to do for them.
That has shaken Ryba's lifelong faith in the Catholic Church, or at least in those who lead it. And, it has launched him on a thus-far fruitless quest to find the son he believes Catholic Charities has "lost."
Their story began in 1975.
Ryba was a high school football star. Butler was a cheerleader. They were crazy in love, but when Kathy became pregnant at 16, they knew they were both too young to provide a proper home and a secure future for their child.
So, they agreed to give their baby up to Catholic Charities, which arranged an adoption. They were promised updates on the boy's well-being, and assured the agency would mediate a reunion -- if the boy were willing after he grew to adulthood.
"The solace for me was the fact I would someday reunite, and know that the journey I took was for a good reason," said Ryba.
Catholic Charities' assurances were "a very big reason why I believed that what we were doing was the right thing. I never lost faith in that," he said.
Ryba went on to graduate from high school and earned a degree from Glassboro State College. In 1982, he moved to Maryland to open a sporting goods store in Cockeysville. Now 51, he lives in Timonium with his wife and two children. He owns and operates a business that sells uniforms to the U.S. Department of Defense.
But he has never forgotten the boy he and Butler gave up for adoption. And for three decades, Catholic Charities seemed to have kept its promises to Ryba and Butler.
Their baby was born Nov. 25, 1975, at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden. On Dec. 1, according to documents given to Ryba, the infant was transferred to St. Elizabeth's Home in Yardville, a home for unwed mothers run by Catholic Charities. And on Jan. 7, 1976, Phil -- identified on the state adoption consent papers as "Baby Boy Butler" -- was adopted by Anne and Edward Bloete, of Brielle, N.J.