Thursday, October 19, 2006

Catholic bishops attempt to define church's gay stance

Proposal may condemn `hatred' but reject unions

The Boston Globe reported today that:

October 19, 2006

The Catholic bishops of the United States, faced with ongoing controversy over the church's posture toward homosexuality, next month will vote on a proposal that would condemn ``scorn and hatred" of gays and lesbians but would also declare that gay couples should not be allowed to marry or adopt children, that baptizing the children of same-sex couples presents ``a pastoral concern," and that the church has the right to deny ``roles of service" to gays and lesbians who are not celibate.

The proposal, which is to be voted on in Baltimore at the next semi annual meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, is sure to ratchet up the debate over gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church, which teaches that men and women who are attracted to people of the same sex should be celibate, as should unmarried heterosexuals. In recent years, the Catholic Church, in Rome and in Boston, has been outspoken in its opposition to same-sex marriage, and, in the wake of widespread presumptions that there is a disproportionately high number of gay men in the Catholic priesthood, the Vatican has undertaken a review of American seminaries that asks students and teachers about the presence of gay men.

The proposed guidelines for ministering to gays and lesbians declare that ``more than a few persons with a homosexual inclination feel themselves to be unwelcome and rejected" in the Catholic Church and says that ``full and active participation is encouraged," as is ``an ongoing personal conversion." But, the document says, ``the church has a right to deny roles of service to those whose behavior violates her teaching."

``It is not sufficient for those involved in this ministry to adopt a position of distant neutrality with regard to church teaching."

The document says homosexual acts are ``always sinful" and ``morally wrong," and reiterates the church's opposition to same-sex marriage, which is legal in Massachusetts.

``The church does not support the adoption of children by homosexual couples since homosexual unions are contrary to the divine plan," the document says. ``For this reason, baptism of children adopted by such couples presents a pastoral concern. Nevertheless, the church does not refuse the sacrament of baptism to these children, but there must be a well-founded hope that the children will be brought up in the Catholic religion."

The document is intended to guide bishops in assessing ministries to gays and lesbians. Those outreach programs, which are present in multiple parishes and dioceses, are often the target of criticism by conservatives. In 1999, Pope John Paul II barred a US priest, the Rev. Robert Nugent , and nun, Sister Jeannine Gramick , from ``any pastoral work involving homosexual persons," declaring that they had refused to communicate the church's teaching about ``the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and the objective disorder of the homosexual inclination."

Initial reaction was mixed yesterday. Two Boston coordinators of Catholic outreach to gays and lesbians highlighted what they viewed as positive elements of the document.

``Anything that puts the fundamental dignity of lesbian and gay persons into the forefront of the church's ministry is welcome, particularly the document's statement that all violence against them, subtle or overt, is to be condemned," said Brian P. Flanagan, coordinator of the LGBT and Friends Group at the Paulist Center. And Jackie Stewart , director of evangelization at the St. Anthony Shrine, said, ``What is more explicit here is a generosity of welcome to our homosexually inclined sisters and brothers into the faith community and injunction against injustice towards them, especially on the part of church ministers."

But gay rights advocates nationally were more critical. Harry Knox , the director of the religion and faith program at the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy organization, said, ``it's dangerous and immoral for the church to make the kinds of statements that they are thinking about making." And Sam Sinnett , the president of Dignity USA, an organization of gay Catholics, said the document ``will be discussed entirely by celibate males, and their viewpoint is more concerned with keeping their jobs than being pastoral leaders."


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