Bishops issue some guidelines for ministering to gays, lesbians
The guidelines ask the groups to avoid sex.
BALTIMORE -- America's Roman Catholic bishops called on all Catholic couples, gay and straight, to remember church teaching in the bedroom.
At their annual fall meeting this week, the bishops reiterated their opposition to artificial birth control.
At the same time, they issued guidelines for ministering to gay and lesbian parishioners that many churchmen hoped would present a more welcoming face, including urging priests to baptize the children of gay parents.
But the guidelines also emphasized the church's position that homosexuality is "disordered" and called on gays and lesbians to avoid sex.
Though an original draft of the document relieved gay Catholics of the moral duty to seek corrective therapy, the final version encourages counseling and support groups to guide gay Catholics toward a chaste life.
Some gay Catholics found the document's language anything but pastoral, with its prohibition of homosexual activity and failure to include empirical data on the origins of homosexuality and the inefficacy of therapy.
"Gay and lesbian people have a homosexual orientation, not homosexual inclinations," said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based advocacy group for gay Catholics. "If the bishops do not understand this basic reality of sexuality, how can they offer any advice for ministry to real people?"
"Presenting the truth is very welcoming," countered Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., who guided completion of the document. "To be a Catholic is a challenge and to be a Catholic requires a certain choice, and these are choices consistent with the Gospel of Jesus as handed down through the church."
Seeking a balance
Chicago's Cardinal Francis George, vice president of the conference, said the document tried to strike a difficult balance while asking gay Catholics to take on an arduous task of their own.
"Not everyone is going to appreciate it," George said. "Some people are going to feel judged by it. But there's not much we can do about that."
Some bishops argued the guidelines on homosexuality needed more consideration.
"We say its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. ... To simply make that statement without greater nuance leaves us vulnerable to issuing a document that is not yet ready to be released," said Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Ore. "There is no harm in delaying this document, but there is harm in rushing it."
But a majority of bishops disagreed.
"We've had two election cycles now where the question of homosexuality and its place in our civil order, its place in our church, has become very much discussed and not always with the greatest clarity," said Bishop John Nienstedt of New Ulm, Minn. "I think this is the moment."
George agreed that the bishops were responsibly responding to current questions raised by society. For that reason, he said, all of the documents issued by the bishops Tuesday reflect the virtue of chastity.
In a document titled "Married Love and the Gift of Life," the bishops remind Christian spouses of child-bearing age to avoid contraception in favor of natural family planning.
What's the goal?
"The goal is not negative to stop people from doing things," George said. "The goal is positive -- to give themselves entirely to Christ and to do that lovingly. So the goal is to empty yourself of yourself and hold nothing back, including your own fertility, and embrace human life and sacrifice yourself for the sake of something greater."
He acknowledged that gay Catholics called to chastity face a difficult sacrifice. He commended gay Catholics who try to live a life of celibacy.
"They are not only striving to be chaste they are striving to be saints," he said.
Another document approved by the bishops included criteria for parishioners to consider when deciding whether they are worthy for communion.
The issue surfaced during the 2004 presidential campaign when some bishops threatened to deny Communion to Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, a Catholic, because he supports abortion rights. Tuesday's document did not single out politicians.
George said he recognized not all the actions the bishops took Tuesday would be popular.
"The goal is not to find the faith where you're perfectly at home," George said. "Who of us is perfectly at home in the Catholic Church? The goal is to find what God wants us to do."