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CFFC in the News - 2006

religion news service

Catholic Bishops Approve New Guidelines on Ministry to Gays

Daniel Burke

14 November 2006

DATELINE: BALTIMORE

The nation's Catholic bishops approved new statements Tuesday (Nov. 14) on controversial sexual subjects amid a culture that several bishops noted was not always receptive to traditional church teachings.

In taking up homosexuality, contraception and natural family planning at their national conference here this week, the 300 U.S. bishops want to "help people in the church respond to the call of holiness," said Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, N.J.

"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," Serratelli said. The newly approved documents include guidelines for ministry to gays and lesbians as well as a brochure aimed at young married couples that underscores the church's stance against contraception.

Bishops also approved a document asking Catholics who disobey church teachings to refrain from receiving Communion. However, they turned down a measure that would have called on Catholic politicians specifically to refrain from the sacrament if they disagree with church teaching.

"We have a responsibility to help our people understand these teachings that because the culture is hostile are not always easily accessible to them," said Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City.

After a vigorous debate, the bishops approved the guidelines for ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics, 194 to 37. One bishop abstained.

The guidelines condemn anti-gay bigotry while asserting the church's traditional teaching that homosexual acts violate the will of God and natural law. And while the bishops do not approve of sexually active same-sex couples, the guidelines say children of those couples can be baptized in the church if they are being raised as Catholics.

"Ministry to persons with homosexual inclinations is not easy in our society, but it is a responsibility we accept because of the good we have to offer," said Serratelli, who chairs the committee that drew up the guidelines.

Though the guidelines had been in the works since 2002, a number of bishops said more consultation on last-minute changes was needed. A line that said gay Catholics have no "moral obligation" to undergo therapy was deleted after the bishops first saw the guidelines Monday.

The 11th-hour changes left the bishops "vulnerable to issuing a document that is not yet ready to be released," said Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Ore. But Bishop John Nienstedt of New Ulm, Minn., a leading conservative, argued that the guidelines are needed now.

"`I think that this is the moment. We've had two election cycles now where the question of homosexuality and its place in our civil order and its place in our church has become very much discussed, and not always with the greatest clarity," Nienstedt said.

The lay and ordained members of the bishops' National Advisory Council, who meet semiannually to review documents and offer recommendations, were closely divided on the guidelines. While 21 members agreed or strongly agreed with the guidelines, 22 disagreed or strongly disagreed with them, according to a survey presented Monday by Bishop David Zubik of Green Bay, Wis.

Catholic Organizations for Renewal, a coalition of 23 North American Catholic groups, condemned the guidelines as "deeply flawed."

"The proposed guidelines are not at all pastoral but rather harmful because they repeat the same spiritually violent language used over the past 20 years," the groups said in a letter to the bishops. The coalition especially objected to the term "disordered" to describe a homosexual orientation, a phrase that at least two bishops said was "difficult to apply pastorally."

The bishops also approved, by a 201 to 24 margin, a document titled "Happy Are We Who Are Called to His Supper," that asks Catholics who "knowingly and obstinately repudiate" church teaching on moral issues to refrain from receiving Communion.

Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, who had warned former presidential candidate John Kerry that he could not receive Communion in the St. Louis archdiocese because of Kerry's support of abortion rights, wanted the document to include a specific call on Catholic politicians to either obey all the church's teachings or stay away from the sacrament of Communion.

When a Catholic who disobeys church moral teachings is pictured in the media receiving Communion, "it's an affront to the church and to our most sacred truth," Burke said. His amendment was defeated.

Finally, the bishops adopted a document that aims to instill in young married Catholics an opposition to contraceptives. As the bishops' pro-life committee notes, however, that will not be easy: only 4 percent of Catholic married couples of childbearing age use natural family planning.

Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, said the bishops' new documents on homosexuality, contraception and Communion are "harmful to the future of an inclusive church."

"Almost no one is looking to the bishops for guidance on contraception, sexuality and lawmaking," Kissling said, "and if the bishops continue making pronouncements such as those issued this week in Baltimore, they will find themselves increasingly isolated."

This article was originally published via Religion News Service on 14 November 2006.