National Catholic Register


Hot-Button Bishops: Annual meeting took on Homosexuality, contraception

U.S. bishops gathered in Baltimore and took up the hot-button topics of ministry to homosexual Catholics and contraception.


Register Correspondent

November 26-December 2, 2006 Issue | Posted 11/22/06 at 11:00 AM


BALTIMORE — When the country’s bishops gathered in Baltimore for an annual meeting this month they drew almost as much media attention as they did in Dallas in 2002.

But in Dallas it was for a single issue — the sexual abuse of young people by some members of the clergy and the apparent failure of bishops to root it out in the past.

This time, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, meeting Nov. 13-16, took up a multiplicity of issues, including hot-button items dealing with ministry to homosexuals and contraception.

They also issued a statement on the unworthy reception of Communion, but avoided singling out pro-abortion politicians (see story, page 2).

There were protests and press conferences inside and outside of the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel where they met (about the homosexual ministry document, sex abuse and women’s ordination), and even a protest about the hotel they chose (it’s non-union).

In a 26-page document adopted by a 194-37 vote, the bishops declared homosexual sex as “disordered” and sinful. The document — Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care — says any sexual act outside of the bond of marriage does not fulfill the proper ends of human sexuality — “the expression of marital love and the procreation and education of children.”

“These guidelines are intended to assist bishops in evaluating existing or proposed programs and ministerial efforts and to provide direction and guidance for those engaged in this ministry,” the statement says.

Homosexual sex is disordered, the document explains, because “it is not in accord with this twofold end and is thus morally wrong.”

The document distinguishes between “homosexual acts” and “homosexual inclination,” stating “homosexual inclination” is not itself a sin.

“Although one would be morally culpable if one were voluntarily to entertain homosexual temptations or to choose to act on them, simply having the tendency is not a sin,” the document states.

The statement was adopted after debate regarding the word “disordered” and inclusion of two Catholic support groups that promote homosexual abstinence.

The document annoyed both homosexual activists and their critics.

“There has been a blossoming of gay and lesbian ministry in the Church,” Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a 29-year-old organization of homosexual Catholics. “Parishes and dioceses have opened their doors and welcomed them in, and they have come in. This is going to stop all of that. Gays and lesbians will feel very alienated.”

Bishops argued that those offended by the document are in fact offended by the teaching of the Church.

“The language chosen is the language consistent with the Catechism,” said Paterson, N.J., Bishop Arthur Serratelli, chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, which drafted the document. “It’s also consistent with a recent instruction from the [Holy See’s] Congregation on Education. Furthermore, the language is precise.”

Though some homosexuals may perceive the document as unfair, that “perception is not what the language is meant to say,” he said. “Hopefully those who read the document will have the perception dispelled.”

The statement itself says it is important to understand that saying a person has a particular inclination that is disordered is not to say that the person as a whole is disordered.

“While the particular inclination to homosexual acts is disordered, the person retains his or her intrinsic human dignity and value,” the statement says.

A group of six Catholic psychiatrists and psychologist, said that the new document didn’t go far enough in pointing out the medical and psychological aspects of homosexuality.

“The psychological conflicts experienced by those in same-sex attraction relationships lead to subsequent serious anxiety, depressive and substance abuse illnesses and suicidal ideation, and a high incidence of excessive anger and abuse,” said Dr. Rick Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist who has researched homosexuality for the Catholic Medical Association.

Meanwhile, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke argued to amend a section of the document pertaining to homosexual support groups so that it would specifically recommend Courage and Encourage. Courage, which works with people with homosexual inclinations, and Encourage, a support program for their family members, operate on a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous and stress chastity as the framework for life for anyone with homosexual inclinations.

“The committee felt it would be better to stay with a generic statement, and not to mention any particular group,” said Bishop Serratelli, explaining that he agreed Courage and Encourage are excellent examples of appropriate Catholic homosexual support groups.

Bishops settled on a compromise, agreeing to mention Courage and Encourage in a footnote, rather than in the main text, that says: “Examples of such ministries whose principles are in accord with Church teaching are Courage and Encourage.”

The statement adds that “the Church has a right to deny roles of service to those whose behavior violates her teaching. Such service may seem to condone an immoral lifestyle and may even be an occasion of scandal.”

The Church “does not support the adoption of children by same-sex couples,” the statement adds, but it should not refuse baptism to such children if there is “a well-founded hope that the children will be brought up in the Catholic religion.”

Love and Marriage

Bishops also adopted a document restating the Church’s opposition to the use of contraception. Titled Married Love and the Gift of Life, it is written in question-and-answer form and intended for use as a brochure.

Contraception introduces “a false note” that disturbs marital intimacy and contributes to a decline in society’s respect for marriage and for life, says the document.

“It is safe to say that today there is at least a generation of young Catholics who have not received adequate information about the Church’s teaching about contraception,” said a statement of rationale for the document.

“Some argue that if a husband and wife remain open to children throughout their marriage, they need not worry about using contraception occasionally,” the document states. “But practicing what is good most of the time does not justify doing what is wrong some of the time. … When married couples deliberately act to suppress fertility, however, sexual intercourse is no longer fully marital intercourse. It is something less powerful and intimate, something more ‘casual.’”

The document says spouses not granted the gift of children can have a married life that’s filled with love and meaning. It quotes the late John Paul II, who said: “You are no less loved by God; your love for each other is complete and fruitful when it is open to others, to the needs of the apostolate, to the needs of the poor, to the needs of orphans, to the needs of the world.”

Wayne Laugesen filed

this story from Baltimore.

A Busy Meeting

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had a full agenda at their Nov. 13-16 meeting in Baltimore. Here are some of the other actions they took:

Restructuring. Voted in a “more focused, smaller and less costly conference” (see story, page 3).

Abuse research. Released $335,000 of $1 million earmarked in 2005 for research on the causes and contests of sexual abuse by clergy by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which is part of the City University of New York.

Iraq withdrawal. Issued a call for a “responsible transition” in Iraq and offered prayers, support and solidarity to military personnel in Iraq, their families, chaplains and the Iraqi people.

Advent readings. Voted to update the Mass readings for the First Sunday and all the weekdays of Advent. The update marks the first part of a planned revision of the Lectionary for the Mass. The updates require confirmation by the Holy See.

Hymn rules. Voted to establish norms designed to ensure that hymns used at Mass are “doctrinally correct” and based on Scripture and liturgical texts. The new norms will require recognition by the Holy See.

New region. Approved by a unanimous voice vote the creation of a new episcopal region for the Eastern-rite bishops.

New reports. Adopted a resolution on diocesan financial reporting that commits the head of each diocese in the United States to give an annual report to the archbishop of his ecclesiastical province.

New leader. Elected Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

New chairmen. Elected 10 chairmen-elect for current committees. Some of those committees, however, were to be eliminated in 2008 under the conference’s reorganization plan that the bishops approved later in the meeting.

— Wayne Laugesen and CNS