Planned Documents Take on Hot-Button Topics: Gays, Birth Control, Communion Rules Up for Discussion at Bishops' Meeting

Article excerpt

Gay Catholics should generally not discuss their sexual preference with fellow parishioners. That's among -the recommendations included in proposed guidelines on "Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclinations," which the U.S. bishops will consider at their Nov. 13-16 meeting.

"For some persons, revealing their homosexual tendencies to certain close friends, family members, a spiritual director, confessor, or members of a church support group may provide some spiritual and emotional help and aid them in their growth in the Christian life," says the draft document. "In the context of parish life, however, general public announcements are not helpful and should not be encouraged," say the proposed guidelines.

The 24-page draft of the bishops' doctrine committee is one of several hot-button topics the bishops will consider at their three-day meeting in Baltimore. Also up for discussion is a statement--"Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper: On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist"--that is sure to revisit the Communion battles of 2004, where a handful of bishops said pro-choice Catholics like then-presidential candidate John Kerry should be barred from the sacrament.

Other items on the agenda include a brochure reiterating church condemnation of artificial contraception and support for natural family planning, and "norms" for liturgical music that would require individual bishops to approve hymns to be sung at Masses in their dioceses.

The document on ministry to gay Catholics, which was widely available though not formally released by the bishops' conference, is already drawing fire from some activists.

"When you tell people to hide their sexuality, as they t do, you ignore the strong correlation between repression of sexuality and aberrant sexual behavior," said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which describes itself as "a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian and gay Catholics."

Further, said DeBernardo, the proposed guidelines represent a step backward from previous bishops' statements related to gay Catholics, such as "Always Our Children," a statement directed to the parents of gay Catholics that the bishops approved nearly a decade ago.

By using the word "inclination" instead of "orientation," said DeBernardo, "the bishops don't recognize what the scientific community and most of the rest of the world have come to acknowledge: that there are people who are constitutionally homo sexual, meaning that very essence in their being is to be attracted to people of the same sex."

Meanwhile, conservatives do not appear to be entirely happy with the thrust of the document. "I'm hoping that there will be changes to this report," said Fr. John Harvey, founder of Courage, a group that promotes chastity and traditional church teaching related to gay Catholics. Harvey declined to elaborate, saying he was bound by confidentiality because he reviewed the document and provided input to a bishop who will be voting on the proposal.

The guidelines:

* Describe a "homosexual inclination" as "objectively disordered" but note that "it is crucially 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." The document states that "any desire for sexual pleasure that is not subordinated to the greater goods of love and marriage is disordered."

* State that "homosexual acts are always sinful" but that homosexual inclinations "not subject to one's free will" are not.

* Note that there "is no obligation to attempt" therapy that seeks to alter the "homosexual inclination."

Specifically, the proposed guidelines call for gays to have a "full and active participation" in church life, though the church "has a right to deny roles of service to those whose behavior violates her teaching. …