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Catholic Bishops Discuss Treatment of Church Gays


About 200 American bishops are gathering in Baltimore for the annual fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. During this meeting, bishops will vote on guidelines that spell out how to minister to gays and lesbians. Gay rights activists warn the guidelines will only further marginalize homosexuals.

NPR's Rachel Martin reports.


RACHEL MARTIN: The document is called Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care. Father Tom Weinandy heads up the U.S. Bishop's Office of Doctrine and Pastoral Practices and helped put the guidelines together. He says it's an effort to clear up what he sees as the core dilemma of accepting gay Catholics.

Father TOM WEINANDY (U.S. Bishop's Office of Doctrine and Pastoral Practices): The church realizes that certain things are right and certain things are wrong. So on the one hand we want to welcome the men and women within the homosexual community. At the same time, we can't condone the actions that some of them want to engage in.

MARTIN: Weinandy says the document is far from perfect, but it does clarify some key issues, like that adopted children of gay and lesbian couples can be baptized in the church as long as their children will be raised according to Catholic doctrine, and that homosexuals have no moral obligation to seek therapy, which has been thought by the church to change people's sexual orientation.

But for many gay Catholic leaders, the guidelines are a step backwards. Francis DeBernardo is the director of the New Ways Ministry, a national advocacy group for gay Catholics. He explains the dilemma as he sees it.

Mr. FRANCIS DEBERNARDO (Director, New Ways Ministry): There's always been a tension between the church's sexual ethics teaching and the church's social justice tradition, which says that everybody's human dignity must be protected. And when you get into the area of gay ministry, those two great moral traditions come into clash.


MARTIN: Flipping through the 40-odd-page draft of the bishops' document, DeBernardo points out a passage that describes when and where gay Catholics can reveal their sexual orientation.

Mr. DEBERNARDO: It's on page 35, lines 18 to 22, where it says that you could do that privately but that in the context of parish life - and this is a quote - general public announcements are often not helpful and should not be encouraged.

MARTIN: He says that provision will only reinforce the alienation and shame that Catholic homosexuals already feel.

Mr. DEBERNARDO: For many gay and lesbian people, the acknowledgment of their sexuality is a very important spiritual dimension of their lives.

MARTIN: But Father Weinandy of the Bishops Conference says the guidelines encourage gay and lesbian Catholics to treat their sexual orientation as a sin, like anyone else's sin.

Father WEINANDY: A person with this inclination, they're not immoral. You know, it's the acts that are wrong and not the person. Every human being suffers from sinful tendencies because of, from a Christian perspective, our fallen nature. So do they.

MARTIN: Jim Martin is the editor of the Catholic magazine America. He says this may be perceived as an inconsistency to many homosexual Catholics, and it illustrates the battle within the church over the nature, sinfulness and acceptance of homosexuality. But he says the fact that the U.S. Bishops are trying to tackle it in such a comprehensive way deserves praise.

Mr. JIM MARTIN (Associate Editor, America): Jesus was always bringing people in from the margins into the center. And I think that's what the bishops are trying to do here. The difficulty is how do you do that and express Catholic teaching at the same time?

MARTIN: The bishops will have a chance to debate the guidelines today and offer possible amendments. They're scheduled to vote on the document tomorrow.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.