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Catholic Bishops Adopt Guidelines on Gays


At their national meeting now underway in Baltimore, U.S. Catholic bishops extended what they see as an open welcome to gays and lesbians while at the same time condemning homosexual acts and relationships. The bishops' position is contained in a controversial set of guidelines detailing how to minister to gay and lesbian Catholics. Those guidelines were approved yesterday. It was one of several controversial issues the bishops took up, as NPR's Rachel Martin reports.

RACHEL MARTIN: The conference room at the Baltimore Marriott Hotel was a sea of black and white-clad clergy. Close to 300 bishops gathered there to make profound decisions, and they started their day by asking for divine guidance.


(Soundbite of prayer)

Unidentified Man: You instructed man to labor and exercise dominion over the earth.

Unidentified Group of Men: May our work honor you and sanctify our brothers and sisters.

MARTIN: One of the most controversial issues at the national meeting was a paper entitled Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care. Bishop Arthur Serratelli of New Jersey helped write the guidelines.

Bishop ARTHUR SERRATELLI (Catholic Bishop, New Jersey): The tone of the document is positive, pastoral, and welcoming. Its starting point is the intrinsic human dignity of every person, and God's love for every person.


MARTIN: At the same time, the document says that people with homosexual inclinations are, quote, "disordered." However, it's only homosexual acts that are sinful. There is some dissent over that word, disordered, and if and how the guidelines should address the question of therapy for homosexuals. Speaking to the conference, Bishop Robert Francis Vasa of Oregon, suggested delaying the vote.

Bishop ROBERT FRANCIS VASA (Catholic Bishop, Oregon): In my mind there is harm in rushing it and producing a document which could be significantly improved by further consultation. Therefore I move that we remand it back to the committee.

MARTIN: But others, like Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb of Alabama, said the time for the bishops to clarify their position on homosexuality is now.

Archbishop OSCAR LIPSCOMB (Catholic Archbishop, Alabama): It will certainly cause controversy, but so has every manifestation or discussion of this caused controversy. I commend the committee and hope it will be able to proceed with it, correcting it in the future if it seems necessary. But right now, it is timely and it's useful.

MARTIN: The bishops cast their electronic ballots in overwhelming support for the guidelines. Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, a national advocacy group for homosexual Catholics, says the result will push gays and lesbians farther away from the church.

Mr. FRANCIS DEBERNARO (New Ways Ministry): They're going to see it as offensive. They're going to see it as insensitive. They're not going to feel welcomed. I believe the bishops wanted to do some welcoming, but they didn't do it with this document.

MARTIN: The bishops approved two other major policy papers. First, a statement reaffirming the Church's position on contraception. According to the conference of bishops, only four percent of American Catholics are using the natural family planning practices endorsed by the Church. The bishops also issued guidelines on the Holy Eucharist as a reminder that people who aren't living life according to the Church's teachings should not receive communion. Bishops say all three of these policy statements are a call to Catholics to return to the values and teachings that hold the faith together.

Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco says every generation of Catholics needs to be reminded that the road to salvation requires both grace and discipline.

Archbishop GEORGE NIEDERAUER (Catholic Archbishop, San Francisco): Jesus himself has said, that to follow him is to follow a narrow way. It is not easy to live the Christian life, and the difficulties will be different for different people. The Church, yes, does preach a very demanding teaching, but the Church also hangs in with people all their lives long - whatever their temptations are, whatever their difficulties and struggles are.

MARTIN: The U.S. bishops continue their meetings today and tomorrow in closed session.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.