.- Spokesmen for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced yesterday the bishops’ intention to approve new guidelines for the pastoral care of persons with homosexual inclinations during their fall meeting in Baltimore. A member of the committee who drafted the document told CNA that the document will a be an overwhelmingly positive tool for ministering to a group of Catholics who may feel unwelcome in the Church.
The bishops, who will meet November 13-16th, hope to vote in approval of the guidelines which have been in the works since the fall of 2002.
According to a press release from the USCCB the new guidelines say that support and leadership from the bishops and clergy is essential and much needed now, “because more than a few persons with a homosexual inclination feel themselves to be unwelcome and rejected.”
“As baptized members of the Catholic community, persons with a homosexual inclination continue to look to the Church for a place where they might live in authentic human integrity and holiness of life,” the guidelines say. “Being welcomed into and participating in their local faith community is the foundation of spiritual support that the Church offers to them. Full and active participation is encouraged. Participation in a worshipping Catholic community can be a support for living a life of integrity and an encouragement to an ongoing personal conversion.”
The document, “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care” was prepared by the bishops’ Committee on Doctrine in response to questions which were raised about the suitability of these ministries in some instances.
A member of the Committee on Doctrine told CNA that it’s important to stress that the bishops have been mindful of the need to reach out in ministry to Catholics with homosexual inclinations for sometime and that this is not a hasty response to current affairs. In fact, he said, there is nothing in the document that does not reaffirm current teachings of the Church.
The bishop said that “it’s regretful that many stories are unfortunately casting a negative spin on the document,” when, in fact, the guidelines provide an “overwhelmingly positive plan for outreach and ministry to persons with same sex attraction.”
The USCCB confirmed that work on the project began in the fall of 2002. The draft was sent to four other committees for comments and suggestions, Canonical Affairs, Catechesis, Marriage and Family Life, and Pastoral Practices.
According to the USCCB press release, the document is “intended for bishops, in order to assist them in evaluating existing or proposed ministerial efforts, and for those engaged in this ministry, in order to provide them with guidance.”
The guidelines begin with a statement of general principles, including an affirmation of the fundamental dignity of each person as created by God. The document says the Church teaches that persons with a homosexual inclination “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” and it condemns all forms of violence, scorn, and hatred, whether subtle or overt.
The document would call those who minister in the Church to examine their attitudes towards persons with homosexual inclinations, “in order to discern any thoughts or feelings that might stand in need of purification.”
“The work of spreading the Good News involves an ever-increasing love for those to whom one is ministering,” the draft states.
The work also restates the Church’s consistent teaching on the gift of human sexuality and how that sexuality is naturally ordered. It also touches on a commonly misunderstood term in the Church’s teaching on sexuality. “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. Nor does it mean that one has been rejected by God or the Church.”
The guidelines state that while the Church teaches that homosexual acts are immoral, there is a distinction between engaging in homosexual acts and having a homosexual orientation. “While the former is always sinful, the latter is not.”
The document briefly touches on the issue of using reparative therapy to reorient those with homosexual inclinations. “There is currently no scientific consensus on the cause of the homosexual inclination,” the document asserts “There is no consensus on therapy. Some have found therapy helpful. There is, however, no moral obligation to attempt it.”
The document will provide guidelines for the participation of persons with homosexual inclinations in service and leadership of parishes.
Yesterday’s press release also points out the document’s affirmation that, “the Christian life is a progressive journey toward a deepening of one’s discipleship of Christ…Those who stumble along the way should be encouraged to remain in the community and to continue to strive for holiness. In this regard, frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is of great importance.”
Finally, the document will address the Church’s opposition to so-called same-sex “marriages” and to adoption of children by homosexual couples.