Catholic family groups in the Mexican Diocese of Saltillo are urging Bishop Raul Vera Lopez to withdraw his support for a group that they say undermines Church teaching on homosexuality.
“A pastoral commitment to homosexual persons is necessary and welcomed, but not at the expense of the family and a solid pastoral plan for marriage and family, which is unfortunately being neglected in the diocese,” said Natalia Niño, president of Familias Mundi, which is based in the diocese in northeastern Mexico.
Niño criticized the diocese’s support for the San Elredo Community, which she said “publicly promotes an openly homosexual lifestyle, gay ‘marriage’ and gay adoptions.”
Bishop Vera Lopez continues to defend the diocese’s relationship with San Elredo, which is a part of the diocese’s pastoral council.
The bishop declined to speak with CNA for this story. But in an audio interview posted on the diocese’s website, he blamed the criticism on “homophobia” from “conservative groups that call themselves Catholic.”
Criticism has been mounting since the diocese sponsored an event organized by San Elredo. The so-called “sexual, family and religious diversity forum,” held March 25-27, was aimed at “eradicating what some sectors of the Church believe about homosexuality” — especially the belief “that homosexual acts are contrary to God.”
The event included presentations of excerpts from the books, “Mom, Dad, I’m Gay,” “Two Mommies,” “Virtual Activism,” and a play, “Crime for Love Doesn’t Pay, But It Feels Good.”
Bishop Vera Lopez, in the audio interview on his website, called the criticism of the event “agenda-driven.”
“Jesus Christ welcomed sinners and cast out the Pharisees, which shows that excluding others is not Christian,” he said. “We want to erase homophobia from peoples’ hearts.”
But Familias Mundi leader Niño denied allegations of “homophobia.”
“Our criticism has nothing to do with individual persons, their dignity and their rights. This is about doctrines that are opposed to the Church’s teachings and that have grave negative effects in our society,” she told CNA.
Niño said her group speaks for many who are “greatly uncomfortable” with Bishop Vera’s approach to pastoral ministry for homosexuals.
“Not all of them are willing to speak publicly,” she said.
CNA contacted two pro-life and pro-family organizations in Saltillo who also expressed deep concern about San Elredo’s ministry to homosexuals. But both organizations declined to be interviewed.
Father Robert Coogan, the American priest who founded San Elredo, said that the group’s work is not contrary to the teachings of the Church.
He said the Church’s teachings on homosexuality are correct, but that to work with people with same-sex attraction, “you need to go beyond the Catechism.”
“People want the San Elredo community to tell homosexuals that homosexual acts are always a grave sin … But if someone is sick and goes to the doctor, and the doctor gives him a list of things he cannot eat, the poor guy will say, ‘I am going to die of hunger.’ And so, a negative teaching is not a teaching. We don’t need to tell people with this orientation what they should not do,” he said.
San Elredo’s coordinator, Noe Ruiz Malacara, said the bishop supports the group because of its “humanistic outlook” and its defense of the “human rights” of homosexuals against discrimination.
The aim of the recent diversity forum, he said, was “not to attack the family, but to show that homosexual families are the same as heterosexual ones.”
In his interview on the diocesan website, Bishop Vera Lopez also stressed the need to defend homosexual rights.
He affirmed his support for state recognition of civil unions among homosexuals. At the same time, the bishop said this does not mean he supports homosexual marriage, because marriage “is only between a man and a woman.”
Fr. Coogan, who worked as a publicist and a volunteer at rehabilitation centers in New York before being ordained a priest in Saltillo, said that God makes men and women to be homosexual.
“What God creates is a blessing for the world. Homosexuals are a blessing for the world. The world could not exist without homosexuals, it could not exist. God in his wisdom created diversity,” he told CNA.
San Elredo believes homosexuality is “a permanent orientation,” he added.
“It begins at a very young age and is permanent, like being right-handed or left-handed. It is something innate in people,” he said.
He raised questions about the Church’s teachings that homosexual acts are sinful and that persons with a homosexual orientation must live chaste lives.
“Moral culpability, in the oldest tradition of the Church, is affected by the freedom of the person … if there is no freedom, there is no culpability. The child who fires a gun is not guilty. And so if there are people who are subject to the wrath of society, how much freedom do they have? If they are afraid to tell their parents about their orientation, how much freedom do they have in their lives?”
He added: “How can a person with same-sex attraction have a fulfilling life? And the only answer the Catechism gives is to tell them to be celibate, and that is not enough.”
Niño disputed the idea that Church teaching should be set aside or modified as a part of a pastoral approach to homosexual persons.
“We have never opposed a pastoral approach to people with same sex attraction, on the contrary, we strongly support it,” she said. “But it has to be a pastoral approach based on the doctrine of the Church. It must be able to provide persons with same sex attractions the psychological support, the spiritual guidance and an integration into the Church and society based on the truth about the human person.”