By a large majority, the Catholic Bishops of the United States voted Tuesday to approve a new document which would guide their care for homosexual men and women. The document, entitled “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care,” aims at placing an emphasis on welcoming and offering support for men and women who, due to homosexual inclinations, “feel themselves to be unwelcome and rejected,” by the Church.
Bishop Arthur Serratelli, who headed the committed which drafted the document said, that the bishops hoped the new guidelines would, “help us as bishops to promote sound, effective ministry to persons with a homosexual inclination,” noting that, “In her message the Church offers a positive message in Her teaching. The Church offers hope.”
“The tone of the document,” Bishop Serratelli said, “is positive, pastoral, and welcoming… Its starting point is the intrinsic human dignity of every person and God’s love for every person. Every person who ministers in the name of the Church must respect this human dignity.”
While the bishops did not shy away from using the often misunderstood term “disordered,” saying, “the homosexual inclination is objectively disordered, i.e., it is an inclination that predisposes one toward what is truly not good for the human person,” the bishops did make a concerted effort to clarify what a “disordered” view of human sexuality is.
The document also points out the importance of emphasizing the Christian understanding of virtue and the need for growth in virtue among all Catholics, especially the virtue of chastity. The Church, Bishop Serratelli noted, “tells each person to live out the universal call to holiness. This call often comes with struggle and self-denial.”
The bishops noted the possibility for those people who experience their homosexual attractions as an “unwanted burden,” to seek therapeutic help, but noted that “there is currently no scientific consensus on the cause of the homosexual inclination,” and, “no consensus on therapy.”
The document also dismisses the idea of homosexual “marriage,” in the context of placing the discussion of homosexuality within the greater context of God’s plan for sexuality. “The complementary sexuality of man and woman is part of God’s creative design,” Serratelli said, noting that human sexuality is naturally created for the bond of marriage that has two natural ends, the expression of marital love and the procreation and education of children.
A large portion of the document offers a more practical consideration of the pastoral care for those with homosexual inclinations, taking a look at their participation within the life and sacraments of the Church, particular catechesis for such people, and means of offering pastoral support.
The bishops emphasized that all Catholics should be welcomed into their parishes and should participate fully in their local faith communities, in order to receive the spiritual support that the Church offers them. However, they noted, “special care ought to be taken to ensure that those carrying out the ministry of the Church not use their position of leadership to advocate positions or behaviors not in keeping with the teachings of the Church.”
The document makes particular efforts to stress the need many people have for additional support in their struggle to live a chaste life. In addition to underlining the need for spiritual direction for persons with homosexual inclinations, the bishops encouraged the use of support and counseling groups which are faithful to the Church - making special mention of the Catholic groups Courage and Encourage.
All of the bishops who spoke to CNA said that, while the document is in many ways a restatement of what they already know and work for, they were pleased with final product. One bishop noted, “we need to keep doing a better job on the parish level, and this gives us a tool.”
To read the bishops’ document in full, visit the USCCB website at www.usccb.org.