Catholic Church Developing New Guidelines for Ministry to Gays

The nation's Roman Catholic bishops said Wednesday they are developing new guidelines for ministry to gays, reaffirming church opposition to same-sex marriage and adoption by the couples, while condemning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The draft document encourages parishes to make gays feel welcome and provide them pastoral support, and notes that many "are ardently striving to live their faith within the Catholic community so as not to fall into the lifestyle and values of a 'gay subculture."'

But the authors repeatedly state that any such ministries must be led by people who uphold church teaching on sexuality, and assert that Catholic leaders have a right to "deny roles of service" in the church to people who violate that teaching.

"It is not sufficient for those involved in this ministry to adopt a position of distant neutrality with regard to Church teaching," according to the document. "Love and truth go together."

The proposed guidelines, in development since 2002, will be put to a vote and possibly amended by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops when they meet Nov. 13-16 in Baltimore.

Last year, the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education issued an "instruction" stating men with "deep-seated" homosexual attraction should not be ordained. This latest U.S. bishops' proposal focuses on support for gay Catholics, not whether they should become priests.

The document explains the Catholic view of same-sex attraction as "disordered," emphasizing that sexuality was given as a gift from God to draw men and women together to marry and have children. Gay relationships "violate the true purpose of sexuality," as does adultery and contraception, the authors wrote.

The document also responds to criticism that the church's position is unjust.

Catholic teaching is based on "objective moral norms," not prejudice, the authors wrote. Western societies don't recognize this reasoning because they generally embrace "moral relativism," while promoting "hedonism" and "an obsession with the pursuit of pleasure," the document states.

On the topic of therapy to change same-sex attraction, the proposed guidelines state that there is no scientific consensus on whether the counseling is effective, so there is "no moral obligation to attempt it." However, gays should learn to live chastely and celibately, the drafters wrote.

Sam Sinnett, president of DignityUSA, which represents gay and lesbian Catholics, said it was clear the document was prepared "by none of us for whom it is intended."

"They speak in willful ignorance about people in same-gender families. They speak in willful ignorance about homosexuality — sexuality in general," Sinnett said. "They are continuing to discriminate against us."