Seeking to send a more welcoming message to gay Roman Catholics, the church's U.S. bishops adopted guidelines yesterday that still emphasized the requirement of celibacy.
The statement on pastoral care for "persons with a homosexual inclination" - which labeled same-sex attractions as "disordered" - merely served to inflame advocates for gay Catholics yesterday
FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions about the national meeting of Roman Catholic bishops misidentified Peter A. Rozassa. He is an auxiliary bishop in the Hartford archdiocese. THE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR
"What they say is deeply flawed and misguided," said Sam Sinnett, president of DignityUSA, an organization of gay and lesbian Catholics.
But the bishops said they hope their guidelines - while maintaining the church's steadfast opposition to homosexual behavior - might make gay and lesbian Catholics feel they have more of a place in the church.
"Its starting point is the intrinsic human dignity of every person and God's love for every person," Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli, chairman of the doctrine committee, told the bishops during a presentation. "Everyone who ministers to gay people must respect this intrinsic dignity."
Meeting in Baltimore yesterday, about 250 members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also reaffirmed their long-standing views banning contraceptives and discouraging Catholics from taking Communion if they don't support church doctrine in their public or personal lives.
"Being Catholic requires a certain choice, and these are the choices that are consistent with the Gospel of Jesus as handed down in the church," Serratelli said at a news conference.
The bishops will continue to meet today and tomorrow for prayer and reflection as well as closed discussions at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront.
The bishops' statements, finalized over the past two days, address the church's views on such prominent American political hot-button topics as opposition to the "morning after" contraceptive pill and same-sex marriages.
Although the document about Communion is intended for all Catholics, the issue has shot to prominence in recent years amid questions about Catholic politicians who received Communion despite supporting abortion rights.
"They want to make [their teaching] as pastorally sensitive and convincing as they can, in the hopes that people will change their minds," said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Institute.
But statistics provided by the conference illustrate the challenge facing the bishops, indicating that few American Catholics adhere to the church's prohibition of contraception. Only 4 percent of Catholic couples practice natural family planning, according to the introduction of the pamphlet "Married Love and the Gift of Life," prepared by the Committee for Pro-Life Activities.
"The vast majority of our people, as we see, are educated by the media and therefore they do not know what the teaching of the church is on this specific topic. We have to fill that void," said Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, a former conference president who is ending his second term as chairman of the Pro-Life committee.
The bishops said that by explicitly sharing the church's views, they hope to persuade more American Catholics to adhere to those teachings.
"We have an obligation to teach not just about the things people agree with but the difficult issues as well," said San Francisco Archbishop George H. Niederauer at a news conference.
In renewing their call on Catholics not to receive Communion if they fail to support the church's teachings on such key issues as abortion, Serratelli acknowledged to the bishops that Catholic politicians are part of the impetus. But he said the intended audience for the document is much broader.
Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis, Mo., said he is offended every time someone presents himself for Communion while rejecting church doctrine. "For me, it's a moral affront," Burke told fellow bishops.
Bishops acknowledged it's a personal decision for Catholics as to whether they believe they're "worthy" to receive Communion - but they said that decision affects the community as well.
"It's a personal thing, but it also has got public ramifications," Keeler said in an interview. "We have always said to examine your conscience before Communion. What is specifically new is that the media have focused on the issue."
Amid yesterday's actions by the bishops, what appeared to attract the most controversy was some of the language in the statement they overwhelmingly approved that those who experience homosexual attractions are welcome to serve in the church if they do not act on their urges.
Advocates for gay Catholics decried the language and the content of the document. The statement does not "reflect good science, good theology or human reality," Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, said in a prepared statement.
The bishops said Monday that they did not consult with gay Catholics when preparing their statement but rather with those involved in ministry to gay Catholics.