WASHINGTON (October 18, 2006)—Approval of guidelines for the pastoral care of persons with a homosexual inclination will be on the agenda of the fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
The bishops will meet at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, November 13-16.
The guidelines say that the support and leadership of bishops and other pastoral leaders is essential to the success of this ministry. "This is particularly important 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.
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.
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 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.
"Those who would minister in the name of the Church must in no way contribute to such injustice," the guidelines state. "They should prayerfully examine their own hearts in order to discern any thoughts or feelings that might stand in need of purification. Those who minister are also called to their own ongoing conversion. In fact, the work of spreading the Good News involves an ever-increasing love for those to whom one is ministering."
Stating that the phenomenon of homosexuality poses challenges that can only be met with the help of a clear understanding of the place of sexuality within God's plan for humanity, the document says: "By its very nature, human sexuality finds its proper fulfillment in the marital bond. Any sexual act that takes place outside the indissoluble and lifelong bond of marriage does not fulfill the proper ends of human sexuality. It is not directed toward the expression of marital love with an openness to new life. It is disordered in that it is not in accord with this twofold end and is thus morally wrong."
"Because of both Original Sin and personal sin, moral disorder is all too common in our world today, among both heterosexual and homosexual persons," the document says.
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."
"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."
Given that a considerable number of people experience same-sex attraction as an inclination they did not choose raises the question of whether or not this situation can be changed with the help of some kind of clinical intervention, or therapy, the guidelines state.
"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."
Specific guidelines in the document address issues which arise in the areas of church participation, catechesis, sacraments and worship, and pastoral support. Key points include:
* Persons who experience same-sex attraction and yet are living in accord with Church teaching should be encouraged to take an active role in the life of the faith community. However, the Church has a right to deny roles of service to those whose behavior violates her teaching.
* Special care must 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. They must not belong to groups that oppose Church teaching. It is not sufficient for those involved in this ministry to adopt a position of distant neutrality with regard to Church teaching.
* Church policies should explicitly reject unjust discrimination and harassment…procedures should be in place to handle complaints.
* 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.
* The Church does not support so-called same-sex "marriages" or any semblance thereof, including civil unions that give the appearance of a marriage. Church ministers may not bless such unions or promote them in any way, directly or indirectly.
* Similarly, the Church does not support the adoption of children by homosexual couples since homosexual unions are contrary to the divine plan. For this reason, Baptism of children adopted by such couples presents a pastoral concern. Nevertheless, the Church does not refuse the Sacrament of Baptism to these children, but there must be a well founded hope that the children will be brought up in the Catholic religion.
In the document's conclusion, the bishops express thanks to all who have labored faithfully in this pastoral ministry and outreach. "They have done so at times under adverse and difficult conditions," the bishops say. "They have set an example for this important service to the Church."
More information on the November meeting can be found on www.usccb.org.