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NEWS STORY: Catholic bishops urge acceptance of gay orientation

c. 1997 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Steering clear of a debate about the origins of homosexuality, U.S. Roman Catholic bishops Wednesday (Oct. 1) extended to parents and families of gay and lesbian children an”outstretched hand”of support but reaffirmed church teaching saying homosexual activity is a sin. The 20-page pastoral statement,”Always Our Children: A Pastoral […]

c. 1997 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON _ Steering clear of a debate about the origins of homosexuality, U.S. Roman Catholic bishops Wednesday (Oct. 1) extended to parents and families of gay and lesbian children an”outstretched hand”of support but reaffirmed church teaching saying homosexual activity is a sin.

The 20-page pastoral statement,”Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers,”was developed over four years by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee on marriage and family, and given approval by the conference’s top policy-making board earlier this month.”All in all, it is essential to recall one basic truth,”the statement said.”God loves every person as a unique individual. Sexual identity helps to define the unique person we are. God does not love someone any less simply because he or she is homosexual.” Speaking directly to parents, the statement calls on them to”accept and love”their gay sons and daughters because”homosexual orientation (is) experienced as a given, not something freely chosen”and”by itself, a homosexual orientation cannot be considered sinful, for morality presumes the freedom to choose.” Parents of homosexual children need the help of the church,”said Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien, chair of the committee.”So often they can find themselves in a state of isolation and confusion, drifting to the margins of church and community life,”he said.

The document broke no new ground theologically and is rooted in the most recent version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the church’s main compilation of its teachings.

The bishops’ message celebrates human dignity, recognizes strong friendships with those of the same sex as long they don’t include”genital sexual involvement”and urges Catholics to”concentrate on the person, not on the homosexual orientation.” In the message, the bishops underscored two critical points: The statement is meant neither as an endorsement of the”homosexual lifestyle”nor is it intended to”serve a particular agenda.” For parents struggling with how to accept and love gay and lesbian children, the bishops offer this advice:”First, don’t break off contact; don’t reject your child,”and, secondly,”seek appropriate help for your child and yourself.” The bishops’ statement was warmly welcomed by some Catholics in gay ministries.”Several years ago, I would not have dreamed that there would be a document like this or one that was so connected to family,”said the Rev. Jim Schexnayder, who heads the church’s Oakland, Calif.-based National Association of Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries, a network of nearly 30 dioceses and 250 individuals.

He said the document could help break down stereotypes about homosexuals, such as those portraying gays as”products of urban communities”or part of a seamy sub-culture, such stereotypes have hampered outreach efforts to gays by the church, said Schexnayder.

Robert Mialovich, president of DIGNITY, the nation’s largest gay and lesbian Catholic organization, welcomed the bishops’ statement”as a significant opening of the arms to gays and lesbians in the church, especially to young people who are struggling.”DIGNITY looks forward to grasping that `outstretched hand’ the bishops are offering and to making sure that gays and lesbians are made full and inclusive members of the Catholic Church,”he said.

Nancy McDonald, national president of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), applauded the pastoral message for its affirmation of the”human dignity of gays and lesbians.”Too often, McDonald said, gays and lesbians are bombarded with”elective Scripture”denouncing homosexuality as an abomination or church doctrine that says it is a sin.

But”homosexuality is not a choice. This is who they are. We are very pleased that the Catholic recognizes this fact in their statement,”McDonald said.

The statement seeks to maintain a delicate balance on the high-wire issue of homosexuality in the wake of incidents and statements that have at times given the church a harsh, anti-gay image.

In the 1980s, the Vatican disciplined Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, in part because of his allowing a gay group to meet at St. James Cathedral and it stripped internally known theologian Charles Curran of his right to be a Catholic theologian, also in part because of his views on church teaching and sexuality.

Throughout this decade, the Vatican has been involved in an investigation of New Ways ministry, an independent group that recommends a more sympathetic approach to gays than traditional church teaching.

MJP END HAWKINS