For centuries, the Catholic Church has officially shunned the practice of homosexuality, but some local dioceses have decided to reach out to “gays” and lesbians, despite recent sex scandals involving homosexual priests.
Typical among these programs is one being offered by the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. According to information posted on the diocese’s official website, the local parish has committed itself “to become a community of care, support, formation, reconciliation and witness to justice with and among gay and lesbian persons, their parents, family members, and all who minister in and with this community.”
Among other duties, the diocese pledges to “inform and educate the Catholic community in sound doctrine, pastoral practice and attitudes toward gay and lesbian Catholics,” and “direct gay and lesbian Catholics to parishes which offer hospitality and support.”
The diocese says it has three parish outreach groups that “exist to provide a place of support, affirmation and spiritual guidance to gay and lesbian Catholics.” The diocese said the groups “operate in a faith-sharing format of prayer, discussion and spiritual reflection.”
“There are many gay and lesbian persons within the Catholic community who are seeking to integrate their faith and their sexual identity,” says a statement regarding homosexuality and the Church.
“Remembering the example of Jesus and his compassionate response to all those who came to him, the Church calls all of her members to loving and prayerful concern,” the statement said. “A Catholic who discovers that he or she is gay or lesbian remains a full member of the Catholic Church and is encouraged, as are all Catholics, to live faithful to the Gospel and to participate in the life of a parish community.”
Cleveland diocese officials failed to return repeated calls seeking clarification of the local policies.
Bill Ryan, a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said he couldn’t speak for the local diocese, but he told WorldNetDaily such outreach programs were not out of line with Rome’s directives.
Ryan said the official doctrine of the Vatican concerning homosexuality is that “the activity is sinful, but homosexual orientation is not.”
“The Church indicates that you can’t necessarily control these things,” Ryan said. “Some people have that orientation, but that in itself is not sinful.”
Some recent Church teachings attempt to treat the act of homosexual sex on the same terms as out-of-wedlock heterosexual sex, in terms of its “sinfulness.” Critics, which include “traditional” Catholics, decry that approach as an attempt to legitimize homosexuality, which they say cannot be determined unless a person engages in sexual activity.
Asked if the Cleveland dioceses’ outreach program sent a contradictory message in light of the Church’s recent scandals involving the sexual activities of some gay priests, Ryan said the Church recently has approved of such programs in local parishes.
In terms of “reaching out,” Ryan said that meant “involving homosexuals in the parishes and meeting their needs.” He declined to comment on whether the Church sought to convert homosexuals.
A year ago, Pope John Paul II, in response to homosexual demonstrations during the Church’s celebration of the Jubilee at the Vatican, said “homosexual acts are against nature’s law.” But Ryan said local outreach programs do not contravene that message.
“I don’t think trying to involve people in discussions and dialogue and ministering to their needs sends a conflicting message,” he said.
Other outreach programs include:
- COURAGE and ENCOURAGE, a pair of spiritual support groups founded in 1980 by His Eminence Terence Cardinal Cooke, Archbishop of New York, that are designed to help Catholic men and women – and their families – live in accordance with the Church’s pastoral teaching on homosexuality;
- The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest Catholic diocese in the U.S., also has a special Gay and Lesbian Outreach office;
- The Parish Community of St. Paul in New York City lists an outreach program to homosexuals on its website.
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