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Catholic Bishops Debate Gay Ministry

By RACHEL ZOLL, AP Religion Writer

BALTIMORE – The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is debating how parishes can be welcoming to gays while also upholding the teaching that gay relationships are “disordered.”

The proposed guidelines before the bishops Tuesday, called “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination,” condemn discrimination against gays, acknowledge that many try to live faithfully and state that it’s not a sin to be attracted to someone of the same gender.

But the document also directs gays to be celibate and reaffirms church opposition to same-sex marriage and adoption by the couples. It also discourages gays from disclosing their sexual orientation outside of a close circle of parish friends and advisers.

“I think the whole tenor of the document is trying to be more welcoming than condemning,” said Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., chairman of the bishops’ doctrine committee.

The statement is among the documents up for a vote at this week’s meeting that aim to define Catholicism for an often uninvolved flock. The other documents explain the importance of receiving Holy Communion regularly and following the church’s widely ignored ban on artificial contraception.

DignityUSA, an advocacy group for gay and lesbian Catholics, called the draft document on gay ministry “deeply flawed.”

Maintaining secrecy about sexual identity fuels shame among gay Catholics and allows others to dehumanize them, the group said. Bishops should acknowledge that committed gay relationships “have the same potential for holiness” as heterosexual marriage, the group said.

Anticipating the criticism, the bishops who drafted the document said they must be honest about sinful behavior to be truly supportive of gays.

The assembly opened Monday with the bishops authorizing more funding for their most detailed study yet on the clergy sex abuse crisis.

The research, conducted by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, will look at whether children have been victimized at a higher rate inside the church or in society at large. It will also examine how bishops responded to allegations of abuse in the past.

John Jay’s previous studies for the bishops’ conference found American dioceses have received more than 12,000 claims of abuse against Roman Catholic priests since 1950.

Separately, the president of the bishop’s conference, Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., urged national policymakers to leave behind the campaign season’s “shrill and shallow debate” over Iraq and help end sectarian violence in the country.

The gathering runs through Thursday, but the bishops are conducting more business than usual behind closed doors. Public sessions will end Tuesday.

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