Bishops Confront Homosexuality, Sexual Abuse

November 13, 2006

Baltimore, Md. -- Hundreds of bishops from across the United States convened in Baltimore for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and changing priorities is at the top of their list.

The bishops are expected to take up several issues, including marriage, contraception, Holy Communion and homosexuality. They said they are considering new guidelines, including ministry to gay parishioners, in an attempt to strengthen the Catholic Church.

But Bob Miailovich, spokesman for the gay Catholic group Dignity USA, said church leaders didn't do their homework.

"They ought to have some input. These guidelines have been written in a back room, without consultation," he said.

In a press conference, Bishop Arthur Serratelli admitted that his panel's own guidelines were drawn up without consulting the target audience -- gay Catholic groups and individuals.

Miailovich's group said it also takes issue with the very title of the proposal, called "Ministry to persons with a homosexual inclination."

"This is who we are. This is not an inclination. This is a reality," he said.

Homosexuality also made its way into another agenda item -- worthiness for receiving Holy Communion.

The bishops are expected to vote on guidelines barring the Eucharist from practicing homosexuals and married Catholics who use contraception.

In the past, some Catholic leaders have said they would withhold communion for political leaders who support abortion rights.

But Serratelli disagreed.

"It applies to all faithful, no matter what your public profession is," he said.

Some protestors wanted the bishops to face another issue -- that of abusive priests.

"I believe, if the policies we're asking for had been in place, I wouldn't have been abused, and hundreds of other children wouldn't have been abused," said Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Blaine said her priest abused her in middle school, and now she's calling for change.

"We're asking that documents be turned over to police, that bishops reveal the names of these predators," she said.

Blaine and SNAP also want bishops to stop predatory priests from being shuffled to dioceses across the country and the world and they want names of abusers to be made public.

But that is not an option, according Bishop Gregory Aymond of the Committee for Protection of Children and Youth.

"We continue to discuss that as a committee. Some dioceses have done so, but we do not feel, at this point, that it is appropriate to make that a national policy," he said.

Aymond said dioceses are urged to notify civil authorities and to respond in a pastoral way.

But the committee's own review panel said making names public hasn't been on their radar.

"The national review board has really not looked into this issue to any great extent," said Dr. Patricia Ewers, the National Review Board chairman.

The 300 leaders of America's 67 million Catholics also made a bold and unexpected statement on the war in Iraq, saying the United States must help secure and rebuild the country but remove troops as soon as possible.

The public sessions end Tuesday. After that the bishops will meet behind closed doors.


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