In yet another attempt to woo disaffected American worshipers, the nation's Roman Catholic bishops adopted new guidelines on Tuesday, including a statement "welcoming" gay Catholics while condemning their sexuality as "disordered."
The "Ministry to Persons With a Homosexual Inclination," as the statement is called, calls on gay and lesbian Catholics not to act on their inclinations, to shun the "gay subculture" and to avoid telling people outside a close circle of family and friends of their orientation. This ecclesiastical "don't ask, don't tell" policy was adopted by an overwhelming vote of 194-37, along with other statements urging Catholics to heed the ban on artificial contraception and to think really, really hard before taking Communion -- that is, if they've ever used a condom or marched in a gay-pride parade.
The bishops claim that their statement is inclusive. ''Its starting point is the intrinsic human dignity of every person and God's love for every person," said Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., chairman of the bishops' doctrine committee. According to these guys, God loves everyone, even his most disordered sheep. But how to reconcile that kind of concession with the reality that homosexuality is not a disorder at all? Psychologists have long acknowledged that homosexuality is not a disease. The "Ministry to Persons With a Homosexual Inclination" seems destined to alienate the very parishioners it's intended to mollify.
To wit, Sam Sinnett, president of the gay Catholic advocacy group DignityUSA, criticized the statement for recommending that gays ''stay emotionally and spiritually in the closet."
The conflict between gays, the religious right and the unhappy demographic combining the two has been well documented lately, with the Rev. Ted Haggard and former Rep. Mark Foley dominating recent headlines. Many Catholics and evangelicals struggle to reconcile their faith with the fact of homosexuality; as a practicing Roman Catholic, I can attest that it's tough to swallow the many contradictions between belief and conscience. Still, the flock is often a step ahead of the clergy -- polls indicate that many American Roman Catholics support the practice of birth control and even abortion despite church prohibitions. Probably many Catholics will also grasp that their church is selling itself short by preaching unconditional love while offering conditional love to certain followers.