The Catholic Bishops will be voting on guidelines for ministry to gay parishioners. And the drafted guidelines show both the difficulty with the church’s conflicting principles and how the Catholic position varies from that of evangelical based ex-gay ministries.
The Church (along with some other Christian churches) has both a desire to be in ministry to gay people and a desire to hold to traditional anti-gay doctrine. These conflicting goals lead to somewhat schizophrenic pronouncements about homosexuality in all its disordered evil nature that simultaneously state that gay people are not morally defective.
And though the church seems to want to distinguish between gay persons and gay acts, it’s clear that even those contributing to the guidelines do not see homosexuals completely distinctly from homosexuality. Having same-sex attractions disqualifies Catholics from various levels of service, regardless of sexual activity. And under this Pope the Church has made as a primary target those civil laws which treat gay persons equal to straight persons.
However, the Church veers from the ex-gay position of the more evangelical based Exodus. Unlike pronouncements from Alan Chambers, Catholics are not considered sinful by recognizing their orientation. Identifying as gay seems to be less of a “sin” than engaging in behavior that the Church declares sinful.
This new document puts more emphasis on the church’s moral teaching about sexuality. It says that although having a “homosexual inclination” is not itself a sin, homosexual sex is a sin — as are premarital sex and adultery. The answer in all these situations is chastity.
Yet though having a gay identity isn’t condemned, the Church apparently finds it shameful or disruptive and to be kept secret.
It says that gay people may benefit from revealing their “tendencies” to friends, family and their priest, but should not make “general public announcements” about it in the parish.
However gay Catholics are not encouraged to seek therapy to become ex-gay.
The guidelines also say that gay men and lesbians have “no moral obligation to attempt” therapy, an apparent reference to therapy programs that claim to change gay people’s sexual orientation. It says that while “some have found therapy helpful,” there is “no scientific consensus” either on therapy or the causes of homosexuality.
I find the Catholic position to be both more honest and more consistent with their own teachings. But as a tool for ministering to gay persons, I believe it fails miserably. While the Pope wages a political war on the civil rights of gay Catholics in Europe, a document that says you should stay mostly closeted and should not be allowed full participation in the Church is hardly going to bring comfort to those gay Catholics who are living in faithful compliance with Catholic teachings on sexuality.
It’s clear that the Church has not given priority to the experiences, attitudes, and perspectives of actual gay persons in preparing this new document. Perhaps the New York Times’ opening paragraph best illustrates the problem the Church has:
The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops have drafted new guidelines for ministry to gay people that affirm church teaching against same-sex relationships, marriages and adoptions by gay couples, yet encourage parishes to reach out to gay Catholics who feel alienated by their church.