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Roman Catholic bishops approve new guidelines on gay ministry

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BALTIMORE — The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops overwhelmingly approved new guidelines Tuesday on outreach to gays, trying to support gay parishioners while strictly affirming the church stance that same-sex relationships are ‘‘disordered.’’
    Gay Catholic activists immediately judged the document a failure that will push gay and lesbians away from the church.
    The statement, ‘‘Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination,’’ upholds the Catholic prohibition against same-gender marriage and adoption by gay or lesbian couples.
    Yet bishops insisted that they’re trying to be more ‘‘welcoming than condemning.’’
    The document says it’s not a sin to be attracted to someone of the same gender — only to act on those feelings. The bishops also state that children of gay Catholics can undergo baptism and receive other sacraments in most cases if they are being raised in the faith.
    Still, under the guidelines, parishes must instruct gays to remain celibate. The bishops are also discouraging gays from making ‘‘general public self-disclosures’’ within their churches about their sexual orientation.
    ‘‘It is not sufficient for those involved in this ministry to adopt a position of distant neutrality with regard to Church teaching,’’ the bishops stated. Gay outreach must include teaching that is ‘‘welcoming yet challenging, loving but firm in the truth,’’ they said.
    The 194-37 vote, with one abstention, came at a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
    Sam Sinnett, president of DignityUSA, an advocacy group for gay Catholics, said the new guidelines reflect the bishops’ ignorance about sexuality. He said the document would alienate gays.
    ‘‘This document recommends the most unhealthy thing to do which is to stay emotionally and spiritually in the closet,’’ Sinnett said.
    Some bishops anticipated such criticism.
    ‘‘For the person with the inclination, they find that very very difficult to accept, personally,’’ said Bishop Kevin Boland of Savannah, Ga., during the floor debate Monday. ‘‘They feel that the church is saying to them that as a person they are disordered. I recognize that it is crucially important to say this, but to apply it pastorally it can be difficult.’’
    On another matter Tuesday, bishops overwhelmingly adopted a statement encouraging Catholics to obey the church’s ban on artificial contraception.
    Church leaders at the gathering are also discussing how Catholics can make themselves worthy to receive Holy Communion. Several bishops said Monday that Catholics who persist in ignoring church teaching, including gays who are sexually active, should not take the sacrament.
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