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CURRENT ISSUE:  November 6, 2006VOL. 44, NO. 19Oakland, CA

Bishops to discuss Communion, gays, liturgical music

By Nancy Frazier O’Brien
and Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service

When the U.S. Catholic bishops gather in Baltimore next week for their fall general meeting, they will be asked to vote on a number of draft documents affecting the life of American Catholics. Four key documents deal with family planning, pastoral ministry to homosexuals, liturgical music, and reception of C ommunion.

Below is a brief summary of the four drafts. The bishops will discuss and vote on each during sessions, Nov. 13-16.

‘Married Love and the Gift of Life’
The brief document on marriage strongly supports natural family planning and says contraception introduces “a false note” that disturbs marital intimacy and contributes to the decline in society’s respect for marriage and for life.

“When couples use contraception, either physical or chemical, they suppress their fertility, exerting ultimate control over this power to create a new human life with God,” the draft said.

But because natural family planning “does not change the human body in any way, or upset its balance with potentially harmful drugs or devices, people of other faiths or of no religious affiliation have also come to accept and use it from a desire to work in harmony with their bodies,” it added.The bishops disputed the view that the Church’s opposition to contraception means that Catholic couples must “leave their family size entirely to chance.”

“In married life, serious circumstances -- financial, physical, psychological, or those involving responsibilities to other family members -- may arise to make an increase in family size untimely,” the document said. “The Church understands this, while encouraging couples to take a generous view of children.”

Live coverage of bishops’ meeting on EWTN

EWTN, the 24-hour Catholic TV network, will provide live coverage of the first two days of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops fall meeting in Baltimore. The Nov. 13-14 telecasts will run from 6 – 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
On Nov. 12, at 6 p.m., EWTN will televise a solemn Mass in honor of the restoration of the historic Baltimore Basilica, with the bishops in attendance. The 200-year-old basilica was designed by the same architect who designed the U.S. Capitol Building.
EWTN is carried on Comcast Digital channel 229; DISH Satellite channel 261; and Direct TV channel 422; in Alameda on Comcast channel 30 and Alameda Power channel 26. For more programming information, visit www.ewtn.com.


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That’s where natural family planning comes in, the bishops said. The method helps couples avoid pregnancy by refraining from intercourse for the few fertile days around the time of the woman’s ovulation.

“A couple need not desire or seek to have a child in each and every act of intercourse,” the draft document said. “And it is not wrong for couples to have intercourse even when they know the woman is naturally infertile.

“But they should never act to suppress or curtail the life-giving power given by God that is an integral part of what they pledged to each other in their marriage vows,” the bishops added.

‘Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination’
The proposed document clearly reaffirms and explains Church teaching against any sexual activity -- homosexual or heterosexual -- that takes place outside marriage, and it says authentic ministry must be based on that teaching. But it also says a homosexual inclination is not itself sinful and those who are homosexually inclined “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.”

It sharply condemns hatred or “violent malice in speech or action” against homosexuals. “Those who would minister in the name of the Church must in no way contribute to such injustice,” it says.

About one-fifth of the document is devoted specifically to guidelines for ministry to those with homosexual inclinations; the larger part of the text is devoted to the framework of Church teaching within which such pastoral care is set. It acknowledges that the teaching is not readily accepted in many quarters.

Addressing general principles about human sexuality, the document says, “The purpose of sexual desire is to draw man and woman together in the bond of marriage, a bond that is directed toward two inseparable ends: the expression of marital love and the procreation and education of children. ... This is the order of nature, an order whose source is ultimately the wisdom of God.”

The document distinguishes sharply between homosexual acts and having a homosexual inclination. “While the former is always sinful, the latter is not. To the extent that a homosexual tendency or inclination is not subject to one’s free will, one is not morally culpable for that tendency,” it says.

“Simply having the tendency is not a sin,” though one may sin by voluntarily entertaining homosexual temptations or acting on them, it says.

Following the lead of a 1986 Vatican document that drew extensive criticism from gay rights groups, the document reaffirms church teaching that “the homosexual inclination is objectively disordered.”

“It is crucially important to understand that saying a person has a particular inclination that is disordered is not to say that the person as a whole is disordered. ... Sometimes the Church is misinterpreted or misrepresented as teaching that homosexual persons are objectively disordered,” it says.

The document stresses the importance of “bonds of friendship,” especially within families, as a means of support for living a full human life. “There can be little hope of living a healthy, chaste life without nurturing human bonds,” it says.

It says those who minister in the name of the Church “should encourage healthy relationships between persons with a homosexual inclination and other members of their families.” It says the local church community should also be a place where such people experience friendship and support.

Directory, norms for liturgical music
Concerned that hymns used at Mass are “doctrinally correct” and based on Scripture and liturgical texts, the bishops will debate on a new directory for music and the liturgy.

The directory is intended to serve “not so much as a list of approved and unapproved songs as a process by which bishops might regulate the quality of the text of songs composed for use in the liturgy,” said Bishop Donald W. Trautman of Erie, Pa., chairman of the bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, in an introduction to the document.

If approved by two-thirds of the bishops, the directory and norms would be sent to the Vatican for its assent.

The draft document says the U.S. Church “has been greatly blessed both by a hymnody drawn from a number of great traditions and by the contributions of composers and lyricists of liturgical songs over the past 40 years of the liturgical reform.”

“Composers are urged to continue to seek ways in which liturgical song can grow organically from the tradition that the voice of the Church might sing the ancient hymn with new conviction in our own day and age,” the directory adds.

But there have been “certain challenges” in the use of liturgical songs, the document says. “While works of poetic art should not be judged in the same way as catechetical texts, liturgical songs can benefit from certain doctrinal judgments.”

A set of norms to be considered along with the directory says each diocesan bishop is responsible for approving liturgical songs in his diocese, assisted by the directory, the bishops’ Secretariat for the Liturgy and a local review committee of theologians, liturgists and musicians.

‘Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily’
A Catholic who “knowingly and obstinately” rejects “the defined doctrines of the Church” or its “definitive teaching on moral issues” should refrain from receiving Communion, according to the draft document “’Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper’: On
Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist.”

In an introduction, Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., chairman of the USCCB Committee on Doctrine, said the draft document was the result of a proposal to the bishops in November 2004 by Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, N.J., for a statement on how Catholics should prepare to receive the Eucharist.

“He envisaged this document as applying to Catholic faithful, not just to politicians or those in public life,” Bishop Serratelli said.
Archbishop Myers’ request came after a presidential campaign in which some bishops had criticized the Democratic candidate, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, and said he and other Catholic politicians who supported abortion should be refused Communion under canon law.

But a footnote to the draft says that it is not intended “to provide specific guidelines” to the provision in canon law that says that Catholics “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin” should not be allowed to receive Communion.

Among examples of such sin, the document cites “committing deliberate hatred of others, sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult, or physical or verbal abuse toward one’s family members or fellow workers, causing grave physical or psychological harm; murder, abortion or euthanasia.”

Other “serious violations of the law of love of God and of neighbor” listed in the draft include swearing a false oath, missing Mass on Sundays or holy days without a serious reason, “acting in serious disobedience against proper authority,” sexual activity “outside the bonds of a valid marriage,” stealing, slander or involvement with pornography.

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