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CURRENT ISSUE:  November 20, 2006 • VOL. 44, NO. 20 • Oakland, CA

Bishops OK statements on Iraq, gays, contraception

BALTIMORE (CNS) – During the public portion of their Nov. 13-16 fall general meeting in Baltimore, the U.S. Catholic bishops called for “substantive discussion” leading to “ a responsible transition in Iraq,” outlined the preparation needed to receive Communion worthily, admonished married couples to live the Church’s teaching against artificial contraception, approved a set of guidelines for pastoral care of persons with a homosexual inclination, and gave their OK for a “Directory for Music and the Liturgy” for use in U.S. dioceses. They also approved funding for the next phase of a study on clergy sexual abuse of minors.

The bishops endorsed by unanimous voice vote the issuance of a statement calling for a “substantive, civil and nonpartisan discussion” leading to “a responsible transition in Iraq.”

“We hope our nation has moved beyond the divisive rhetoric of the recent campaign and the shrill and shallow debate that distorts reality and reduces the options to ‘cut and run’ versus ‘stay the course,’” said the statement, issued in the name of Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“The (Bush) administration and the new Congress need to engage in a collaborative dialogue that honestly assesses the situation in Iraq, acknowledges past difficulties and miscalculations, recognizes and builds on positive advances (e.g., broad participation in elections), and reaches agreement on concrete steps to address the serious challenges that lie ahead,” it said.

The four-page document was prepared by the USCCB Committee on International Policy in collaboration with the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services and the USCCB Administrative Committee, which approved its addition to the agenda of the bishops’ meeting Nov. 11.

Receiving Communion
Their Communion statement, “’Happy Are Those Who Are called to His Supper’: On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist,” calls on those in a state of serious sin to refrain from receiving Communion. The bishops emphasized they were addressing all Catholics, and not just politicians or any other group.

An effort to amend the document to specifically name politicians as among those who need to examine their consciences before receiving the Eucharist failed on a voice vote.

The document said all Catholics “should strive to receive Holy Communion regularly, gratefully and worthily.”

“We may find ourselves in situations, however, where an examination of conscience before God reveals to us that we should refrain from partaking of the body and blood of Christ,” the bishops said.

But among the 79 amendments to the document was a warning that everyone “should be cautious when making judgments about whether or not someone else should receive Holy Communion.”

“In order to receive Holy Communion we must be in communion with God and with the Church,” the document says.

A U.S. military chaplain touches the head of a wounded Iraqi soldier inside a U.S. military hospital in the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, Oct. 30.

Auxiliary Bishop Peter A. Rosazza of Hartford, Conn., signals his desire to speak.



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“If we are no longer in a state of grace because of mortal sin, we are seriously obliged to refrain from receiving Holy Communion until we are reconciled with God and the Church.”

Among examples of such sin, the document cites “committing murder, including abortion and euthanasia; harboring deliberate hatred of others; (and) sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult, or physical or verbal abuse of others that causes grave physical or psychological harm.”

Other “serious violations of the law of love of God and of neighbor” listed in the document included 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.

The document criticized those who “give selective assent to the teachings of the Church.”

But Catholics who have “honest doubt and confusion” about some Church teachings “are welcome to partake of Holy Communion, as long as they are prayerfully and honestly striving to understand the truth of what the Church professes and are taking appropriate steps to resolve their confusion and doubt,” the document says.

Homosexual Catholics
The statement “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care” reiterates Church teaching that all homosexual acts are morally wrong but affirms the dignity of those with homosexual inclinations and says that experiencing such an inclination is not in itself sinful.

The bishops approved the statement 194-37 with one abstention, after turning back a motion to send it back to their Committee on Doctrine, which drafted the document, for more consultation and revision.

“These guidelines are intended to assist bishops in evaluating existing or proposed programs and ministerial efforts (for ministry to those with homosexual inclinations) and to provide direction and guidance for those engaged in this ministry,” it says.

The statement says that “a clear understanding of the place of sexuality within God’s plan for humanity” is needed to meet the challenges posed by the issue of homosexuality.

“The complementary sexuality of man and woman is a gift from God and ought to be respected as such,” it says.

It says the union of man and woman in marriage for the expression of marital love and the procreation and education of children “is the order of nature, an order whose source is ultimately the wisdom of God,” and any sexual expression outside marriage “is disordered.”

Homosexual acts are “objectively sinful” and “the homosexual inclination is objectively disordered,” although “simply having the tendency is not a sin,” the statement says.

“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. ... While the particular inclination to homosexual acts is disordered, the person retains his or her intrinsic human dignity and value,” the statement says.

It says ministry to those with a homosexual inclination must be based on sound Catholic moral teaching, which regards any sexual activity outside marriage as sinful.

In its section on pastoral care the statement condemns “unjust discrimination and harassment” of those with a homosexual inclination and stresses the importance of a parish community that welcomes them as active, participating members.

It adds, however, that “the Church has a right to deny roles of service to those whose behavior violates her teaching. Such service may seem to condone an immoral lifestyle and may even be an occasion of scandal.”
It says catechesis should help Catholics understand the fullness of Church teaching on human sexuality and at the same time appreciate the dignity of all people, condemning violence or unjust discrimination toward those with a homosexual inclination.

It says Church ministers must not promote or bless homosexual unions.

The Church “does not support the adoption of children by same-sex couples,” but it should not refuse baptism to such children if there is “a well-founded hope that the children will be brought up in the Catholic religion,” it says.

It encourages the formation of support groups for those with homosexual tendencies and their families and emphasizes special pastoral care needs for adolescents experiencing same-sex attractions.

Liturgical music
The hymn directory, approved 195-21 with five abstentions, is intended to ensure that hymns used at Mass are doctrinally correct and based on Scripture and liturgical texts. The document also includes norms saying that each diocesan bishop is responsible for approving liturgical songs in his diocese. The directory and norms now go to the Vatican for its assent.

The norms for liturgical music say that the bishop in the diocese in which a song is published is charged with approving the song, with the help of a review committee made up of theologians, liturgists and musicians.

By a close voice vote, the bishops rejected an amendment proposed by Oakland Bishop Allen H. Vigneron that would have required the Committee on the Liturgy to draw up “a process for reviewing worship aids (hymnals, seasonal booklets, etc.),” to be voted on by the bishops within the next three years.

The three principles that should guide bishops’ decisions are that songs be doctrinally correct, based in Scripture and liturgical texts and “relatively fixed” in number, the document said.

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 Trautman in an introduction to the document.

Natural Family Planning
The contraception document, “Married Love and the Gift of Life,” passed 220-11 with one abstention. It strongly supports natural family planning, saying it “enables couples to cooperate with the body as God designed it,” adding that contraception introduces “a false note” that disturbs marital intimacy and contributes to a decline in society’s respect for marriage and for life.

Natural family planning -- which describes several methods of family planning based on the woman’s menstrual cycle -- “enables couples to cooperate with the body as God designed it,” the bishops said.

On the other hand, “suppressing fertility by using contraception denies part of the inherent meaning of married sexuality and does harm to the couple’s unity, and is thereby considered objectively gravely sinful,” they added.

Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said it is the “first document in many years in which the U.S. bishops are collectively addressing a message on contraception directly to engaged and married couples,” the cardinal said, adding that “this is our first word on the subject in a long time and not our last word.”

In the document, 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,” they said. “The Church understands this, while encouraging couples to take a generous view of children.”

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 document said. “And it is not wrong for couples to have intercourse even when they know the wife 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.

The bishops also cautioned Catholics that newer forms of contraception, such as the “morning-after pill,” may cause an abortion if taken after a sperm and egg have joined.

Sex abuse
The bishops allocated $335,000 for the next phases of a national study on the causes and context of clergy sexual abuse of minors.

Patricia O’Donnell Ewers, chairwoman of the National Review Board overseeing the bishops’ compliance with their child protection charter, told the bishops Nov. 13, “I can’t emphasize enough how important this study is for society as a whole” as well as for the Church.

The first study, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, was considered a landmark in its field, and the new study is expected to be similarly groundbreaking.

The board commissioned the college to do the follow-up on causes and context, expected to cost around $3 million in November 2005

(Contributing to this roundup were Jerry Filteau, Nancy Frazier O’Brien, George P. Matysek Jr. and Paula Glover in Baltimore.)

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