- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops will debate a document today that opposes same-sex unions and exhorts state governments to recognize only marriages between men and women.

Also, America’s 65 million Catholics will experience more pain and embarrassment in coming months when a flood of details is released about a clergy sex-abuse crisis that has engulfed the denomination, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said yesterday.

The marriage document, called “Between Man and Woman: Questions and Answers About Marriage and Same-Sex Unions,” was released yesterday and defines marriage as a “lifelong union of a man and a woman.”

The document says that approving same-sex unions “contradicts the nature of marriage,” adding that, “It is not based on the natural complementarity of male and female. It cannot cooperate with God to create new life.”

It also says that recognizing homosexual “marriage” would “grant official public approval to homosexual activity and would treat it as if it were morally neutral.”

“I think when the American family is in trouble, the church is in trouble,” Bishop Donald Trautman of the Diocese of Erie, Pa., told the Associated Press. Bishop Trautman was on the committee of bishops that crafted the booklet.

The document is intended to give Catholics “a way to think about and articulate what may be their deep, yet unspoken conviction about what is true,” according to a statement by Bishop J. Kevin Boland of Savannah, Ga.

Most Americans are leery about embracing homosexual “marriage,” he said, but many are ambivalent about why marriage should be only between a man and a woman and thus protected by law.

The draft, which will be debated by bishops today, got a few early criticisms.

“Is there any reason why we’re not saying in this document that [homosexual acts are] a sin?” asked Auxiliary Miami Bishop Thomas G. Wenski. “Isn’t that our teaching?”

The bishops are expected to decide whether to approve the document later in their national meeting, which ends tomorrow. Nearly one out of four Americans is Roman Catholic.

The USCCB also will hear an update from the National Review Board, a lay watchdog panel that was appointed last year to monitor the progress that dioceses are making toward protecting children in the wake of the clergy sex-abuse scandal.

“It will be hard for people to hear the aggregate numbers [about abuse] over the past 50 years,” said the Most Rev. Wilton Gregory, president of the USCCB. “It will add some more pain to an already painful moment in the history of our church.”

Gathering at the Hyatt Regency in the District for their annual policy meeting, 296 bishops spent more than two hours in executive session about the denomination’s multimillion-dollar investigation into the crisis.

“All my brother bishops have a pastoral heart and they are very concerned about reaching out to the victims,” said Greensburg, Pa., Bishop Anthony G. Bosco. “But when the issues get to the civil courts and a verdict is rendered, both sides are unhappy. Is there any experience that would lead us to believe that financial awards produce any healing or any understanding for the grief and sorrow caused not only for the victims but for all of us?”

Illinois Appellate Court Justice Anne Burke, a member of the 12-member National Review Board, was at a brief loss for words.

“That’s one of the ultimate questions that need to be addressed,” she said. “We don’t know …”

A series of speeches during an open session yesterday revealed little of what insiders say are explosive findings about the scope of the abuse. Each of the country’s 195 dioceses has filed an audit on how well they are following a charter drawn up by bishops in 2002 on preventing further abuse.

William Burleigh, a Review Board member and the chairman of the E.W. Scripps Co., announced the audits will be released Jan. 6. A second report tracing the causes of the sexual-abuse crisis since 1950 will be released Feb. 27 at the National Press Club.

Because of the “extraordinary precautions” being taken to keep the results secret, bishops themselves will see the second report only 48 hours in advance of its general release.

No details about the findings were so much as hinted at yesterday, although USCCB officials said U.S. Catholics will find the scope of the problem “startling.”

Thus, other groups have stepped in with their hypotheses, such as a 2002 study commissioned by the National Federation of Priests’ Councils that said 55 percent of 1,200 Catholic priests polled claim a “gay subculture” exists in their diocese or religious orders.

Author and lecturer Richard Sipe, who advocates for many plaintiff groups in lawsuits against U.S. dioceses, estimates 30 percent of America’s 45,713 priests have homosexual inclinations — although half that number act out their desires with another person. However, more than 2,600 priests have been proved to be sex abusers of children and young adults, he said.

The Catholic Diocese of Orange, Calif., has 50 pending cases, said Mr. Sipe, a former priest now involved in mediation efforts between dioceses and the adult survivors of priestly abuse. The Diocese of Los Angeles, he added, has 500 cases, some of which are also Orange County cases.

Mr. Sipe has compared the clergy sex-abuse crisis to the 16th-century Reformation that gave birth to Protestantism, splitting the Catholic Church.

“The selling of indulgences was the poster child of the Reformation of the 16th century,” he said. “The sexual abuse of minors is the poster child for the Reformation of the 21st century.”


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