Tuesday, November 14, 2006

BALTIMORE — Catholic bishops yesterday allotted $335,000 for three studies on sexually abusive priests, debated whether they should urge a “responsible” U.S. exit from Iraq, and tangled over new guidelines on receiving Holy Communion and on pastoring to homosexuals.

The last-named document allows for the baptism of children of same-sex couples, lists how the church can support Catholic homosexuals in their call to celibacy, explains why the church teaches that such inclinations are “disordered” and sketches out boundaries beyond which priests and nuns who minister to homosexuals may not pass.

Ministers may not officiate at same-sex blessings, the 23-page document adds, or maintain a position of “distant neutrality” toward Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.

But a group of six Catholic doctors and psychiatrists released an open letter on Nov. 6 criticizing the document, saying it lacked scientific and medical input. At the least, they said, it should have stressed the “recovery and healing” that many have found from homosexuality or addressed the “rampant promiscuity and the inability to maintain commitment” among homosexuals.

The document is “inappropriate considering the crisis we’ve been through,” said Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a Philadelphia-area physician who was one of the signers. “It ignores the behavior of priests who were predators of adolescent males.”

Paterson, N.J., Bishop Arthur Serratelli said he was aware of the doctors’ objections, “but the purpose of the document is theological and pastoral,” he said, “and not meant to get into sociological issues.”

The $335,000 that the bishops unanimously voted to approve was part of $1 million they earmarked last year to research the origins of priestly sexual abuse. The money will document how dioceses responded — or failed to respond — to the problem after 1985. Other studies will explore whether seminary training contributed to the problem and how Catholic priests stacked up compared with other abusive clergy.

The bishops also discussed a three-page teaching on Iraq that calls on the U.S. military to undertake a “responsible transition” out of the war-torn country. Various bishops asked that the document condemn torture, that some allusion be made to persecuted Christians in Iraq, and that other Western countries be called on to get involved.

“The business of taking care of terrorism isn’t just a foreign problem of the United States,” said retired New Orleans Archbishop Philip Hannan. “God knows we’ve saved Western Europe on two occasions, and God knows they are not doing their duty.”

Bishops will vote today on the documents and on a 17-page teaching on how Catholics should prepare themselves for Communion. One paragraph warns the faithful that if they “reject the defined doctrines of the church … he or she should refrain.”

Asked at a press conference whether this would apply to Catholic politicians — especially those who disagree with the church’s pro-life stance — Bishop Serratelli responded that it was for “all faithful Catholics, whatever their public profession.”

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