Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Bishop Says Gays Welcomed At Church

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas says he wants homosexual worshippers to know they are welcome in his Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson.

Kicanas writes in this month's edition of The New Vision, the diocese's newspaper: "I am very sensitive to the concerns I have heard from people of same-sex orientation that they feel they have no place in our parishes or in the household of faith.

"We need to consider how we as a diocese or how I as bishop may be generating such misunderstanding."

Kicanas, who oversees 350,000 Catholics in nine counties and holds the high-ranking executive position of secretary to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is asking parishioners to help the diocese figure out how to better serve the gay and lesbian Catholic population.

He said part of his impetus for reaching out was criticism he heard after he and Arizona's other two bishops publicly supported a proposed ban on gay marriage last year.

Among the ideas he has heard in early discussions is having a parish where gay and lesbian Catholics could worship in an "accepting environment that would help them live faithfully as Catholics."

"I will continue to explore ways that our diocese can make clear to our Catholic people the consistent teaching of the Church that 'the Good News of Jesus Christ is for all people,'" Kicanas wrote, "that each person is created by God out of love and is therefore deserving to be treated with respect and dignity, and that there are no gradations within God's family: All are his beloved daughters and sons."

So far he said he's heard about 10 comments, generally thanking him for reflecting on the issue.
"More needs to be done," Kicanas said in an interview Friday. "It's a difficult area. Obviously, programs are not as important as communication with people."

Critics said Kicanas ostracized gays and lesbians earlier this year when he decided not to extend an invitation to retired Detroit bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton to speak about homosexuality as part of a program sponsored by the local lay Catholic group Call to Action. Call to Action members sent Kicanas a letter of protest signed by 129 people, including 14 nuns.

All along, Kicanas maintained that the problem wasn't Gumbleton or the subject matter of his talk. Gumbleton wasn't welcomed by the local diocese because Call to Action promotes messages that go against church teaching, he said. The group holds forums exploring topics such as optional celibacy for priests and allowing women into the priesthood.

And Kicanas said it wasn't so much the Gumbleton controversy that prompted his current article about homosexuality in The New Vision, but rather ongoing feedback from parishioners about the church's position on homosexuals and same-sex relationships.

That feedback intensified last year when the state's three bishops publicly supported a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage and also barred governments from giving benefits to employees' domestic partners. Kicanas said several people personally shared their concerns over the bishops' stance with him.

Saying she is "pleasantly surprised" at Kicanas' efforts to reach out to the gay and lesbian community, Call to Action vice president Laurie Olson said she hopes Kicanas will continue the dialogue by speaking with the local GLBT — gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender — community, as well as with parents of GLBT children.

"I am seeing the church doing the same thing on this as they do with women — they make decisions without ever discussing them with a woman," she said.

Olson also wondered how Kicanas will be able to reconcile his outreach efforts with church teaching that gay sex acts are contrary to natural law and that gays and lesbians should remain chaste. The church says "homosexual inclinations" are "objectively disordered," a phrase it defines as "an inclination that predisposes one toward what is truly not good for the human person."

Olson said she was reminded of a cartoon where a couple walks by a Catholic church and comments how nice it is that the church is reaching out to gays and lesbians. On the church is a banner that says, "Welcome inherently disordered persons!"

Joel Fago, a retired Catholic who lives in Sierra Vista, is also concerned about how Kicanas is reconciling church teachings, which Fago says were missing from Kicanas' New Vision article.
Fago understands same-sex relations to be "intrinsically evil," a phrase that has been used in some church documents.

"The misunderstanding Bishop Kicanas is generating is in not stating the Catholic position on homosexuality. … How he is doing this is not in keeping with our faith," Fago said. "We do not hate the homosexuals. On the contrary, we do try to reach out to them and explain the Catholic position. But we do love the sinner, hate the sin."

The issue has been discussed for many years, including during the tenure of the late Bishop Manuel D. Moreno, who was Tucson bishop between 1982 and 2003. In 1997 Moreno and other U.S. bishops issued a letter titled "Always Our Children" in support of gay and lesbian family members.

"Bishop Moreno had a task force looking at the response to people of same-sex orientation but it was put on hold," Kicanas said. "I was in a quandary, really, about what might be a helpful way to move forward."

Kicanas recently met with a group of priests and lay leaders to talk about last November's guidelines adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, titled "Ministry to Persons With a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care."

The guidelines say that while having a homosexual orientation is not sinful, sexual activity between same-sex partners is morally wrong. And they say the church does not support same-sex marriage or the adoption of children by same-sex couple.

But the document also says that people with homosexual inclinations "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity."

The guidelines condemn all forms of violence, scorn and hatred, whether subtle or overt, against gays and lesbians.

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