Catholic Church seeks change in policy on gays: Bishops aim to modify Vatican's stance by announcing that homosexuality is not sinful

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The Independent Online
THE ROMAN Catholic Church in this country is trying to soften the Vatican's hard line towards homosexuals.

In a letter to Peter Tatchell, of the gay rights group Outrage, Cardinal Basil Hume, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, says that 'the Church, in upholding the dignity of homosexual people, also makes clear that being a homosexual is neither morally good nor morally bad, but that homosexual genital acts are objectively wrong. This teaching has been consistently stated in Vatican documents.'

However, this interpretation of the Church's teaching was widely believed to have been condemned by the Vatican in 1986, when a letter to the Bishops 'concerning the pastoral care of homosexual persons', written by Cardinal Ratzinger and approved by Pope John Paul II, stated that 'the particular inclination of the homosexual person is . . . a more or less strong tendency towards an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder'.

In a document to be published in May, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, explains away the expression 'objectively disordered' as 'a technical term to describe an inclination which is a departure from the norm'.

The document will say: 'Being homosexual is not sinful or a sin: an inclination is not a sin. The word 'disordered' is a harsh one in our English language. It immediately suggests a sinful situation; or at least implies a demeaning of the human person. It should not be so interpreted.'

The 1986 letter was followed in 1992 by a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican body responsible for ideological purity. That stated that the state should discriminate against homosexuals 'in the placement of children for adoption or foster care, in employment of teachers or athletic coaches, and in military recruitment'.

This caused great anger in the homosexual community, though there were never signs that the Catholic hierarchy in this country had any intention of taking any notice of it.

Two officials from the Catholic Bishops' Conference met representatives of Outrage last summer. But the pressure group was dissatisfied with the response it receieved, and 20 protesters attempted to disrupt the Palm Sunday procession to Westminster Cathdral this year.

The result was a scuffle, in which Peter Tatchell claimed demonstrators were 'violently assaulted by your priests and Cathedral staff, which left some of our members with severe bruising'. Catholic sources suggest that one of the demonstrators was struck with a palm frond by a member of the procession, but there was no other unnecessary violence.

Fr Gareth Moore, a Dominican scholar who has written on sexual morality, believes that it is possible to reconcile the positions of Cardinal Hume and Cardinal Ratzinger. 'The Ratzinger letter, or bits of it, was written so that people wouldn't understand it, in technical, Thomistic language,' he said.

'What Ratzinger means is that you can't call the condition of homosexuality neutral. There is something wrong with you; but you are not at fault. I don't think it says you are sinning, but that you are unfortunate if you are a homosexual.'