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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Catholic Pastors Send Letter to Bishops On Treating Gays Better
2003-12-24

This article shared 7310 times since Wed Dec 24, 2003
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You wouldn't necessarily associate the Near West Chicago suburb of Berwyn with progressive politics. Berwyn has struggled more deeply than its neighbor, Oak Park, with its identity over the years. But the Berwyn United Gay and Lesbian Organization is a strong force, and some individual activists have managed to make a difference. Talk about a difference—a huge difference between what the Vatican said about gays a few weeks ago and now what a group of local pastors, including one from Berwyn, says. This also occurs as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago announced huge financial deficits and decreasing attendance in local parishes. Twenty-three Roman Catholic pastors Dec. 19 released, 'An Open Letter to the Hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church Regarding the Pastoral Care of Gay and Lesbian Persons,' with the dateline of Berwyn, Ill. Concerned over the 'increasingly violent and abusive language used by certain Church officials when addressing issues pertaining to homosexuals,' the signers of the Open Letter call on all bishops to treat gays and lesbians with 'greater pastoral sensitivity. Rooted in gospel justice which demands equal respect for each human person, the letter asks the bishops to enter into earnest dialogue with gay and lesbian Catholics instead of talking at them.' The signers invite all who agree with the Open Letter to duplicate it, sign it and send it to their pastor, bishop, Bishops' Conference or the Vatican. One of the signers, Rev. Richard J. Prendergast, pastor of St. Mary of Celle parish in Berwyn, said, 'Especially at this time of the year, the Church family needs to model welcoming and sensitive behavior towards all family members. Too many families with gay and lesbian sons and daughters have been torn apart. As members of the Church our primary concern has to be strengthening family ties, not creating greater distance between members. Although the tone of public discourse by many politicians and in many television and radio shows has become harsh and intolerant, we must take every step possible to contain that intolerance and hatred and keep it from polluting our homes and our hearts.' Chicago's Cardinal Francis George usually does not respond to such statements, but he did write a letter to the pastors behind this one. 'Our language is exact, but it does not help us in welcoming men and women of homosexual orientation. It can seem lacking in respect. This is a pastoral problem and a source of anxiety for me as it is for you. It would be good to discuss together. ... [ But if ] you cannot resolve that tension between welcoming people as they are and still calling them to leave their sinfulness and become saints, or if you yourself do not accept the Church's moral teaching on the moral use of the gift of sexuality, it would be all the more important for us to talk.' Excerpts from the Open Letter: As Catholic pastors, we have become increasingly disturbed by the tone and, in some cases, content of documents and statements from the Vatican, bishops' conferences and individual bishops on issues categorized under the heading of 'homosexual' or 'gay/lesbian.' We respect the teaching authority of the Church. Because of this, we find particularly troubling the increase in the use of violent and abusive language directed at any human person. Such language is inappropriate. This is especially so when addressing members of the community of the faithful. These divisive and exclusionary statements from the Church are contrary to sound pastoral practice. The life journey in faith is unique and sacred, including the personal integration of sexuality and spirituality. Condemnations leveled at sincere Catholics attempting to make sense out of their journey are inappropriate and pastorally destructive. As priests and pastors we are speaking out to make clear that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are all members of God's family, brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus and deserving of the same dignity and respect owed any human being. Recognition of the inalienable dignity of the human person is the only path toward justice and reconciliation. We affirm the goodness of all homosexual persons. We root ourselves in the U.S. Bishops' statement 'Always Our Children.' Additionally, we re-affirm the understanding of the goodness of the human person as put forth throughout the papacy of Pope John Paul II. Further, we want to state clearly that ministering to and with our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters is mutually beneficial, as is all ministerial activity. Pre-judging where any believer's journey will take them is inappropriate. Walking with them, as we do with our heterosexual brothers and sisters, is the appropriate Christian response. In the recent past, individual bishops, bishops' conferences and the Vatican have assumed a tone of such violence and abusiveness toward these sons and daughters of the Church, we can no longer remain silent. Has any other group of people within the Body of Christ been so assaulted and violated by such mean-spirited language? Examples from the most recent Vatican document show all too clearly the demonization of these children of God, referring to homosexuality as a 'troubling moral and social phenomenon,' 'a serious depravity,' 'the spread of the phenomenon,' 'approval or legalization of evil,' 'grave detriment to the common good,' 'harmful to the proper development of human society,' 'intrinsically disordered.' Does anyone consider this vile and toxic language invitational? For many gay and lesbian Catholics, this recent series of attacks has forced them, out of self-respect and self-love, to withdraw from active participation in the Church and question how they can remain members of a Church they experience as abusive. It is not possible to minister to and with the needs of our homosexual brothers and sisters with language of this tone as a foundation. The Catholic Church is most catholic when it is inclusive and embracing, and least reflective of the gospel of Jesus when it is exclusive and rigid. For this reason, we also want to affirm the many pastoral and positive statements by certain bishops and bishops' conferences ( e.g. 'Always Our Children' ) . The Church's theology, including her moral teaching, is always in dialogue with the broader lived experience of her members, which shapes and rearticulates the ancient deposit of faith. We encourage a new atmosphere of openness to dialogue which includes the lived experience of many Catholic members. We recognize the blessings of countless homosexuals in a variety of relationships. We believe their experiences must be listened to respectfully. While we do not know the reasons for the increasingly violent and abusive language, we deplore it as ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ and ask that it stop immediately. Furthermore, we request that all those in official positions of teaching authority in the Church refrain from any more statements directed AT the gay and lesbian members of the Body of Christ, and instead begin an earnest dialogue WITH those same members of the Body of Christ. For our part, we pledge to treat all who seek to continue their faith journey with us with respect and dignity, regardless of their sexual orientation. We join the countless men and women, heterosexual and homosexual, who seek justice, mercy and compassion in and through the Catholic Church. ... ( Parish names are listed for identification purposes only. ) : Rev. David Baldwin St. Benedict the African-East Chicago; Rev. Daniel Cassidy St. Mark, Chicago; Rev. Dennis Condon St. Marcelline, Schaumburg; Rev. Lloyd Cunningham, S.V.D. Catholic Theological Union, Chicago; Rev. Nicholas Desmond St. Aloysius, Chicago; Rev. Brian Fischer St. Gregory the Great, Chicago; Rev. Donald Headley St. Mary of the Woods, Chicago; Rev. Robert P. Heinz St. Alphonsus Liguori, Prospect Heights; Rev. Michael Herman St. Sylvester, Chicago; Rev. Thomas Hickey St. Clement, Chicago; Rev. John Hoffman St. Teresa of Avila, Chicago; Rev. Richard Homa Sacred Heart, Palos Hills; Rev. Terry Johnson St. Francis Xavier, LaGrange; Rev. Patrick Lee Immaculate Conception, Chicago; Rev. Robert McLaughlin Mary Seat of Wisdom, Park Ridge; Rev. Dennis O'Neill St. Martha, Morton Grove; Rev. Thomas Pelton Maternity BVM, Chicago; Rev. Richard Prendergast St. Mary of Celle, Berwyn; Rev. Michael Shanahan St. Mark, Chicago; Rev. William J. Stenzel St. Francis Xavier LaGrange; Rev. Patrick Tucker St. Bernardine, Forest Park; Rev. Daniel Whiteside St. Catherine of Siena/St. Lucy, Oak Park; Rev. Bart Winters St. Gregory the Great, Chicago.

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