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Roman Catholicism  
 
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In addition, the very "queerness" of the Church, with its unusual costumes, fabulous lore, scholastic arguments, mystical beliefs, deep spirituality, and sex-segregated schools and convents and monasteries, to say nothing of the large percentage of people of a homosexual orientation in the priesthood and religious orders, may in itself seem to signify an acceptance of the unconventional and the .

In most--though not all--jurisdictions, the Roman Catholic Church has generally not been quite as vocal about the "sinfulness" of homosexuality as some of the evangelical Christian denominations, such as the Southern Baptists, and so has sometimes seemed less rabidly anti-gay.

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Moreover, in 1997 the United States Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral letter addressed to the parents of gay men and lesbians, entitled "Always Our Children." Asking that parents not reject their homosexual children, this is the most positive document about homosexuals ever issued by the Church. The Bishops write that "God loves every person as a unique individual. Sexual identity helps to define the unique persons we are. One component of our sexual identity is sexual orientation . . . God does not love someone any less simply because he or she is homosexual." It is difficult imagining the Southern Baptist Convention issuing such a statement.

Regarding civil rights, the Bishops in this letter remark that "the fundamental human rights of homosexual persons must be defended and . . . all of us must strive to eliminate any form of injustice, oppression, or violence against them."

Unfortunately, however, these rare positive statements are somewhat diminished by several negative comments in the letter, by the fact that it was soon removed from the Bishops' website, and by the Bishops' failure to follow through on their pledge to help eliminate injustice and oppression. Indeed, every year there are reports of the Church itself engaging in discrimination, as diocesan employees--such as secretaries, teachers, choir directors, and organists--are fired when their homosexuality is discovered, often over the objections of parishioners.

Dissent from Within

For all the apparent rigidity of its hierarchical structure, the Church has never been able to silence completely the voices of critics and reformers, both lay and clerical, who have challenged the Church's official positions from within.

In the United States, in particular, many priests have simply ignored the pronouncements of the Vatican on homosexual issues and have sought to nurture the spiritual growth of their parishioners without regard to their sexual orientation or practices. Others--especially those who minister to gay men and lesbians--have spoken out either privately or publicly to indicate their disagreement with the Church's official teachings.

The Church has not hesitated to punish its vocal critics. It has frequently silenced theology professors and dissenting priests, such as Father John McNeill, a Jesuit priest and psychotherapist who wrote the pioneering The Church and the Homosexual (1976), which called for a revision of the Church's traditional teachings about homosexuality, and Charles Curran, a theologian who taught at Catholic University of America until he was abruptly dismissed for dissenting from the Church's view of homosexuality.

The Church has also attempted to silence DignityUSA, a group of glbtq Catholics that works to achieve respect and justice for glbtq people in the Church. Founded in 1969 in San Diego, first as a counseling organization and then as a support group, Dignity became a national organization in 1973. Headquartered in Washington, D. C., it has chapters throughout the United States.

In the 1986 directive to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, the Vatican ordered the Bishops to withdraw all support, or even the semblance of support, from any group vague about the immorality of homosexual behavior. Consequently, Dignity chapters have been denied the use of diocesan facilities and priests ordered not to attend Dignity functions.

The Church does support a much smaller organization called Courage, which upholds the teachings of the Church and aids homosexuals to maintain celibacy, using the methods of a twelve-step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

In 1999, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith harshly disciplined Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent, who had organized "New Ways Ministry" to promote "justice and reconciliation between lesbian and gay Catholics and the wider community," and who had published books critical of the Church's position on homosexuality. Because, in Cardinal Ratzinger's words, they disregarded "the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and the objective disorder of the homosexual inclination," they were "permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons and are ineligible, for an undetermined period, for any office in their respective religious institutes."

Thus, although there are many Roman Catholic priests, theologians, nuns, and other officials who dissent from the Church's official positions, they are not free to criticize those positions without risk of severe punishment.

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