Stories of clergy members sexually abusing parishioners have fueled a high profile scandal for the Catholic church, but they've also renewed an older controversy. Gay Catholics are protesting recent statements by members of the church hierarchy in regard to the presence of homosexuals in the clergy. 90.3 WCPN's David C. Barnett reports.
David C. Barnett: Illinois Bishop Wilton Gregory threw down the gauntlet last month. The President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops minced no words when American Catholic Church officials gathered in Rome.
Wilton Gregory: There is a homosexual atmosphere in some of our seminaries which keeps some candidates away because they don't want to be associated with that or they are afraid of being harrassed.
Ken Dayson: I was disappointed in the Bishop's statement. It was totally inappropriate.
DCB: 59-year-old Ken Dayson describes himself as a "Cradle Catholic" - raised in the faith all the way up through his college days at John Carroll University. He's also a gay man who has spent years reconciling his sexual and religious lives.
KD: My sexual orientation is a gift of God just as much as it is for any heterosexual. The Church just doesn't see it that way.
DCB: Gay and Lesbian Catholics find themselves up against centuries of church doctrine. Sexual intimacy is only sanctioned for the purpose of procreation. If a relationship isn't going to yield children, the Catholic Catechism labels it as "objectively disordered". But some argue that the Church has made efforts to soften that description.
Laurie Jurecki: The church is very clear that there's a difference between orientation and activity.
DCB: As a pastoral associate at Ascension Church on Cleveland's Westside, Laurie Jurecki helps conduct a ministry for gays and lesbians. She says the Church has made some strides in reaching out to homosexual parishioners.
LJ: I's still not acceptable to everybody, but it's a huge leap. We were able to say to people being gay isn't a sin. It's not "evil," "immoral" - all those words that have been attached to being homosexual.
DCB: In 1997, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral message aimed at further easing a long-standing alienation. Titled Always Our Children, the document offers advice for parents and priests . 25-year-old Brian Halderman likes what it says - as far as it goes.
Brian Halderman: It calls for parents to accept your children. We as a church should accept that. I want to be able to say that I'm a gay man and a Catholic and I have just as much a place here at the table as you do.
DCB: The church is a daily presence in the life of Brian Halderman - he works in the Education Dept. of the Cleveland Diocese. He says recent news stories only accentuate a disconnect he sometimes feels.
BH: It's difficult. In coming to work here, one of the things I was never going to compromise was who I was. But, my experience here has been welcoming. This Diocese respects the dignity of a person.
DCB: Laurie Jurecki of Ascension Church is concerned that the church hierarchy is taking some steps backwards.
LJ: The most difficult thing at this point for those of us who work with gay and lesbian community is the very unfortunate statements made by some of our Cardinals which have, right from the get-go of this clergy abuse crisis, connected pedophilia with homosexuality. It's a power issue. It's like rape. It's not about sex. It's not about gender. Somehow this community becomes the scapegoat for another horrible issue.
DCB: Based on the comments of Bishop Gregory, Ken Dayson wonders if there will be other ramifications.
KD: Now they're talking about there being more screening of young people entering the priesthood. They might even try to screen out gay candidates, but it'll never work. Look at the dwindling number of men entering the clergy. They're in dire straits for numbers. They can't afford to start excluding gay people.
DCB: We made several unsuccessful attempts to get comments from local seminary officials, but national numbers indicate that seminary enrollment has dropped 80% in the last 50 years.
BH: I can tell you there are a number of gay priests in Cleveland. And it's difficult for them. They're feeling very put-upon right now. And they do such wonderful work.
DCB: Next month, Illinois Bishop Gregory, Cleveland Bishop Anthony Pilla, and church leaders from across the country will meet in Dallas to discuss new policies regarding such things as zero tolerance for sexual predators. Brian Halderman says the time is ripe for an overall dialog about sexuality in the church, though he doubts it will happen. Still, both he and Ken Dayson say that even the recent lurid headlines have left them unshaken in their devotion to a faith that rises above the current scandal.
KD: If I choose to leave, they've won. I won't let them win. I'm sorry, they will never convince me that my sexuality is a "fundamental moral disorder".
DCB: In Cleveland, David C. Barnett, 90.3 WCPN News.