(RNS) The top U.S. Catholic bishop has denounced a Maryland-based gay ministry that has advocated on behalf of same-sex marriage, saying the group “confuses the faithful” and does not speak on behalf of the church.
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement on Friday (Feb. 5) that “serious questions” have been raised about New Ways Ministry’s “adherence to church teaching on homosexuality.”
“No one should be misled by the claim that New Ways Ministry provides an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and an authentic Catholic pastoral practice,” George said. “Their claim to be Catholic only confuses the faithful regarding the authentic teaching and ministry of the church with respect to persons with a homosexual inclination.”
New Ways, which was founded in 1977 and based in Mt. Rainier, Md., calls itself a “gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian and gay Catholics.” It keeps track of “gay friendly” parishes and colleges, runs retreats, and works for gay and lesbian inclusion in the church.
As George noted in his statement, New Ways was denied official authorization by the archbishop of Washington in 1984, and two of its former leaders were barred by the Vatican in 1999 from associating with the group or working with gays and lesbians.
Recently, George said, New Ways has “criticized efforts by the Church to defend the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman and has urged Catholics to support electoral initiatives to establish same-sex `marriage.”‘
Last March, New Ways’ executive director Francis DeBernardo testified before the Maryland House of Delegates against a proposed measure that would have banned same-sex marriage.
“We’ve pointed out that Catholics in polls are consistently in favor of same-sex marriage,” DeBernardo said in an interview. “I didn’t ever claim to speak for the church, which is what (George) claims.”
According to a 2009 poll conducted by ABC News and The Washington Post, white Catholics are evenly split on same-sex marriage, with 46 percent in favor of legalizing it and 47 percent against. In 2006, just a third of white Catholics supported same-sex marriage.
DeBernardo said New Ways plans to speak with the USCCB, but otherwise the ministry will be unchanged by George’s statement. “It won’t affect our ministry at all,” he said.
— Daniel Burke
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