Posted October 3, 2006
Ministering to the Gay Community
From John Allen Reporting from Rome
National Catholic Reporter
Urging Catholics who minister to homosexuals to regard themselves as part of the ecclesial mainstream, on a par with church-run charities or education services, retired Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Sullivan of Brooklyn said Sept. 24 that gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans-gendered persons "have to be brought into full participation in the life of the church."
Sullivan spoke to a conference of the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries, which met at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, Sept. 21-24. Offices for ministry to gay Catholics in 14 dioceses, along with 25-30 parishes, were represented.
The heart of Sullivan's argument was that the "ecclesiology of communion," promoted by Pope John Paul II, calls Catholicism to adopt a pastoral style towards gays and lesbians which is "accepting, welcoming, encouraging, one that does not reject, define and exclude, but that enables and encourages participation."
Sullivan, 76, is the former executive director of Catholic Charities as well as vice-president of its board of Trustees, and the former chair of the Social Development and World Peace Department of the U.S. bishops.
Referring to church documents on homosexuality that have generated controversy, Sullivan said sometimes the problem is one of language.
"Often people object not to the content of doctrine, but to the fact that it's not sensitively articulated," he said. "They find difficulty with the language, which might be appropriate in a classroom but not in the public forum."
Sullivan suggested that Pope Benedict XVI may have learned something about the need for sensitivity in language as a result of the flap over his Sept. 12 comments on Islam.
"He is a man of great intelligence, of great courteousness, and of tremendous command of language and nuance, even in English," Sullivan said.
"He was in an academic forum addressing the importance of reason and faith, probably not knowing the communications dimension, how different his words would sound on the front pages of the papers," he said.
Sullivan called the experience "a good lesson."
"That's what you face as a leader, as a pastor," he said. "You can say something that's well-intentioned but poorly stated, and cause a lot of grief and unnecessary angst."