Contraception and gay sex "neuralgic" issues: US bishop

Persuading married Catholics to reject contraceptives and gay Catholics to refrain from sex are among the "neuralgic" issues up for consideration at a US bishops meeting this week, says a Pittsburgh diocese bishop.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that persuading all Catholics to receive the Eucharist in a state of holiness is also on the agenda for the bishops meeting, which will aim to present difficult Church teachings in what it describes as a "positive, upbeat manner".

"The bishops [are] applying the teachings of the Church to a number of neuralgic issues within contemporary American society, in a pastorally sensitive way," Pittsburgh administrator Bishop Paul Bradley told the paper.

The bishops report that just four per cent of Catholic married couples of childbearing age use the Church's approved methods of Natural Family Planning - abstaining when the wife is fertile.

But Bishop Bradley is optimistic that today's young Catholics are more open to the Church's view that sex is a deeply spiritual experience inextricably tied to the possibility of new life.
Pittsburgh's Catholic high schools teach about NFP in health and science courses, and in a course called "The Catholic Vision of Love."

"I do believe that younger Catholics have a more solid grasp on this teaching than most imagine," he said.

The US bishops as a group have said little about the Church's opposition to artificial contraception since Pope Paul VI reaffirmed that teaching in the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae.

A draft document under consideration by the bishops this week is short, simple and notes that modern NFP, based on observed signs of fertility, is very different from the calendar-based "rhythm method."

"Part of God's gift to husband and wife is this ability in and through their love to cooperate with his creative power," says the draft of "Married Love and the Gift of Life."

"When couples use contraception, either physical or chemical, they suppress their fertility, exerting ultimate control over this power to create a new human life with God. With NFP, spouses respect God's design for life and love."

"It's a counter-cultural document, for sure," said Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie.

The brochure explains that hormonal contraceptives, including the common pill, can prevent a fertilised egg from implanting, which the church regards as an early abortion. This is especially a concern about so-called morning-after pills, Bishop Trautman said.

Bishop Trautman said the brochure got enthusiastic reviews from test groups of lay Catholics, including engaged couples in four dioceses.

Another draft document under consideration by the bishops, "Ministry to Persons With a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care", speaks about including gay people in parish life while also trying to help them abstain from sex.

It says gay people don't have to try to become straight, but that they must cultivate the virtue of chastity.

Bishop Bradley noted that Pittsburgh has a support group, called Courage, to assist in this.

"The point of the document is not a question of whether homosexuality can be cured. Our focus is on ministering to people who want to live their lives according to the teaching of the church," he said.

The draft says that all people, including gay people, are created in God's image.

Bishop decries vulgarity (Leading the Charge, 13/11/06)
U.S. Catholic bishops to confront issues of faithful's sexuality (Post-Gazette, 13/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Bishops to Vote on Guidelines for Helping Catholics Prepare to Receive Communion (USCCB, 19/10/06)
Guidelines for Ministry to Persons with Homosexual Inclination on Catholic Bishops' Agenda (USCCB, 18/10/06)
Encyclical Humanae Vitae

US Court forces Church to provide contraceptive medical cover (CathNews, 24/10/06)
Vatican urged to reopen debate on birth control (CathNews, 17/2/06)

14 Nov 2006