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Catholics repudiate same-sex marriage

By Associated Press
Published November 13, 2003

WASHINGTON - America's Roman Catholic bishops overwhelmingly approved a statement Wednesday that urges states to withhold recognition for same-sex marriages.

The bishops said they did not intend to offend homosexuals, and they called discrimination against gays unjust. But the church leaders said they had an obligation to "give witness to the whole moral truth" and reinforce Catholic teaching that gay sex is a sin.

"Marriage is in crisis and will be further devalued and eroded unless we're strong in pointing out that same-sex unions are not the equivalent of marriage," said Bishop J. Kevin Boland of the Diocese of Savannah, Ga., who led a committee that drafted the statement.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in September gave its general support to amending the Constitution to define marriage as a union of a man and woman.

The prelates said they felt a need to make another public statement now, as gay couples gain greater acceptance in society and seek the same benefits as heterosexual couples.

Vermont allows civil unions between gays, and laws in California and Hawaii extend some economic benefits to same-sex couples. Two Canadian provinces recently legalized gay marriage.

The bishops approved the statement by a vote of 234-3, with three abstentions. The prelates finished their work and decided to end their meeting Wednesday night, one day early.

The interfaith gay advocacy group Soulforce said the statement was "confusing, harmful and spiritually violent."

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the bishops' conference, acknowledged that some might question how Catholic leaders can make statements on sexual morality after nearly two years of scandal over priests who molested children. But he said the church must speak out "in season and out of season.

The document, "Between Man and Woman: Questions and Answers About Marriage and Same-Sex Unions," defines marriage as a "lifelong union of a man and a woman." It says approving a union of a same-gender couple "contradicts the nature of marriage."

In a separate matter, the bishops directed a committee to draft a document aimed at teaching Catholics about the church's ban on artificial contraception. Surveys have found Catholics use artificial contraception at the same rate as non-Catholics.

A committee of bishops also presented a document to be used in dioceses for certifying that a priest from outside the United States is suitable for ministry. The authors said conducting background checks on foreign-born priests was difficult, and the document would help ensure that sexually abusive clergy are not transferred between dioceses.

The prelates also revised instructions for Sunday services in parishes that have no priest. About 3,000 of the 19,000 U.S. parishes do not have a resident priest, according to researchers.

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