A decision by the Vatican several weeks ago to prohibit a Maryland priest and nun from ministering to gays and lesbians has struck a local nerve.
Local church leaders and organizations representing gays, lesbians and bisexuals say the decision sends a harmful message to homosexuals practicing organized religion.
"When Jesus said to love thy neighbor, he didn't say anything about checking on that neighbor's sexual orientation first," said the Rev. Harold Porter, a pastor at the Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church, which opened its doors to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, in 1991. "A church should be just and compassionate. This is abusive to gays and lesbians."
In the Maryland case, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that the priest and nun would be barred from working with gays and lesbians because they did not publicly condemn homosexuality as being intrinsically evil.
It accused them of confusing Catholics about the church's position on homosexuality.
The two church leaders have ministered to gays and lesbians for 22 years. Porter said that this was a harmful publicity tactic being used by the Vatican to reach Catholics in the United States.
"It's a terrible thing," Porter said. "There's nothing inherently sick about homosexuality."
Porter, a pastor for 15 years at the Mount Auburn church, spearheaded that church's decision to welcome and accept gays, lesbians and bisexuals and to ordain them as church leaders.
Porter said the National Presbyterian Church objects to ordaining homosexuals as clergy, elders or deacons but has not charged the church with wrongdoing in fear of "harming the many good things happening here."
"There is a double standard at work," he said. "There's one standard for heterosexuals and another for homosexuals."
Dan Andriacco, director of communications at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, said the Roman Catholic Church had been consistent in its teaching about homosexuality -- it condemns the behavior but not the person.
"There is no sin in having feelings for someone (of the same sex)," he said.
But those feelings should not be acted upon, Andriacco said.
The National Conference of Catholic Bishops created a pastoral message in 1997 to guide Catholics dealing with homosexuality. The document spurred the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to create a local ministry for gays and lesbians, Andriacco said.
The ministry, which officially got off the ground this past spring, was set up to "support and include gays and lesbians in the existing communities of faith," Andriacco said.
Freeman Durham, co-chair of Stonewall Cincinnati, said the distinction being made between the act and the person is inaccurate because it fails to accept that homosexuality is a part of a person.
"I think there's a spiritual side to gays and lesbians that is being denied here," he said. "In this kind of distinction, they are holding gays and lesbians at an arm's length."
Prohibiting a nun and a priest from ministering to homosexuals because they will not condemn homosexuality sends a harmful message that could lead to "unhealthy" consequences, Durham said.
"It could cause some homosexuals to reject religion or others to be closeted or internally conflicted," he said.
But even with possible negative results like these, inclusion of gays and lesbians into religion has made giant strides forward, Porter said.
Since the open-door policy of his church began, the congregation has doubled, he said. Only a third of new members are homosexuals.
"The effect of this has been all goodness," Porter said. "It's a hopeful time. We believe gays and lesbians are a part of God's good creation and are meant to be fully welcomed."
Porter said that the Catholic church is moving forward in its teachings about homosexuality, but it is only halfway there.
"A church should be a headlight, not a taillight," he said. ©