Catholic diocese halts distribution of antigay pamphlets
December 12 2003 12:00 AM ET
A Roman Catholic diocese in Pennsylvania has ordered a priest to stop distributing a pamphlet it says "borders on the pornographic" but that the priest says supports the church's stance against same-sex marriage by detailing claims about the medical consequences of gay sex acts. The Reverend John Nesbella, an assistant priest at Prince of Peace parish in Northern Cambria in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese said Wednesday that he stopped distributing "Medical Consequences of What Homosexuals Do." The seven-page document is authored by the notoriously antigay Paul Cameron, a sociologist who chairs the Family Research Institute in Colorado Springs, Colo. It graphically describes various gay sex acts, including contact with urine and feces, and refers to Cameron's own research, newspaper articles, medical journals, and government statistics. Cameron concludes that, "Homosexuals are sexually troubled people engaging in dangerous activities." Cameron is criticized by gay rights activists and scientists who support the view that homosexuality is partly, or wholly, inherited--like eye or skin color. Gregory Herek, a professor and expert on hate crimes and sexual prejudice at the University of California, Davis, says Cameron twists or misunderstands others' research and uses poor methods to do his own surveys. "All things being equal, I don't see the risk" in gay sex as being greater than straight sex, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, an emergency room physician who is also the executive director of the American Public Health Association. Benjamin said gays and heterosexuals both partake in some behaviors that can cause health problems but knows of no studies that prove gays take more risks than others. Sister Mary Parks, a spokeswoman for the diocese that covers west-central Pennsylvania, said the pamphlet "borders on the pornographic." "The bishop [Joseph Adamec] was concerned that the explicit nature of the material might lead us to become part of the problem rather than part of the solution," she said. "I was stunned by the diocese's action," Cameron said. "The language [in the pamphlet] is all clinical. It's more stridently written, to be sure. It is, after all, an informational or propaganda piece written for an intelligent reader." Nesbella, 41, gave out the pamphlet with materials urging parishioners and other Catholics to write letters to lawmakers in support of the Federal Marriage Amendment. The constitutional amendment defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman only, and supporters say it's needed to thwart various states' efforts to legalize gay marriage or civil unions. In July the Vatican issued a statement condemning same-sex marriage and the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops says Catholics should oppose it politically. Parks said the diocese is in "complete agreement about the sanctity of marriage" with Nesbella and other Catholics and just at odds with Nesbella's methods. Ordained 18 months ago, Nesbella said he has been writing editorials and letters to the editor against same-sex marriage for about five years. "I really believe that God wants me to do this," Nesbella said. "I just believe that the medical consequences of homosexuality are so serious and horrific that somebody has to say something about it." Dr. Brian Kopp, a Johnstown podiatrist who attends another parish involved in Nesbella's effort, said he's checked out Cameron's research. "I'm a trained physician, and I know how to evaluate medical literature," said Kopp, vice president of the Catholic Family Association of America, a grassroots antiabortion group. "He's coming under fire for essentially the same reasons that pro-life activists come under fire for showing picket signs of aborted babies: He is revealing to the public a grim reality that the mainstream media doesn't want to reveal."