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Catholic bishops
to focus on homosexuality at national meeting

Catholic bishops
to focus on homosexuality at national meeting

U.S. Roman Catholic bishops are focusing on the many Catholics who misunderstand or disregard church teaching, instructing them on beliefs about homosexuality, marriage, contraception, and Holy Communion. In a national meeting to start Monday in Baltimore, the bishops were to consider new guidelines on ministry to gay parishioners, explaining the theological underpinnings of the Catholic mandate that marriage must be limited to one man and one woman. The prelates were also to take up documents on worthiness for receiving Communion and on the church's widely ignored ban on artificial contraception. Surveys have found that only about 4% of Catholic married couples of childbearing age use natural birth control, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The attention to core teachings comes as the 64 million-member U.S. branch of the church faces a shortage of priests, low rates of Mass attendance, and a massive influx of Hispanic immigrants. Diocesan budgets are stretched thin. Bishops nationwide have been closing older parishes that are too expensive to maintain while trying to cover rising costs for operating their schools. Several dioceses are still negotiating settlements in the millions of dollars over claims of clergy sex abuse. The cases of three of the four dioceses that have sought bankruptcy protection from molestation claims remain unresolved. To adjust to these pressures, the bishops this week will consider restructuring the conference's Washington, D.C., headquarters. Under the proposal, American dioceses would send less money to the conference, which would in turn cut jobs and committees. Bishops have complained for years that the funds they turn over for conference work are badly needed in their home dioceses. Others consider the large conference staff unnecessary, a hangover from its heyday in the early 1980s when revered Chicago cardinal Joseph Bernardin was guiding conference work and the prelates undertook such ambitious projects as the pastoral letter on nuclear war called ''The Challenge of Peace.'' The bishops have proposed a new set of priorities for their streamlined conference through 2011, including an initiative supporting traditional marriage, increasing the number of candidates for the priesthood, and improving education for Catholics on church teaching. The meeting runs through Thursday, but the bishops have decided to conduct more business than usual behind closed doors. This week, public sessions will end Tuesday. In previous years the conference held only a half-day executive session at its fall meeting, but a spokeswoman said the extra time was needed for ''prayer and reflection.'' (Rachel Zoll, AP)

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