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Vatican teaching underpins anti-gay efforts.

His hands were folded, as if in prayer, and resting atop his belly. A portrait of Jesus was behind him to the right, a statue of Mary to the left. Under the glare of bright lights, a white-haired Fr. John O'Connor, staring directly into the camera, stands poised for action.

First came the Hail Mary. Then came talk of "the homosexual conspiracy."

O'Connor is the one-man act in a two-hour video presenting his theory of a "homosexual conspiracy against the Catholic church." Heavy on anecdotes and light on specifics, O'Connor claims that gays are "infiltrating" the church by becoming active in religious institutions, such as parishes and seminaries. He said the activity is part of a deliberate gay agenda to "neutralize" church teaching on homosexuality.

"The gays recognize that the Catholic church is the greatest obstacle in America today, together with other Bible-based churches, to their acceptance as normal, healthy and gay," O'Connor said. "They know they are never going to get the pope to stand up one afternoon and announce, `Hey everybody, we've been wrong for 2,000 years. Oral and anal sex is just great. Go to it!' No, thank God, that day will never come."

His is one of the more extreme voices among today's Catholics who symbolize a murky affinity between the Catholic right and the more prominent Protestant religious right on the issue of homosexuality.

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights is one of the groups that has emerged in the forefront of Catholic opposition to gay rights legislation. League President William Donohue said the group does not oppose all such legislation, just that with "extremist elements."

The league has often clashed with gay rights groups such as ACT-UP, which is known for its sometimes raucous antiCatholic demonstrations.

The friction between the church and gay rights supporters intensified in 1992 when the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued its statement on homosexuality. It said: "Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder." The statement also condemned any malice toward homosexuals, saying "the intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, action and in law."

Donohue maintains that the league position is based on this church teaching.

"You would be hard-pressed to find authoritative voices within the Catholic community engaged in gay-bashing. But the same is not true about ... the gay community," he said. "Sure, among individual Catholics, you might find some of the worst forms of bigotry. But you will not find this among the Catholic leadership. You will find it among the gay leadership."

While groups such as New Ways Ministry, a ministry to gays and lesbians, seek to make homosexuals feel at home in the church, some Catholics -- who consider themselves in line with church teaching -- are clearly tugging at the welcome mat.

"In general my position is the Catholic position -- hates the sin but loves the sinner," said Roger McCaffrey, who refers to himself as part of the traditionalist Catholic movement. "If homosexuals are repentant in seeking to live celibate lives, that's heroic. And they could conceivably be saints. Homosexuality is intrinsically disordered and in the priesthood, it's deadly and ought not to be tolerated."

McCaffrey is publisher of the bimonthly magazine Latin Mass, with a reported circulation of 8,500.

In the July/August issue of the magazine, McCaffrey chides the emergence of a conservative homosexual element on the Catholic right.

In the same issue, O'Connor promotes his video, "The Homosexual Conspiracy," in a full-page advertisement. McCaffrey said he doesn't know O'Connor, nor has he seen the tape. But the two do have something in common. Both speak highly of Courage, an organization for Catholic homosexuals who accept church teaching on homosexuality.

Courage recently conducted its sixth annual convention in New York. Fr. John Harvey, Courage's national director, said his group is slowly establishing more chapters in Catholic diocesses. Currently there are about 17 chapters.

Among many Catholics, Courage is still largely misunderstood, as are homosexuals in general, Harvey says.

"Many people are very wary about homosexual people. They confuse them with pedophiles. That's part of the problem. Another group -- good people but ignorant -- has no knowledge of what homosexuality is. Homosexuals don't choose to be that way," he said. "And they think we are a group of people running around as wild homosexuals. But when they are instructed about what we do, they change their mind completely."

Courage's goal is helping homosexuals live in accordance with church teaching, encouraging chastity for gays. "We are not able to say much to a homosexual who continues to have a steady lover," Harvey said. "We are courteous to them. But we say to them if that's what you want, there is no sense in coming to our meetings."

No central office exists in the church for dealing with the gay issue and there are varying strains of opposition to homosexuality found throughout conservative Catholic circles, as well as common associations.

For instance, with the order for O'Connor's video, purchasers also receive a free audiotape, titled "Reparative Therapy for Male Homosexuality." It features a 1992 talk by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a controversial Catholic psychologist who specializes in the treatment of "dissatisfied homosexuals."

Last month, at Courage's annual conference, Nicolosi was one of the featured speakers.
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Author:Edwards, Robin
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Sep 2, 1994
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