FOR most of this year so far the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been fielding the Europe-wide blows of theological rebellion with a defence of silence,
11 is expected to deploy the same strategy against new broadsides from another quarter, more disturbing still.
In August in Italy, a Catholic conference heralded the issue of homosexuality and Christianity as the next challenge that the Congregation must face.
The position the former Holy Office adopted in its last stand against homosexuality in 1986 when it described the act as "intrinsically disorderly" and deserving of "approval in no case", is not likely to change. But not for want of new pressure.
An Italian Catholic youth movement's annual conference last month highlighted what the Congregation must have always feared — that even within the Church, its denunciation of homosexuality is not widely accepted as Gospel.
In the past three years since Congregation Prefect Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger published his letter On the pastoral care of homosexuals, gay Catholic groups in Italy and elsewhere in Europe have been examining the biblical motives for Church condemnation.
The general conclusion is that there aren't any, and that God punished Sodom and Gomorrah not because of perverse sexual practices but for rife injustices and idolatry.
"The sin of which gays are accused every day is the result of a false interpretation of the crime of Sodom and Gomorrah", American Fr John McNeil has said.
McNeill's proposals for a solution to the problem of gay Christians in his book The Church and Homosexuality have been just one of many similar recent attempts by priests and theologians to find a compromise. To date, the Vatican has denounced them, one by one.
McNeill's book was withdrawn. He was sentenced to a period of silence and expelled from his order — the Jesuits for refusing to abandon his work
Viviane Hewitt reports from Rome on a new theological challenge
among Christian gays.
His theory that homosexuality is part of the divine plan for humanity has been sustained by other priests in a growing series of studies already submitted to the Holy See, or still forthcoming.
Called to account for his declarations was the American theologian Charles Curran. Then came the Bishop of Seattle, Raymond Hunthausen, "suspected" by Rome of conducting pastoral and liturgical initiatives for homosexuals. After four years, the Congregation judged the allegations "unjust".
Following him into the ecclesiastical "dock" came the French Bishop of Evreux, Jacques Gaillot, who was called to order for proposing a revision of doctrinal and pastoral attitudes towards homosexuality.
The latest defendant is the 54-year-old Spanish theologian Benjamin Forcaro, author of New Sexual Eth;cs: Crime, Anomaly or a Legitimate Variant of Sexuality.
He asks: "We have built an existential norm according to a universal and unequivocally valid norm: heterosexuality. Is this legitimate? Why not admit, as St Thomas seems to suggest, that this minority discordance was only considered unnatural because it diverged from a universal, generic norm?
The Congregation has still to respond.
French Salesian Fr Xavier Thevenot has been compiling a survey among gay Catholics in which they are invited to pose direct questions to Vatican authorities.
The majority ticked the following question as representative of the enigma they would like prelates to resolve: "Why can't we, who have not chosen to live within a homosexual structure, who seek an approach to the living God, not express feelings without being profoundly immoral? How can it be that God, who came, above all, for outcasts, for the a-typical, condemns us to the pain of living?"
In the Vatican's shadow, Fr Luigi Ciotti has been conducting an enquiry from which emerged not only Italian Christian gays' suffering over religion but, paradoxically, their great faith.
Fr Ciotti, one of several priests serving as spiritual advisors to the Italian gay Christian movement, "David and Jonathan", said the enquiry also helped identify five categories of homosexual, possibly brought about by the unwielding Church stance.
These categories include the disillusioned homosexual who has forsaken his Christian faith in bitterness, the breakaway who adheres to freer thinking religious movements, and the schizophrenic church-goer leading a double life. And then there is the solitary but steadfast believer who can no longer remain part of a church that refuses him and, finally, the militant who lives his sexuality openly and refuses to renounce what he sees as his right to be a practising Catholic.
"The Church and society accept the contributions that homosexuals past and present have made in all fields and at all levels but at the same time, they condemn and exclude homosexuals who live their sexuality openly", Fr Ciotti said.
Cardinal Ratzinger is not thought likely to be preparing any new paper on homosexuality and is expected to defuse the latest outbursts by ignoring them — at least publicly.
One observer at the August conference suggested that the fate of gay Christians within the Church would depend on whether the Vatican would come to view the question as a "new planet to be explored and conquered", or remain grounded in the hope that it is a meteor bound to explode before any serious collision and sparking only periodic flashes in the pan.