By Simon Caldwell
THE APOSTOLIC Nuncio has been approached by Catholics angered by a Vatican decision to ban an American priest and nun from working with gay and lesbian people.
Celebrating Catholic Diversity has written to Archbishop Pablo Puente, attacking the decision by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith to forbid Fr Robert Nugent and Sr Jeannine Gralnick to undertake any pastoral work with homosexuals.
The group questions the validity in Canon Law of Prefect Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's action, the conclusion of a 12-year probe into "activities inconsistent with the fullness of Christian morality" and which was prompted when the pair refused to give their "interior assent" to Church teaching declaring all homogenital acts to be "objectively disordered".
"We consider the process by which these decisions have been reached to be deeply flawed, lacking in due process ... and certainly not in the spirit of a Church which seeks, in reconciliation and forgiveness, to open the doors of Christ and his people in the celebration of the Great Jubilee," the group writes.
"These actions actually slam doors in our faces, whether as committed gay, lesbian and bisexual Catholics, or parents, families and friends."
The letter forms part of a burgeoning international protest against the action from dissenting movements like We Are Church as well as Catholic homosexual groups in at least ten European countries and the United States.
It is signed by 38 "committed" Catholic clerics and academics, and homosexuals and their families, including the founder of the group, Martin Pendergast, and his mother, Penny.
Signatories also include Fr David Birchall SJ, director of Loyola Hall Retreat Centre, Merseyside; Dr Mary Grey, a feminist theologian at Salisbury's Sarum College; moral theologian Fr Kevin Kelly; Gerard Loughlin, Newcastle University theologian and coeditor of The Journal of Theology and Sexuality; David Pocock, professor of social anthropology at Sussex University; Elizabeth Smart, professor of theology at King Alfred University College, Winchester; Nick Baggio, a deacon in the Leeds Diocese, and Bristol priest Fr Peter Slocombe.
Mr Pendergast, whose group, Christians for Human Rights, formed part of a coalition that successfully lobbied the Government against allowing the Churches to be exempt from the Human Rights Bill, said both the congregation's decision and its penalty were "absolutely surprising".
He said: "It is a crazy situation.
"If somebody comes to Fr Nugent in confession and says 'I'm gay', or 'I'm a lesbian', has he got to say 'I'm sorry, I can't deal with that'?"
Dr Grey said that the ruling given failed to appreciate the "compassionate ministry" exercised by the pair, and called for a renewed teaching of human sexuality in the Church that would incorporate homosexuality.
She said: "The Catholic community is trying to really take an attitude of pastoral sensitivity to the real needs of the gay community and the degree of alienation they have suffered.
"I think this statement has dealt a blow that would put us back decades. Real hope had been generated. This statement beats us back into despair.'
Archbishop Puente was Continued on p2