Catholics who choose to speak out against religious teaching are often met with sharp censure from the Church hierarchy, and certain elements of doctrine leave little room for dissent. That has not stopped Fr. Joseph Palacios, S.J. from preaching a doctrine of love despite the official Church line.Palacios’ group, Catholics for Equality, has chosen to take on perhaps the most polarizing point of contention within the Church: the issue of same-sex marriage.

Founded recently by a board that includes Palacios – a Georgetown professor and openly gay priest – Catholics for Equality seeks to mobilize American Catholics who support civil same-sex marriage. The organization’s battle is undoubtedly an uphill one. But Palacios draws hope from a recent Gallup poll, which indicated that 48 percent of Catholics in the United States favor same-sex marriage.

The Vatican is uncompromising in its rejection of same-sex relationships, and many supporters of the Church’s position are relentless in their vilification of gays. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes homosexual relations as “intrinsically disordered,” and the Catholic blogosphere is often marked by hostility toward gays and lesbians. A recent article published by Catholic Online, for example, prompted comments labeling homosexuality as contrary to biblical lessons and intrinsically evil.

Of course, the anti-gay sentiments of some Catholics do not represent the views of all, or even most, active Catholics. But when combined with the adamant, closed-minded position of the Vatican, they create an environment hostile to both same-sex marriage supporters and opponents who would prefer to engage in rational debate. As a result, many Catholics who are uneasy with the Vatican’s teaching choose to abandon the Church or lapse into inactivity. Catholics for Equality is looking to change that pattern.

The organization offers a promising opportunity both for disappointed Catholics and the Church itself. Palacios and his colleagues are providing a forum for Catholics to share and act on their frustration.

In doing so, they may help the Church retain members who would otherwise cut and run.

The Catholic Church is flawed, and its narrow-minded stance on homosexuality is especially troublesome. But the rational voices of groups like Catholics for Equality, if persistent, can pressure the Church to bring its teaching on same-sex marriage in line with its teachings on love and acceptance.”

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