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LI gay Catholics disappointed over Vatican same-sex marriage ruling

Roman Catholics Ken Heino of Valley Stream, left,

Roman Catholics Ken Heino of Valley Stream, left, and his partner, Albert Hernandez, at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in Manhattan, where the couple worships because it is accepting of gay people. Credit: Ken Heino

The Vatican on Monday affirmed the church’s long-standing teaching against homosexuality, declaring that the Catholic Church won’t bless same-sex unions because God "cannot bless sin."

The ruling — by the pope’s enforcement arm, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — disappointed Long Island Catholics who had taken heart in Pope Francis’ more welcoming public comments during his papacy about gay people.

Ken Heino, 42, of Valley Stream — a gay man who worships at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in Manhattan because it is more accepting of those like him and his fiance, Albert Hernandez — said the Vatican’s ruling was "sad news … not just for gay Catholics but all Catholics."

"I feel that the church is dividing people yet once again," he said, adding: "The church needs to examine its conscience and its parishioners and needs to come up with a decision that moves forward either in the direction of accepting everybody for who they are, or not, but they need to tie up their mixed messages that they’re sending to people."

The ruling came in response to a question posed to the Vatican: "Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?" The answer: "Negative," followed by a nearly 1,000-word explanatory note, which does not say who asked the question.

"The presence in such relationships of positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated, cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing, since the positive elements exist within the context of a union not ordered to the Creator’s plan," according to the ruling, posted on the Vatican’s website.

Catholic teaching holds that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered," and that sex is part of God’s plan for procreation in the bounds of a marriage between a man and a woman.

"The declaration of the unlawfulness of blessings of unions between persons of the same sex is not therefore, and is not intended to be, a form of unjust discrimination, but rather a reminder of the truth of the liturgical rite and of the very nature of the sacramentals, as the Church understands them," Monday’s ruling said.

More than his predecessors, Francis has taken liberal stances in public statements on gay issues — though a pope’s off-the-cuff remarks are not binding on official church doctrine.

In 2019, for example, Francis endorsed civil unions for gay people, saying, "Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over" homosexuality, according to footage shot during a Mexican television interview.

"What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered," Francis said.

But those remarks only became public last year, because the Vatican had initially censored that part of the recording.

And in 2013, he said in response to a reporter’s inquiry on a flight, "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?"

Heino — Nassau County’s acting deputy commissioner for consumer affairs and a county human rights commissioner — worshipped as a youth at Holy Name of Mary Church in Valley Stream. He predicted the ruling could further alienate an already-diminishing flock.

Jeff Stone, 65, who has a summer bungalow in Wading River, worships — as does his partner of over 25 years, James Morris — with a group called Dignity, which has been expelled from official Catholic spaces over dissent from Vatican teachings on homosexuality.

Stone said there has been more acceptance of gay people in the church over the past 30 years, as social attitudes have changed, and "in a way this latest move by the Vatican just increases the distance between the Vatican and the regular people of the church."

Long Island has about 1.5 million Catholics, the largest denomination among the Island’s 1.8 million Christians, according to the most recently available tabulation by Association of Religion Data Archives.

By population, the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which covers Long Island, is the eighth largest in the United States, according to the diocese's website.

Rockville Centre diocesan spokesman Sean Dolan didn’t immediately return a message Monday seeking comment about the Vatican’s ruling.

Kathleen Kane, 65, of Middle Island, who also worships with Dignity, noted that membership in Long Island chapters has dwindled as gay Catholics feel more accepted and welcomed in traditional local parishes.

She has been in a committed romantic relationship with the same woman for more than 40 years.

"Again, the church is just so far behind, it’s just so frustrating," she said, adding: "The local parishes are way more accepting than the hierarchy. The hierarchy is making rules that don’t reflect the day-to-day of Catholic life."

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