The Unitarian Universalist Assn., in a blunt assessment, says the Vatican's statement on homosexuality was laced with "archaic religious assumptions" and an "astonishing arrogance" that threatens homosexuals' life styles.
The statement this week by the liberal denomination that traces its heritage to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Susan B. Anthony and other 19th-Century intellectuals, is an unusual breach of normal ecumenical etiquette in which disagreements are rarely discussed in public.
In a letter to all bishops in the church, made public Oct. 30, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith labeled all homosexual activity a sin and said even a tendency toward homosexuality is an "objective disorder."
The letter was understood to be part of a Vatican campaign to rein in sexual permissiveness, especially in the United States.
Vatican officials have noted that two of the most prominent Roman Catholics recently censured by Rome--Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen and Catholic University of America moral theologian Father Charles Curran--were both accused of being too liberal on homosexual issues.
In the Unitarian Universalist statement, issued by F. Jay Deacon of the group's national Office of Lesbian and Gay Concerns, the denomination criticized the Vatican document's link of homosexuality to AIDS as "both ignorant and mischievous."
"The assertion that homosexuality threatens the lives and well-being of the public because it leads to AIDS is unpardonably remote from the facts," the statement said, noting that a far more devastating AIDS epidemic in East and Central Africa is being spread through heterosexual intercourse.
"The recent letter to Roman Catholic bishops from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith demonstrates again that the Catholic hierarchy and its archaic religious assumptions pose a serious threat to the well-being of those who deviate from the church's specifications about what constitutes 'valid' psychosexual orientation or behavior," the statement said.
The "assertion that the sexuality of gay and lesbian people constitutes behavior 'to which no no one has any conceivable right' itself constitutes an astonishing arrogance," it said.
"In the bishops' view, sexuality remains the object of fear and loathing," the statement added. "Prejudice and discrimination are thus less objectionable than departure from doctrines conceived in a time when primitive notions of sexuality prevailed."
The statement affirmed the right of the bishops "to believe as they may" but added, "We do not affirm their right to impose their prejudices upon others in a way that distorts facts, feeds public prejudice, or denies civil rights and liberties to those with whom they disagree."