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US Catholic Leaders Call for Iraq Exit, Debate Gay and Birth Control Issues

American Roman Catholic bishops are meeting this week in Baltimore, in the northeastern U.S. state of Maryland, to discuss a range of social and political issues, including the war in Iraq and the church's treatment of its homosexual members.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Monday issued a statement calling for the United States to end its military presence in Iraq "at the earliest opportunity." The bishops declared that U.S. troops should stay in Iraq "only so long as their presence contributes to a responsible transition," adding that the U.S. has an obligation to help rebuild the country.

Tuesday, the bishops are voting on guidelines for pastoral care to homosexual Catholics and on explaining the church's continuing ban on contraception.

A draft document urges parishioners to reach out to gay and lesbian Catholics alienated from the church. But it also reaffirms church opposition to same-sex marriages and refers to what it terms the "disordered" nature of homosexual inclinations.

The proposed document discourages gays and lesbians from disclosing their sexual orientation outside of a close circle of parish advisers.

Gay and lesbian advocacy group DignityUSA, has called the draft document on gay ministry "deeply flawed."

The bishops Monday authorized more funding for a detailed study on sexual abuse by clergy members.

The four-day semi-annual meeting ends Thursday, but the public sessions end Tuesday afternoon.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.