For generations, Catholic gays and lesbians have struggled to reconcile their sexual orientation with their Church's strongly worded anti-homosexual teachings. Some, in despair, excommunicate themselves from the Church, others are empowered by pastorally-minded priests to go into same-sex partnerships, while others sadly suppress their sexuality to remain in the Church.
Daniel Helminiak, psychotherapist and professor of psychology at the University of West Georgia, USA, and author of What the Bible Really Says About Sexuality, is convinced the old Biblical, theological and psychological disputes have now been resolved in favour of gay and lesbian relationships; he calls the evidence "incontrovertible". According to Helminiak, the next step is "political". This in effect would mean to get the Church to change its stance. He suspects this will be a long struggle. I daresay it takes a lot of hope and hard work!
Hope is not synonymous with just sitting around waiting for something to happen. Hard work should primarily come from below, from what people, the marginalised, are doing or not doing. What would have happened if Catholics had never objected, mainly through dialogue, to the teachings of the Church on certain moral issues?
According to Fr Robert Egan, SJ, the Church "... justified the institution of slavery, tolerated and endorsed the oppression of women by men, defended the use of torture, blessed the crusades, the Inquisition, and the burning of heretics at the stake, cultivated a disdainful and punitive attitude toward the Jewish people, insisted that sexual intercourse was morally tolerable only for the sake of procreation, condemned democracy, ridiculed the idea of religious liberty, denied the legitimacy of the idea of human rights, and condemned the separation of Church and state" (Commonweal, April 11, 2008).
Fr Egan states that the last six teachings were only reversed at Vatican II through dialogue; moreover, all these teachings were probably considered "settled doctrine" by the authorities who promulgated and wrote about them. That should teach gay and lesbians something about not trying to bind the future to the current stage of their own comprehension. Since apostolic times the Church has always shown a remarkable ability to adapt its teachings in the light of new developments and knowledge. My late wife and I always showed the greatest respect for the gay and lesbian community. We strongly believed gay and lesbians have a right to commit themselves to an active same-sex partnership. We saw the Church's refusal to acknowledge and support the goodness and spiritually enrichment of this partnership as abandonment to other influences of promiscuity and self-centredness.
Pope Benedict XVI is rightly concerned about the breakdown of marital relationships in this day and age. Hence, his use of strong language against free unions, trial marriages and marriages by people of the same sex. For him, these forms of relationships are rather expressions of an anarchic freedom that cause havoc to the common good.
I believe that under certain circumstances monogamous relationships outside marriage are morally wholesome; they need not be the end-product of unbridled lust and anarchic freedom. Moreover, they need not lead to the "destruction of God's work" as the Pope strongly warns.
While the Church has every right to bar gay and lesbian couples from sacramental marriage, these same couples should feel comfortable in receiving the Holy Eucharist provided they approach this sacrament with an informed conscience.
I also believe that same-sex couples should be granted rights and responsibilities by the state like their heterosexual counterparts - with one exception! My view is that on the balance of probability adoption by same-sex couples is not in the best interests of the child.
The forgoing is a tall order to expect the local gay and lesbian community to do, given the Minister of Social Policy John Dalli's negative stand on a proposed EU anti-discrimination directive.
He called the proposal "pre-mature" and turned down a request for a meeting with the Malta Gay Rights Movement (The Times, October 23, 2008). This does not augur well for compromise through true dialogue.
Columnist Kenneth Zammit Tabona is right in saying: "By attacking the Church with regard to divorce, abortion, bioethics, euthanasia, same-sex partnerships etc., we are allowing the government to hide behind ecclesiastical petticoats."(January 15).
MGRM should be wary of empty and misleading pre-electoral promises made by politicians about gay and lesbian rights and responsibilities.
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