This week we are on holiday in the Republic of Ireland, which has just held a referendum in which 64.4% of the population voted to remove from the constitution a clause which gave an equal right to life to a mother and her unborn child. The referendum result does not immediately legalise abortion, but it paves the way for the Irish Parliament to do so, and the necessary legislation will certainly be passed in the very near future.
I include here a column from the weekly bulletin of the church we attend in Ireland. It is written by the Parish Priest, whose identity I will withhold as I don’t have explicit permission to republish his views (they are in the public domain on his own church’s website), and some in the Catholic Church may take issue with him. His reference point is obviously Catholic theology and tradition, but I believe he has something to say to the whole church.
The result of the Referendum surprised some of us – but that’s democracy. It doesn’t change a lot – the problem remains and we have to work at developing a society that cares, and provides effective support for all those in need. Life goes on, God is still in the heavens, the sky won’t fall in and if the fine weather continues for another few weeks the farmers will be praying for rain! We live in a rapidly different society from 30-40 years ago. That era wasn’t perfect either. Society is constantly changing and evolving – remember Slavery was the accepted norm onetime up to the end of the 19th century and still goes on in some places today.
One of the issues coming to the fore in our time is the issue of homosexuality. As with unwanted pregnancies, much of this issue was not addressed properly in the past – things were swept under the carpet and there was much wrong and a lot of hurt.
Pope Francis has reminded us many times that life is not black and white – that there are all kinds of grey areas that society has difficult dealing with. A Spanish Newspaper is quoted this week as saying that a gay man named Juan Carlos recently met the Pope who said the following: “He told me, ‘Juan Carlos, that you are gay does not matter. God made you like this and loves you like this and I don’t care. The pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are,’” (Greg Burke, the Vatican’s chief spokesman, did not respond to questions about whether Cruz’s statement accurately reflected his conversation with the Pope.)
It is not the first time it has been suggested that Pope Francis has an open and tolerant attitude toward homosexuality, despite the traditional historical Catholic church’s teaching that gay sex was wrong. In July 2016, in response to a reporter’s question about homosexuality he said “I am glad that we are talking about ‘homosexual people’ because before all else comes the individual person, in his wholeness and dignity.” He continues, “and people should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love.” Francis said: “Who am I to judge?” The new remarks appear to go much further in embracing homosexuality as a sexual orientation that is designed and bestowed by God. It suggests that Francis does not believe that individuals choose to be gay or lesbian, as some religious conservatives argue.
Christopher Lamb, the Vatican correspondent for the Tablet, said the comments were remarkable and a sign of a shift in attitudes taking place. “It goes beyond ‘who am I to judge?’ to ‘you are loved by God,’” said Lamb. “I don’t think he has changed church teaching but he’s demonstrating an affirmation of gay Catholics, something that has been missing over the years in Rome.”
The remarks come as several high profile members of the clergy have sought to publicly make inroads with gay Catholics, many of whom have felt shunned and unwelcome in the church and have been ostracised. Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest in New York has led the outreach effort and was chosen last month to serve as a consultor to the Vatican’s secretariat for communications. Martin has argued in his book “Building a Bridge” that the onus is on the church to make LGBT Catholics feel welcome in the church and to stop discriminating against people based on their “sexuality”.
This is not just an issue for the Catholic church. In many churches of all persuasions are gay Christians who feel unable to reveal their sexuality for risk of persecution. Others have left church after church as they have felt unwelcome, and end up giving up on church altogether, if not giving up on God.
There is a scriptural argument for saying that homosexual practice is wrong – some will agree with that argument, others will not. Some of us may wish to encourage gay Christians to remain celibate, others will not feel this to be necessary. But there is no basis in the Bible, or in wider Christian theology, for condemning someone based on their sexuality – being gay is not inherently wrong, even if acting on those impulses may be.
There are many gifted and sincere followers of Jesus who just happen to be sexually attracted to members of their own gender. Our first response must be to love them, to affirm to them that God loves them, to welcome them into the community of the church so that we may walk with them as they discern the voice of God’s Spirit, that they may live in obedience to him.