In an interview with the Times of Malta, Gozo bishop Mario Grech has some important and helpful observations about the Church’s welcome for same-sex Catholic couples. These included a statement that “of course” gay couples in civil unions are welcome in Church, and that gay couples accompanying adopted children through baptism, communion and confirmation are “most welcome”. This is of course standard Catholic teaching. As Bishop Grech puts it,
This is already happening and is fully accepted by the Church. The child or baby should not be held accountable for their parents’ deeds, decisions or way of life. Why should the Church deny the opportunity for same-sex parents wishing to give a Christian formation to their adopted children?
It is regrettable that although it is indeed “fully accepted” in Church doctrine – it is not always so accepted on the ground. There are still Catholics, laity and clergy, who do attempt to penalize the children of same – sex couples. Acknowledging the importance of admitting these children to the sacraments is NOT a matter of changing doctrine to fit the times, as some allege, but rather a matter of bring pastoral practice more firmly into line with what has always been standard teaching.
The interview began with some discussion of communion for the divorced and remarried, which in included a statement which is equally applicable to LGBT Catholics –
The Church cannot refuse to administer communion to somebody who genuinely wishes to receive it and is trying to live in forgiveness
Here follows the complete text of that part of the interview, dealling specifically with same – sex couples:
Gay relationships was another issue that stirred controversy during the synod. In view of the fact that the Church does not condone same-sex marriages, what is the role of gay people genuinely wanting to be close to God?
The synod said very little about this matter for the simple reason that any further focus could have seriously jeopardised the approval of the entire document. In fact, the 2014 synod delved into much more detail on this issue.
This year the synod said that families who have homosexual members need to be supported, their decisions respected and not hindered in any way. The important thing is to be sincere and fully committed to live the gospel. Why should this be a source of disagreement within the Church?
What form of family is in line with the Church’s teachings – a man and woman?
Marriage can only be referred to when talking about heterosexual couples. This is why there can be different forms of relationship. But this does not mean we are excluding or delivering judgment on other types.
But would a homosexual couple feel they have a kind of second class status within the Church?
No. We are neither condoning nor condemning anybody. As long as the individual tries to imitate the values preached by God, we embrace them. There are other values in the gospel, which are difficult to attain, such as forgiving the enemy. We need to strive to reach this goal. We seem to have very clear ideas about justice and love but then stumble upon kindness. These are all proposals put forward by God – like marriage between a man and a woman who form the natural family.
So are gay couples within a civil union welcome in the Church?
Of course. They are part of God’s people, and like everybody else they are going through a journey and the Church needs to support them in revealing God’s hidden face. We cannot define such a journey in stages and put up barriers, as the road is wide open to those truly seeking to follow God’s footsteps, regardless of their sexual orientation.
So should we also expect to see gay couples accompanying adopted children at holy communions, baptisms or confirmation?
Yes. This is already happening and is fully accepted by the Church. The child or baby should not be held accountable for their parents’ deeds, decisions or way of life. Why should the Church deny the opportunity for same-sex parents wishing to give a Christian formation to their adopted children? They are most welcome. This is why the synod tried to give a new lease of life to those who are genuinely looking for God.
But wouldn’t such an approach be condoning same-sex relationships and at the same time be perceived as the Church bending over backwards to accommodate these people?
No. Mercy is not populism. We are not seeking to boost church attendance at all costs. This is the gospel. Certain choices are not the result of the example being set by others, but reflect the fact that we believe in certain values. This is why great emphasis must be placed on Christian formation. My dream is to make people long once again for God’s goodness. When people discover this beauty many things will fall into place, though I can’t see this happening within my lifetime.
But is there not the risk that the Church may lose its role as a moral compass in society?
Here lies a problem as this question bears the mark of a lay person, which is the same attitude still harboured in sections of the clergy. Before being a moral agency, the Church is an experience of God. I fear that at certain times we have put the cart before the horse as we speak on moral obligations but leave no room for mercy and forgiveness. The Church must be different. If God is at the centre of our lives all other things would naturally follow.
How will the synod help to improve pastoral work on the ground?
We must first be convinced on the essence of the gospel’s message. On many occasions accidental issues have replaced the core substance. If need be, we must cleanse ourselves of certain things in order to be close to the ideals. There must be greater urgency to reach out to people out there as many are looking for God, in various forms. It is also a question of attitude. We need to convert in this respect. The weaker the individual, and the more trouble they are, the greater the need to demonstrate mercy. Let’s hope the Year of Mercy will be the start of a new era for the Church.