A Bishop’s Pastoral Sanity on Gay Marriage Vote

In Australia, the postal vote plebiscite on marriage equality has become nasty, with numerous reports of an increase in homophobic violence. Conversely, those on the other side complain of an increase in anti-Christian hostility.

It is pleasing therefore, to note that at least one Australian bishop has introduced some pastoral sanity, in a letter to his diocese (Paramatta, in West Sydney). In it, he calls for “respect”, from both sides. That is basic to Catholic teaching (but sadly, too often ignored), and is at the heart of James Martin’s celebrated book on the church and LGBT Catholics. Bishop Long goes further, however, making a key point that is usually overlooked in these discussions: there is a fundamental distinction between civil marriage, the subject of the plebiscite, and sacramental marriage – matrimony .

Just as the introduction of legal divorce made no difference to Catholic Church practice, the proposed introduction of same-sex marriage in civil law, will not make any difference to the Catholic sacrament of matrimony.

Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv.

I appeal to all Catholics in the Diocese of Parramatta to conduct this dialogue with a deep sense of respect for all concerned, and for the opinion and decision that each person is free to make.

It is important to remember from the very outset that the postal survey is about whether or not Australians want the legal definition of civil marriage changed to include same-sex couples. It is not a referendum on sacramental marriage as understood by the Catholic Church.

Source: Catholic Outlook

Because this is not about sacramental marriage he writes, deciding how to vote is not a simple matter of “yes” or “no”.  Instead of the usual Catholic response of quoting Catholic teaching on marriage as a union between a man and a woman, he draws attention to the importance of pastoral care for all in his diocese, including those who are themselves “same-sex attracted”, as well as their relatives and friends.

For many Catholics, the issue of same-sex marriage is not simply theoretical but deeply personal. These may be same-sex attracted people themselves or that may be the case with their relatives and friends. In such cases, they are torn between their love for the Church and their love for their same-sex attracted child, grandchild, sibling, cousin, friend or neighbour.

As your bishop, I wish to reiterate the commitment I made at my installation: “I am committed to make the church in Parramatta the house for all peoples, a church where there is less an experience of exclusion but more an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity.”

With this emphasis on accompaniment and pastoral care, Bishop Long is entirely in accord with Pope Francis’ sentiments in “Amoris Laetitia”. This should not surprise – he was recently appointed to his post, by Pope Francis. In their alarmist report on Bishop Long’s letter, the conservative Lifesite News point out that “Last year, Bishop Long gave a lecture in which he denounced Church teaching that homosexuality is disordered”.  (In this too, he is in accord with the majority view at the Family Synod, where it was widely agreed that the language of “disordered” must be abandoned).

In his current letter, he acknowledges that gay and lesbian people have not always been treated with “respect, sensitivity and compassion” (as required by the Catholic Catechism), and  that after the vote is over, the church must “reach out to our LGBTI brothers and sisters”.

Throughout much of history, our gay and lesbian (or LGBTI) brothers and sisters have often not been treated with respect, sensitivity and compassion. Regrettably, the Church has not always been a place where they have felt welcomed, accepted and loved. Thus, regardless of the outcome of the survey, we must commit ourselves to the task of reaching out to our LGBTI brothers and sisters, affirming their dignity and accompanying them on our common journey towards the fullness of life and love in God.

Two final points deserve note.

In his closing remarks, he urges his people “in keeping with the tradition of the Church” to exercise conscience in deciding how to vote. The primacy of conscience is fundamental to Catholic teaching. It is unfortunate that too often, bishops and others claiming to be defending the faith, forget this.

I am intrigued by his even-handed use of terminology. In the first part of the letter, he refers to “same-sex attracted” people – the usual formulation used by the CDF and others promoting Vatican doctrine, but which is widely rejected by gay and lesbian people themselves as insulting. However, in the closing paragraphs, he uses “gay and lesbian brothers and sisters”, terminology which is widely used within the community. He also uses the acronym LGBTI – deftly extending the issue beyond the immediate one of same-sex marriage, to the wider one of full inclusion in church of all, of any sexual or gender minority.

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