The place of gay and lesbian Catholics in the church and in society has once again come to the fore, during the furor over the status of same-sex marriages and civil unions, both here and abroad. (Just today, for example, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, weighed in, saying that Proposition 8, the recently approved California measure banning same-sex marriages, was about "restoring the traditional definition of marriage.")
This week, the Catholic bishops of England released a pamphlet entitled, “What is life like if you or someone in your family is gay or lesbian in their sexual orientation?…and what can your parish family do to make a difference?” Exhorting both clergy and laity to remember that “parishes can take a number of steps to ensure that individuals and families feel welcome,” the pamphlet offers several suggestions, including:
"--Be aware of how marginalised some families facing these challenges feel within the Church. Form links with other parishes to share information and build networks of mutual support. Try to establish or promote support groups for parents and family members.
--Try not to assume that everyone is heterosexual; reflect this in language and conversation. When speaking publicly, use the words "homosexual," "gay," and "lesbian" in honest and accurate ways. Avoid stereotyping and condemning. Do not presume that all homosexual persons are sexually active.
--Remember that homophobic jokes and asides can be cruel and hurtful; a careless word can mean another experience of rejection and pain."
At least one “gay rights activist” in the UK, Peter Tatchell, has praised the bishops’ document, calling it "sympathetic" and "understanding."
At the same time, the Vatican has voiced its strong opposition to a UN-sponsored document that would “decriminalize” homosexuality, something that supporters contend is a necessary message to send to certain countries, particularly ones under Islamic shariah, where homosexuality is punishable by death. Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican’s nuncio to the United Nations, said the Vatican opposed the resolution because it would “add new categories of those protected from discrimination’ and could lead to reverse discrimination against traditional heterosexual marriage.”
’If adopted, they would create new and implacable discriminations,” Archbishop Migliore said. ’For example, states which do not recognise same-sex unions as ’matrimony’ will be pilloried and made an object of pressure.”
This move drew a storm of protests from gays and lesbians, as Reuters has reported here. (The Italian newspaper La Stampa called the comments “grotesque.”)
In response, today Federico Lombardi, S.J., the Vatican spokesperson, said, “[N]o one wants the death penalty or jail or fines for homosexuals.” He defended Archbishop Migliore’s comments, adding that the Vatican was in the majority on the issue. "It’s not for nothing that fewer than 50 member states of the United Nations have adhered to the proposal in question while more than 150 have not adhered. The Holy See is not alone," said Father Lombardi.
James Martin, SJ