30 July 2015, The Tablet

Gospels must point way on gay issues

Can Pope Francis hold the Catholic Church together on the issue of homosexuality? A group of leading African bishops has already begun to organise itself to fight changes to the traditional Catholic stance, which regards the homosexual condition as “disordered” and homosexual acts as gravely sinful. They see the forthcoming bishops’ synod on the family as a battleground. At the same time there has been no apparent weakening in the position of those European church leaders who want to welcome homosexual Catholics into the community of the Church, and oppose disparagement of their relationships. It is plain that Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster is among them. He has signalled that the model he has established at Farm Street, the Jesuit Church in London – of twice-monthly Masses mainly attended by gays and lesbians – is one he favours for other parishes in Westminster diocese and by implication, elsewhere in England and Wales.

Gay marriage is something of a distraction in this debate. It is regarded in some circles – including by President Barack Obama – as signifying the equality in all legal and moral respects of heterosexual and homosexual relationships. It is opposed by others on the grounds that marriage is by definition between a man and a woman. Mr Obama, during his recent visit to Kenya, raised the treatment of gay people there, but Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta dismissed his guest’s remarks, saying gay rights were not an issue in Kenya. There is a subset within this position which goes further, and regards gay relationships of any kind, not just marriage, as a threat to family life. The Archbishop of Nairobi, Cardinal John Njue, said in an interview in The Tablet last week: “When you get ideas like same-sex relationships being supported even by certain people inside the Church, you can imagine what it all means. The family is endangered.”

Treating gays and lesbians with equal dignity and respect does not depend on being for or against gay marriage. Cardinal Nichols is a good example of that position, as is Pope Francis himself. Indeed, the new chief executive of the gay campaigning body Stonewall, Ruth Hunt, who is Catholic, told The Tablet that changing attitudes, not legislation, was now her prime concern. That would be anathema to Cardinal Njue. But he also said in his Tablet interview: “For us to grow, to flourish, there must be recognition that we are each an individual, a unique person, [with] a richness that he or she can share.” The key question for him is why that does not apply equally to homosexuals.

The answer may lie in deep-seated assumptions in African culture, a lingering sense the male is superior. The 2006 synod of African bishops deplored such attitudes, without relating them to homosexuality. If the differences between masculine and feminine identity are crucial to family life, then anything that blurs those differences, which homosexuality is seen as doing, could arguably threaten its stability. What may be at stake here is an African version of manhood and a model of male-female relationships derived from African social custom rather than Gospel values. And it is around those that the Church can unite.

What do you think?


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User Comments (9)

Comment by: travipar
Posted: 01/08/2015 17:02:19

Catholics clearly should not judge, much less ostrasize, gay people. But one can be against gay marriage without being "gay unfriendly". The issue, for me, is that all of us have a mother and a father, and children should be raised by a mother and a father whenever possible. I know that many gay organizations dispute this, but I am entitled to believe it without being tagged as a bigot. As far as I am concerned, the matter of sexual orientation is private and should not be an issue, aside from the question of child raising.

Comment by: Father Ron Smith
Posted: 01/08/2015 01:36:50

As an Anglican priest, working in Aotearoa/New Zealand, I see this Roman Catholic initiative as vital to the Church's understanding of the need to include LGBT! people as 'normal' members of the Church - especially in light of the fact that society no longer ostracises them, rather seeing them as a valuable sector of the diverse community in which we live in today's world.
Bravo, Cardinal Nichols! Would that the Church of England would be brave enough to follow such a good example of Christ's welcome to ALL.

Comment by: [email protected]:35
Posted: 01/08/2015 01:22:31

Thank you-a wonderful article! There has been some illuminating research in the past years correlating sexism and the devaluation of women with homophobia. If we could discern between the cultural values that denigrate women and the values of the Gospel, that would open wide many avenues for dialogue, repentance, healing and transformation around this topic!

Comment by: thomas
Posted: 01/08/2015 00:19:55

The catholic people clearly do what they believe is right /best for them, heterosexuals in the main do not follow church teaching on birth control and the prohibition on sex before marriage(including the younger generation). Gay individuals in the absence of helpful and indeed damaging self esteem teaching by the catholic church make their own in conscience decisions regarding their personal /intimate relationships.It's is clear that the double standards that can result from denial eg senior Roman Catholic leaders must be examples of the great damage to individuals and contribute greatly to the declining credibility of the catholic church and her attitudes on these most important matters.Those among the laity and the clergy living double lives that must be damaging to the person should not be encouraged and will be unacceptable to many of the younger generation.Great catholic church--what are you afraid of , the truth will make you free!

Comment by: TraditionalAmerican1776
Posted: 31/07/2015 22:59:02

One could put a tutu on a kangaroo and call it a prima ballerina but it wouldn't be so. Likewise a court can call a same-sex union whatever it pleases but it will NOT be marriage.

The Pope, pretense and denial aside, there are numerous secular reasons to avoid the homosexual 'lifestyle.' According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), men who have sex with other men account for nearly two-thirds of all HIV infections! More than a quarter of them also have Hepatitis C. The CDC and other public health institutions have similar stats. Neither 'political correctness' nor dishonesty will keep you guys safe. 

Comment by: sprietsma29
Posted: 31/07/2015 19:36:10

Different African Tribes and countries have different cultures, but isn't there a group of African boys who were martyred and are canonized for resisting the homosexual advas of one of the African kings?

For that Tribe, at least, homosexuality seems to have been "cultural". In some African countries the opposition to gays seems to be a recent "cultural colonization" by some American missionaries and/or European Cathololicism.

There is no doubt many things we can learn from African Culture - notably respect for the environment etc. – but some of their cultural attitudes and practices around sexuality (polygamy etc.) and modern medicine such as fighting polio vaccination – are not acceptable.

Comment by: barthomew
Posted: 31/07/2015 18:21:13

A White House employee desecrated the White House by "performing" an illegal and worthless homosexual marriage there in 2011. Maybe it was the same day Willie Nelson smoked marijuana at the White House.
Recently, the White House was further desecrated by the display of three colors as a way to celebrate the invalid Supreme Court decision on homosexual marriage.
So many people are now wearing a small item colored clerical black as a flag and emblem of mourning and protest.

Comment by: Sean
Posted: 31/07/2015 17:13:39

To accept the moral licitness of homosexual (or heterosexual) acts outside of marriage (which can only be between a man and a woman) is to destroy in its entirety the Catholic understanding of sexual ethics. We should treat those who engage in these acts with compassion but, equally, we should be firm in encouraging them to lead chaste lives. To do otherwise is to betray the Gospel and the continual teaching of the Church. The Africans are exactly right and the Germans are treading on dangerous ground.

Comment by: Jim McCrea
Posted: 30/07/2015 20:54:29

If the traditional family is endangered, look no further than those who belong to it and at the things that seem to be their problems: spousal and child abuse, divorce, infidelity, lack of concern about the others, etc.

Stop blaming lesbians and gays for the problems caused by the current practitioners of traditional marriage.

Supporters of traditional marriage, heal thyselves.

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