Gay marriage: ecclesiastical fall-out

I am surely not the only one who last week was involved in a heated discussion about same-sex marriage. Unfortunately, many who slept while gay marriage was introduced in 2013 woke up four years too late. In one such discussion someone described the Armageddon that would follow the passing of this law and criticised the bishops for not taking a strong stand.

It is true that there is no comparison between the reaction of the Church to the divorce referendum and its reaction to the introduction of gay marriage four years ago and its formalisation last Wednesday. In 2013 the Episcopal Conference limited itself to the release of two statements – one before and another after the passing of the law. Mgr Charles Scicluna, then an auxiliary bishop, was the only bishop to take an active part in the debate. This time round the bishops released a joint statement the day after the vote. Archbishop Scicluna, on the other hand, tweeted before and after and referred to the law in at least one homily.

The bishops’ statement is in sharp contrast to the fire and brimstone language used by the coalition against gay marriage. Its sympathisers told us that Malta was becoming like North Korea, that government was playing God by tampering with the right to life (where?), that the law showed a Communist, totalitarian mentality, that Mothers’ Day would be abolished, and such comments.

They pictured German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the epitome of a Christian in politics, though in actual fact her decision for a free vote was a cynical ploy to get gay marriage voted in before the elections.  She thus removed the greatest hurdle to her forming a coalition after the election.

The bishops’ statement is in sharp contrast to the fire and brimstone language used by the coalition against gay marriage

At least, this time round, we were spared comments about Our Lady crying. But we were regaled by a disgustingly homophobic article by a priest in the Times of Malta (July 11). The Curia quite wisely distanced itself from that article.

What makes matters worse is that the vast majority of the motley group protesting against gay marriage last Tuesday was made up of Christian fundamentalists, far-right politicians and people who are very critical of Pope Francis. Edwin Vassallo deserves respect for taking a position in line with his conscience; but his position is not the only possible Christian position. Wasn’t the speech and vote of, for example, Beppe Fenech Adami, just to mention one name, also evidence of a legitimate Christian position? It was certainly more informed, logical and humane.

The bishops’ statement was clear and principled but prudent. They were strong on the enunciation of principles: “In spite of what the law says, that considers the same even that which is not the same, marriage will always remain the exclusive bond between a man and a woman, that is open to the procreation of children.” But they were caring and compassionate: “The Church fully respects the dignity of every person, whatever the choices made and the relationships embraced. The Church is also committed to welcome, accompany and assist those persons who choose affective relationships or lifestyles which are different to Christian marriage.”

The chasm between the bishops and a good chunk of the Church’s core followers and people in authority can create pastoral problems unless creatively tackled. I think that co-operation between the two dioceses should go beyond issuing joint statements. Their size – not larger than a medium European town and a large village put together – asks for common strategic plans on evangelisation, liturgy, the media, culture, and so on. In March 2016, Malta’s Senate of Priests discussed a summary of the Archdiocese-proposed evangelisation plan 2016-2019. People in the know told me this has not been finalised yet. This is a pity. Perhaps it could be providential if both dioceses now come up with a conjoined evangelisation pastoral plan. Perhaps I am dreaming. But one should never give up hope.

When last Tuesday the coalition against gay marriage organised a protest in front of Parliament, news websites published in English went out of their way to tell us that only between 150 and 200 people participated. It is interesting to note that when last Wednesday the supporters of the law attended a cele­bration publicised, organised and paid for by the government, the same websites did not tell us that the participants numbered between just 300 and 400 people.

The Labour media had been urging people to pack in the square – “nifqgħu Pjazza Kastilja bin-nies” – for the celebration termed as ‘historic’ – a far cry from the actual attendance.

Why did these websites refrain from giving us the numbers but were exuberant in their description of the celebrations? Why was the number of revellers a lot below expectations? Could it be that people have realised that government’s real agenda was a divisive one more than a pro-gay one?

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