On the Catholic Church’s recent reluctance to ‘welcome’ homosexuality
A recent issue of The Economist with the cover headline ‘The Gay Divide’ talked about how the world is made up of countries where gay rights are winning and those in which homosexuals are still treated as criminals (in Saudi Arabia they can even be stoned to death). On the time scale, at least, there is a progression in societies believing that a person’s sexual orientation is his or her own business. The younger generation especially, even in countries that criminalise homosexuality, is agreeing less with such discrimination.
The Vatican City is technically a country but here the tug of war over this is somewhat different. The current Pope Francis was once asked about his stand on homosexuality and said that he was no one to judge. But even he is finding it tough to change the mindset of those he leads, as was evident in a U-turn that happened recently.
A little more than a week ago, an Assembly of Bishops brought out a draft document which, with some riders, was lauded for finally shedding the Church’s antipathy to gays. A Reuters report said that the document had said ‘the Church should challenge itself to find “a fraternal space” for homosexuals without compromising Catholic doctrine on family and matrimony. While the text did not signal any change in the Church’s condemnation of homosexual acts or gay marriage, it used less judgmental and more compassionate language than that seen in Vatican statements prior to the 2013 election of Pope Francis. “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a further space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home,” said the document…’
But by the time the Assembly brought out the final report, the document had been diluted and the heading of a section called ‘welcoming homosexual persons’ was changed to ‘providing for homosexual persons’. If ‘welcoming’ had been changed then the obvious inference was that the Church was not ready to welcome them. The Guardian wrote that the Pope had lost out to powerful conservatives in the Church and added that in the final report, ‘there is no mention—as there had been in a draft version—of the “gifts and qualities” gay people can offer. Nor is there any recognition of the “precious support” same-sex partners can give each other.’
This obviously has a fallout wherever there is a presence of the Church, including India where homosexuality is still criminal thanks to an unexpected judgment by the Supreme Court. The opposition to homosexuality, for reasons hard to comprehend, comes inevitably from religious leaders of all dispensations who believe that it goes against an order of nature created by God. But, if you look at it through the prism of rationality, religious orders themselves are prone to ‘unnatural’ ways of being. For example, that priests choose to remain celibate throughout their lives also goes against such an order of nature, if it exists. But there is no such thing as natural or unnatural. Anything that exists in nature exists and so long as it harms no one, it is equal and free.