Pope Francis’ positive words about lesbian and gay people in the last few months have been used by Catholic bishops in Malta recently. Unfortunately, the bishops quoted the pope to support their opposition to that island nation’s proposed civil unions law for lesbian and gay couples.
On the positive side, the bishops used Pope Francis’ message to encourage civility in what could become a rancorous debate. Pink News quotes a statement, the bishops:
“First of all, we should keep in mind that through this bill we are discussing persons and their lives. Consequently, in order that this may be a mature discussion, it should reflect a profound respect towards those persons. As Pope Francis recently said referring to persons with a homosexual orientation, ‘in life God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation’.”
While the bishops’ call for civility is admirable, especially since they are following the lead from Pope Francis, it is curious that they did not follow the pope’s example of supporting civil unions when he was an archbishop in Argentina. Instead the Maltese bishops have taken a hard-line stance, opposing their nation’s civil unions bill, not because of any sexual ethics implications, but because it would allow couples in a civil union to adopt children. Their statement notes:
“According to the bill, the ‘partners in a civil union’ will be given the right for child adoption. We consider such an issue of a very delicate nature similar to every issue that involves children and the child’s best interest.
“Since there are contrasting views on the issue, it seems to us that it will be wise if the legislator takes the necessary time to make the right decisions on this matter. Children should preferably be brought up by their parents, a man and a woman.
“Moreover, we ask the Members of Parliament to continue taking measures that strengthen the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman. Considering that the family constituted by the unity in the difference between a man and a woman ‘remains the first and principal builder of society’.”
In the second paragraph, the bishops seem to indicate that they recognize that this is a controversial issue, with varying opinions, Yet, they are firmly against civil unions and they expect legislators to be so, too. What is even more curious is that they never argue as to why and how it is better that children be raised by a heterosexual couple rather than a homosexual couple. They state their claim as if it was accepted fact by all, which it clearly isn’t if a civil unions bill is being considered.
The bill is currently being debated by the nation’s Parliament which is also considering a bill to outlaw homophobic discrimination. When the civil unions bill was introduced this week, Malta’s Equality Minister Helena Dalli spoke words that sound more like Pope Francis’ message than the bishops’ statement did. Pink News reported Dalli’s comments:
“We are people before we are straight, gay, black, white or red.
“We have to move towards a society that shuns discrimination and everyone enjoys rights to live a happy life.”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry