A top Catholic official in Malta has been selected for an LGBT community award, but questions are being raised about his nomination given the bishop’s mixed record on same-sex relationships.
The Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) honored both public input and committee votes by adding Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna to the nominee list in the spirituality and religion category for their annual LGBTI Community Awards gala. When some indivdiuals criticized this choice, MGRM responded in a statement, quoted in part by Malta Today:
” ‘Spirituality and religion have a positive impact on many peoples’ lives. Just as in the heterosexual community, also for some LGBTI people religion and faith are an important part of their identities. Hence, we support the efforts of LGBTI people who wish to be accepted within their faith communities’…
“The gay rights movement said the bishop had received sufficient votes in the online and sub-committee votes, and in a final review, it was decided not to exclude him to preserve the integrity of the selection process. ‘Secondly… we have indeed seen a marked improvement in the quality and tonality of communication from the Catholic Church more generally in relation to issues affecting the LGBTI Community.’ “
MGRM also announced a meeting to discuss Scicluna’s nomination, and the organization hopes the bishop attends as a “gesture of friendship and dialogue.” It is worth noting that Dominican monk and philosopher Mark Montebello was also nominated for the “spirituality and religion” category.
Scicluna’s record on LGBT issues is a messy one. He has repeatedly denied that same-sex couples can marry, and even opposed a civil unions law in Malta that ultimately passed in September 2013. Scicluna, in an unconfirmed report, said Pope Francis was “shocked” at the idea of gay couples adopting.
At the same time, Scicluna has apologized to lesbian and gay people for times the church has made their lives more difficult. He publicly criticized a lay man’s harsh letter against same-sex relationships, saying it was a “caricature of the Church’s teaching on gay relationships,” and that these relationships exhibit more than lust. Scicluna remarked in an interview about homosexuality in the Catholic Church that, “Love is never a sin. God is love.” Earlier this year, he took part in an official event marking the International Day Against Homophobia, alongside pro-equality political leaders.
Still, critics of MGRM’s decision to keep Scicluna on the nominee list are not satisfied. They believe his record opposing LGBT civil rights and his inability to defy church teaching are sufficient to judge him negatively. Malta Today quotes advocate Joseph Carmel Chetcuti as saying:
” ‘I may have missed something but does Scicluna no longer consider homosexuality intrinsically disordered? Is he now saying that gay men and lesbians, as individuals and couples, should be allowed to adopt children and that it is in the interest of children to have gay and lesbian parents?’ “
What to make of all of this?
First, the Malta Gay Rights Movement should be applauded for their approach to this situation. MGRM recognizes that there is no clear distinction between the LGBT community and Catholicism, but that many sexual and gender diverse people are also faithful believers. MGRM’s willingness to advocate critically and inclusively in this tension is commendable, as is the organization’s commitment to respecting the voices of the public and subcommittees who nominated Scicluna.
Second, Malta is one of the most Catholic nations in the world and the church cannot be ignored by LGBT advocates. More than 90% of the population identify as Catholic and the country is officially identified with the church per the constitution. As MGRM itself recognized, ” ‘While it is undeniably an organisation with deep flaws, [the Catholic Church] also does great good’ in the educational and social services it provides for the island nation. And while the institutional church may not support LGBT equality, the Catholic citizenry of Malta do: it was the first European nation to include gender identity protections in its constitution last year proving there is room to grow.
Third, MGRM is not letting the Catholic Church or Bishop Scicluna off the hook just because they are honoring him. There are deep problems with how the institutional church treats and speaks about LGBT people, and much work remains in attaining an inclusive and just Catholic community. MGRM expressed hope that modern scientific and social development in human sexuality will be integrated into the church’s thought. Further, the organization says, “that at some time in the future the Catholic Church will want to apologise to the LGBTI community for its current and historic discriminatory and exclusionary approach.”
In the end, Bishop Scicluna has declined the nomination, reports MGRM on their Facebook page which also explained the bishop’s reasoning as the following:
“Bishop Scicluna feels he should decline the nomination for the LGBTI Community Awards since, as a matter of principle, he does not accept nominations and awards for doing his duty as a Bishop.
“Bishop Scicluna would like to confirm his commitment to promote a community spirit of solidarity and compassion in which LGBTI persons feel they are welcomed. He also commits himself to fight any unjust discrimination against LGBTI persons.”
Scicluna’s welcome of LGBT is imperfect, but he is also far from the worst. It is important to honor Catholic officials who try to offer positive pastoral outreach within the constraints of institution, rather than writing them off wholesale. Who knows? Perhaps Bishop Scicluna’s real reason for not attending the gala is because he will instead be instructing Malta’s newest resident, Cardinal Raymond Burke, on a more pastoral approach to LGBT people! One can hope!
What do you think? Should Bishop Scicluna and other Catholic leaders be honored by LGBT organizations, even if their records are mixed? Add your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry