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The Philippines’ top prelate decried the clergy’s harmful treatment of lesbian and gay people during a recent address in London, saying modern science and social attitudes must be integrated into the church’s pastoral efforts.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila spoke about mercy to 8,000 young Catholics at the “Flame II” Youth Congress in Wembley Arena, London, noting the problematic treatment of marginalized communities in the past by representatives of the church. The Telegraph reported:
“[Tagle] said the Church had to learn lessons from changing social attitudes and a greater understanding of psychology and recognise the ‘wounds’ its judgmental approach had caused in the past…
“Speaking afterwards, he said it was clear that the tone taken towards gay people, divorcees who remarried against Catholic teaching and unmarried mothers had left many feeling ‘branded’ and socially ostracised.”
He added that the old, marginalizing ways were harmful, and that new ways of pastoral ministry needed and already happening:
” ‘Yes, I think even the language has changed already, the harsh words that were used in the past to refer to gays and divorced and separated people, the unwed mothers etc, in the past they were quite severe…Many people who belonged to those groups were branded and that led to their isolation from the wider society.’
” ‘I don’t know whether this is true but I heard that in some circles, Christian circles, the suffering that these people underwent was even considered as a rightful consequence of their mistakes, so spiritualised in that sense. But we are glad to see and hear shifts in that.
While the cardinal said he would not abandon the magisterial teaching on sexual ethics, he did allow for some consideration of individual circumstances:
“Here, at least for the Catholic Church, there is a pastoral approach which happens in counseling, in the sacrament of reconciliation where individual persons and individual cases are taken uniquely or individually so that a help, a pastoral response could be given adequately to the person.”
In terms of the church’s relationship to science and current social attitudes, Tagle noted that the Church needed to take these into account:
“Cardinal Tagle told The Telegraph: ‘We have to admit that this whole spirituality, this growth in mercy and the implementation of the virtue of mercy is something that we need to learn over and over again.
” ‘Part of it is also the shifts in cultural and social sensibilities such that what constituted in the past an acceptable way of showing mercy, … now, given our contemporary mindset, may not be any more viewed as that.’
“He said that the past approach in Catholic schools and other institutions had often been to dictate rules and tell people that they were ‘for your own good.’ ”
“ ‘Now with our growing sensibilities, growth in psychology, we realise that some of them were not as merciful,’ he said.
“ ‘Now with the growth of insights in child psychology we see some of the wounds inflicted with that – and so we learn.’ ”
What is significant here is not just that Tagle is picking up on Pope Francis’ dominant theme of mercy, noting that the church could no longer operate through edicts, but also that he is willing to admit that church leaders and institutions have made mistakes in the past.
If Tagle is serious about allowing for individualized pastoral care and also about the benefits of new knowledge, then incorporation of modern scientific understandings of human relationships and intimacy must be taken into consideration by pastoral ministers.
Tagle’s remarks are a stark contrast to comments by an Irish bishop who compared homosexuality to Down’s Syndrome and spina bifida, saying God did not intend gay people to be born with their orientation.
Tagle has been suggested as a popular choice for pope during the next conclave. In the meantime, we need more bishops to also consider past harms done to LGBT people and find new ways of bringing about healing, reconciliation, and justice.
–Bob Shine and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry