The Rainbow Catholics InterAgency for Ministry (RCIA), a coalition of LGBTI affirming Catholic groups and pastoral organizers, this past week released a statement of concern about harsh messages that have begun appearing in the lead up to the nation’s non-binding plebiscite on marriage equality this fall.
On last Thursday, Bondings 2.0 reported on a neo-Nazi poster bearing hate speech that appeared in Melbourne. The poster cited a Catholic priest’s discredited research that claims children with same-gender parents suffer disproportionately higher rates of abuse and addiction than those raised by heterosexual parents.
We also reported on Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart’s threat that he would fire church workers who entered civil same-gender marriages should that become a legal option. Archbishop Timothy Costelloe has since clarified those remarks, though not before a major Catholic healthcare provider released a statement affirming its LGBT employees.
Though Australians overwhelmingly support marriage equality, the plebiscite has instigated an increasingly harmful debate. That is why RCIA released both a peaceful guide for forming one’s conscience on the issue, and appealed for civility and respect especially from church leaders. Its statement said, in part:
“We are acutely aware that suggestions that LGBTI people are in some way campaigning against the rights of other Australians is both deeply hurtful and victimizes the already marginalised. Because of this, some LGBTI Catholics feel disheartened. They are disappointed and confused that some of their spiritual leaders seem not to realise the pain they cause by their language.
“Many have expressed shock and distress over the disturbing collaboration by some church leaders with the Coalition for Marriage whose position implies LGBTI people are to blame for demanding their civil rights. For many this has been very difficult and has caused harm. As is always the case, harm experienced by LGBTI people is also reflected in their families, friends, colleagues and allies.”
The voting guide asked Catholics to form their consciences by thinking about church teachings on inclusion and non-discrimination. It also rejected claims that marriage equality would threaten the church’s teaching on sacramental marriage or impair religious freedom. The guide included these points as well:
“v) To reflect on what social justice means in the context of the appalling history of violence and abuse against LGBTI persons both in the church and in civic society. . .
“vii) Consider the human rights of LGBTI people to have equal access to society’s civil institutions including civil marriage.
“viii) To consider as Catholic Christians how you can protect and support LGBTI persons and their loved ones from discrimination, prejudice, harm and abuse.”
At least one bishop has endorsed the idea that Catholics should vote and follow their conscience. Bishop Michael McKenna of Bathurst said, as quoted in the Daily Liberal:
“Catholics will be informed by their beliefs in marriage according to their faith and that will lead some to vote no but others might say that this is what I believe as a Catholic but for various reasons vote yes. . .I think there are different opinions about changing the law on marriage among all people.”
Two weeks ago, Bondings 2.0 reported on the central role which Catholic voices are playing in Australia’s ongoing debate over marriage equality. In a moment when right-wing extremism is resurgent in the world, these damaging incidents in Australia are a moment to pause for reflection, and focus on appeals to conscience.
Church officials like Archbishop Hart, along with other prominent Catholics like former prime minister Tony Abbott, a marriage equality opponent, should ask what their impact is on LGBT people’s lives when they promote harmful misinformation and discredited science. They should consider the message of Bishop McKenna that respects the agency of Catholics who properly form and live by their conscience.
All Catholics should consider whether the Church’s mission is to stymie equal human rights for all people or to firmly resist hate in every place and in every moment where it surfaces. Do we really want to be a church where bishops threaten devoted LGBT church workers while remaining silent about hate speech targeting LGBT people?
As we reflect on these questions, and as Australian Catholics form their consciences on marriage equality, the Rainbow Catholics InterAgency for Ministry gives us these words to pray for Australia and every place where extremists are a threat to LGBT people:
“We pray that the weeks leading up to the survey will be a time when respect and listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit will reign over rhetoric and ideology that can damage the human spirit in each person.”
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 28, 2017