An Australian bishop has said same-gender couples’ love is “like the love of friends,” weighing in as the nation’s postal survey on marriage equality continues through early November. He also commented on pastoral care for lesbian and gay Catholics in general.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane made his remarks about marriage equality during an interview with ABC, telling the program’s host of same-gender couples:
“‘That love is like the love of friends. . .It is love and it is valuable but it’s not and it can’t be the kind of love that we call marriage. . .Parents can’t marry their children, children can’t marry their parents. Sibling marrying sibling has always been ruled out. People underage have been disqualified from marrying but so too people of the same sex. . .That is not to say that they are not equal. It’s simply saying that they are not the same and that they don’t qualify for what we call marriage.'”
Coleridge said he does not “think it’s enough to say that ‘love is love,'” but that there are different forms of love and only heterosexual love can constitute marriage, reported The Sydney Morning Herald. He also called the phrase “marriage equality” a “a brilliant piece of marketing,” and cautioned about LGBT people, “Their dignity has to be respected at every turn.”
LGBT advocates criticized Coleridge. Janine Middleton, a Catholic who co-chairs the Equality Campaign, said that people should remember that “when they speak, words can inflict real damage, and there’s a need to be respectful in the choice of words we use.”
Coleridge’s comments about marriage equality come as Australia’s bishops grapple with the fallout over the scandal of clergy sexually abusing minors. As the Australian Bishops’ Conference vice-president, Coleridge recently traveled to Rome for discussions on how the church can find a new approach after the scandal, reported The Tablet.
While there, he said the abuse crisis had “shaken [the Church] to the core.” Asked by an interviewer about pastoral care for lesbian and gay Catholics, Coleridge replied:
“It’s not just a question of how to accompany gay Catholics. Them certainly – but others as well who struggle to find their place in the community of the Church and to recognise the truth of their life in the teaching of the Church. The big question is how we become a more inclusive Church without abandoning truths of the faith we have received rather than concocted. That question was at the heart of the two Synods on marriage and the family, and it’s at the heart of Amoris Laetitia. It’s very much a work in progress, and that’s seen in the range of Catholic responses to the same-sex marriage vote in Australia. But this wasn’t part of our discussions in Rome.”
Two other Australian bishops have joined Coleridge in opposing marriage equality. Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney “sent hundreds of flyers to city churches and published articles available on many church websites” encouraging Catholics to vote no, reported News.com.au. Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne said church workers might be fired if marriage equality was legalized, though this report was later clarified that it would be up to each bishop to decide on their employment policies.
Australia’s debate over marriage equality has been intense, especially now that the non-binding postal survey is underway. The Huffington Post described the situation thus, “there has been abuse, death threats and even sackings. ..The tone of the debate has seen an increase in young people seeking help from mental health services, and there’s still seven long weeks left. . .” Thankfully, most Catholics are not like the aforementioned bishops and have largely supported equal marriage rights, or at least called for consciences to be respect.
Bishop Vincent Long, OFM Conv., of Parramatta said Catholics are free to decide how they will vote, and will have their own reasons for doing so that may include having LGBT members of their family. Bishop Bill Wright said Catholics should discern their vote carefully, but ultimately, “people of good will might honestly disagree.”
Earlier this year, two rectors at elite Australian Catholic schools came out publicly for marriage equality, as has the Rainbow Catholics InterAgency for Ministry which released a pro-LGBT voting guide this summer. Fr. Frank Brennan, SJ, the head of Catholic Social Services Australia, also wrote that he would be voting “yes” in the postal survey.
It is unfortunate that Archbishop Coleridge is so intransigent about marriage equality. It is even more unfortunate when he harms the Australian church’s already wounded credibility by making ill-informed and offensive arguments against LGBT people. To dismiss same-gender couples’ love as simply that of friends is to disregard core parts of the couples’ respective humanity. There is a deeply misguided anthropology behind such remarks.
The archbishop can never help create the inclusive church he desires with such rhetoric and a very mixed record on LGBT issues. During the Synod on the Family in 2015, he was a positive note with his recognition that the church needs a “new language to speak about homosexuality” and “a new listening is where that will begin.” But in a tweet he has also referred to marriage equality as a “new totalitarianism.” A helpful start for the bishop would be to take his own advice and stop using such language.
Hopefully, Archbishop Coleridge will look around at his fellow Catholics and come to know what they already know: the relationships of LGBT people are good and their love is real and sacred.
––Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 13, 2017