A South African archbishop offered welcoming words to lesbian and gay people in a recent interview, saying the Church “should be home for gay people.”
Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town made his remarks while speaking with Spotlight Africa. Acknowledging the ongoing presence of lesbian and gay people in the Church, he commented:
“‘It’s very distressing to hear that gay people sometimes don’t feel at home in the Church. The Church should be home for gay people. . .The fact of the matter is that in our parishes we have gay people who come to church and who are very good Catholics and who try to live the best life they possibly can.'”
Brislin, who heads the Southern African Bishops’ Conference, faulted the Church for failing to connect with people and accompany them. But he was hopeful that Pope Francis is changing both the conversation about “irregular” families and pastoral care for people who feel excluded:
“‘My fear is that we sometimes just judge people and we say we can’t help. Pope Francis, on the other hand, says we should be accompanying people and walking with them. . .I think that Pope Francis has opened that debate very clearly. I think it is a dialogue and a discussion that is not going to go away; I think it existed before Pope Francis. . .
“‘I don’t think one should make a special class of people just because they are gay. I don’t think that should be the defining thing. But if people are feeling excluded from the Church, if people are not feeling at home with the Church, that is the issue that we must address and that might be because they are gay, it might be because they are divorced, it might be because they are in other situations. That is the core that should be addressed.'”
Finally, Brislin defended the church’s teaching against the use of condoms to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS, suggesting people “must understand what the Church’s message is” on this matter.
The archbishop’s interview responses on homosexuality are notably positive. His words contrast many bishops’ approach to lesbian and gay people. Rather than the language of “same-sex attractions” or “inclinations,” he used the word “gay,” a word still too infrequent in church leaders’ vocabulary even after Pope Francis’ own use of the word. Brislin recognized, too, that gay people as “very good Catholics” who are present in the Church. They have the same rights for the Church to be a “home” as every other Catholic.
Even better is the starting point from which the archbishop approached homosexuality. Rather than sexual ethics or the fight against LGBT legal rights, the “core” issue for Brislin is the exclusion that lesbian and gay people experience in the Church.While hinting at the more conservative argument that people should not be defined by their sexual identity, he is willing to admit the exclusion is based on judgmentalism about that sexual identity.
In short, Brislin chooses to approach LGBT issues through the lens of social justice instead of sexual ethics. He is following Pope Francis’ lead by beginning with pastoral inclusion and then moving to accompaniment, a model we can hope more bishops will soon adopt
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 9, 2017