A New Zealand Catholic bishop has said the Church faces a “Galileo moment” on homosexuality, one being led by young people. Other prelates in the country have opined on LGBT issues as well while speaking at workshops for youth, exhibitiing the dialogical Church called for by Vatican II and sought by Pope Francis.
Bishop Stephen Lowe of Hamilton said it is youth and young adults who are leading the church on LGBT issues. NZ Catholic reported that he told the audience at the Aotearoa Catholic Youth Festival, where three bishops each gave a workshop:
“‘I think young people are prophets of the Church. They always have something to say to the Church. And that’s what has come up. Young people want the Church to be more engaging with them (LGBT people),” [Lowe] said.
“He said the issue of homosexuality may be a ‘Galileo moment’ for the Church. Galileo Galilei was convicted of heresy by the Church in 1633 for teaching that the earth is not the centre of the universe but actually revolved around the sun.
“‘The psychology is still up for debate but the Church has got to engage with the science and engage with the experience of couples with same-sex attraction,’ he said.”
Asked whether a transgender man could be a priest, Lowe said no, and added it was a “different world” from when he grew up.
During his session at the youth festival, Bishop Patrick Dunn of Auckland told attendees, “We need to make the LGBT people feel welcome. They are beautiful people but they feel rejected by the Church.” Last fall, Dunn wrote an affirming column about Fr. James Martin, SJ’s book, Building a Bridge, saying he too had friends and family who were gay and the book was “well worth reading.”
Finally, Cardinal John Dew of Wellington, referred to Pope Francis when asked how Catholics should engage people, including other Catholics, who support marriage equality and/or abortion:
“‘He (Pope Francis) does say that when people are caught up in a situation like that, we don’t condemn them. We try and walk with them and make sure they know Church teachings so they can make wise and discerned decisions themselves. . .But he does say if people are in a difficult situation or in a situation that isn’t in accord with Church teaching, you listen to them, you accompany them, you try and get them to understand. And even if they don’t fully understand, you don’t dismiss them.'”
In 2014, Dew participated in the Synod on the Family and called for less judgmental language to be used in church teaching on homosexuality.
Bishop Lowe’s reference to a “Galileo moment” on homosexuality is notable, and church leaders should certainly address LGBT issues using the latest contemporary knowledge. But what is most notable in this story is not the content of the bishops’ messages, but their methodology. Hosting these conversations with youth enacts the dialogical Church which Vatican II called for and which Pope Francis would like to realize more fully today. Their responses show they are not only giving answers, but are really listening to the voices of youth, LGBT people, their families, Pope Francis, and more. In short, they are taking seriously the “joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties” of the people of God, as Vatican II encouraged, and in turn they are trying to provide humble and merciful interactions. Perhaps the best advice at the workshops are these words from Bishop Dunn which are readily applicable for LGBT issues:
“‘Don’t be shy to ask your priests and bishop your questions.'”
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 10, 2018
National Catholic Reporter, “New Zealand bishops chat with youth about church, controversial issues“