Two Catholic leaders in the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago have captured headlines these past few weeks: one for supporting LGBT people and one for denouncing same-gender marriage.
The Trinidadian Guardian reported that last week Father Martin Sirju gave a homily that was supportive of LGBT people and migrants. Speaking on the feast of St. John the Baptist, which is also a holiday for the city of Port-of-Spain, where his parish is located, Fr. Sirju urged congregants to be accepting of LGBT people and welcoming of immigrants who may be different from the parishioners. He stated:
“This means that in the city we will encounter persons like the immigrant or refugee. Cities have always had its fair share, and today, more than its fair share of refugees and people regarded as odd or strange, like John the Baptist. We have to find ways of dealing with this challenge that are humane and in keeping with religious and moral values and international law. The same applies to the LGBT community. They cannot be considered pariah.”
Fr. Sirju urged the congregation of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to include LGBT people, without dwelling on differences that may lie between LGBT and straight congregants, saying:
“We must make room for them for they are part of our common humanity. They are all part of the new or smart future we are striving to create. We may not know what to do sometimes but we follow the general pattern of inclusion. We need new ways of thinking, to think outside the box, to generate new creative traditions.”
He also acknowledged that families can take many different forms, while denouncing domestic violence and the poor treatment of women:
“Family life, whatever conforms to family life in our Caribbean situation, must become less violent, more respectful, filled with mutual understanding, devoid of domination and subjugation, especially of women.”
Fr. Sirju’s homily comes less than two weeks after Trinidadian Archbishop Jason Gordon attended a press conference with five other faith leaders to denounce same-sex marriage in the country, as well as anti-discrimination protections, Erasing 76 Crimes reported. The press conference was Held at the Archbishop’s House and the coalition was organized by Leela Ramdeen, Chair of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice.
This anti-gay statement came only a few weeks after Trinidad’s highest court overturned its anti-sodomy laws. While Archbishop Gordon supported the decriminalization of gay and lesbian people, his statement about the issue was also laced with strongly negative statements about same-sex love. A local news article at the time reported Gordon’s words:
“ ‘The church made a very clear statement that buggery should not be criminalised and that any country that has buggery as a criminal offence, that the church should find ways to remove it from the statute books,’ he said.
“Gordon said the church remains against homosexuality which it views as a moral issue and not a criminal one. Speaking during a television interview on Thursday night, he said, ‘there is no question in the church’s mind or teaching that this is an act that is immoral, disordered, one would even say a sin against nature.’ . . .
“Gordon said the Roman Catholic Church was saying that ‘homosexuality is immoral,’ but that did not mean that ‘it should be illegal.’ ”
Erasing 76 Crimes reported Gordon’s recent statement opposing same-gender marriage:
“ ‘We believe our society and the fabric of Trinidad and Tobago as we know it is at risk,’ Gordon said. He added that the belief that gender was no longer a fact was a ‘pernicious lie’ that created a lot of problems for children and the global society.
“Gordon said that when the US legalised same sex marriage, this country became ‘infected’ with the belief that such a union was right. But TT [Trinidad and Tobago] is a different society, Gordon argued, and the time had come for people in society to ask what they want to become.”
The Alliance for Justice and Diversity, an LGBT rights organization in TT, strongly criticized the religious leaders’ statement, saying that they had “lost their way,” and that they should be focusing on other economic and social pressures harming families.
While same-sex marriage remains illegal in Trinidad, church leaders like Fr. Sirju are working to ensure that LGBT people are welcomed into the community and are not treated as outsiders. Perhaps other Catholic leaders should learn from Fr. Sirju about the importance of having a listening and welcoming heart.
—Kaitlin Brown, New Ways Ministry, July 5, 2018