New Zealand’s bishops have acknowledged the Church’s “shortcomings” in providing relevant pastoral care, especially when it comes to LGBT inclusion.
Cardinal John Dew of Wellington, speaking as vice-president of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, said in a statement:
“‘[The nation’s bishops] humbly acknowledge our shortcomings, especially with regards to particular groups in society, such as the LGBT community who have felt a very real sense of rejection through the Church, or perhaps in falling short in fully meeting the needs of our recent migrant communities. . .We hear too the call of those who want to see our actions speak louder than our words, by living out the values that Jesus represents.'”
Dew was commenting on a new study which showed that just one-third of New Zealanders identify as Christian, reported the New Zealand Herald. That study, titled Faith and Belief and New Zealand and published by the Wilberforce Foundation, also found that negative teachings on homosexuality were the top reason (47%) for why so many people had disaffiliated from Christianity.
This latest admission furthers the New Zealand bishops’ overall positive record on LGBT issues. Dew himself has been a leader in calling for the Church to use more pastoral language regarding lesbian and gay people, including at the Synod on the Family. Dew, who was elevated to cardinal by Pope Francis, said earlier this year that church leaders should follow the pope’s example in listening to and accompanying people, including other Catholics, who support marriage equality.
Elsewhere in New Zealand, Bishop Stephen Lowe of Hamilton told a youth gathering in January that the the Church had reached a “Galileo moment” on homosexuality. Bishop Patrick Dunn of Auckland affirmed the need to welcome LGBT people, especially who feel rejected by the Church, at that same gathering. Dunn also wrote a positive review of Fr. James Martin, S.J.’s book on LGBT issues in the Catholic Church, Building a Bridge.
That New Zealand’s bishops are willing to admit that LGBT exclusion is a key reason why Church membership is plummeting is a step forward, and they make a further step by willingly owning their failings. Sadly, such honesty and humility remains rare among church leaders. But positive statements will not be sufficient to rectify either the problem of LGBT exclusion or declining membership. As Cardinal Dew admitted, concrete actions are need to prove church leaders’ commitment to becoming a more inclusive Church that is capable of accompanying people in their real lives. Whether bishops in New Zealand can take that next step remains an unanswered question.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 24, 2018