The blessing of rings and same sex couples …
An opportunity for further fruitful dialogue and outreach
Drachma (Drachma LGBTI and Drachma Parents Group) looks with interest at the discussion that has ensued over the issue of the blessing of the engagement of a gay couple by Fr Mark Montebello OP and on the Archbishop’s reactions to the matter.
Drachma welcomes the positive and constructive approaches to this discussion and feels that this can be a beautiful opportunity to foster dialogue and deeper explorations into a more genuine Christian understanding of gay relationships and their value for the Church and society.
The logic of division
In a world that is often characterised by the divisive logic of us against them, of right against wrong, good against evil, and the ‘with us or against us mentality’, it is very easy to fall into the temptation of siding with one side or with the other. Yet, we feel that discussions such as these require a genuine dialogue and exploration that allow us to look at different perspectives, ultimately, with the aim of discerning truth and God’s will. On the one hand, we understand and respect the Archbishop’s role as the head of the local Church and in his duty to ensure that church rules are being followed. On the other hand, we appreciate the gesture made by Fr Mark, a person who has been close to the LGBTIQ community in Malta, and who, through his gesture has invited us to delve into the possibility of more pastoral initiatives with LGBTIQ persons.
Such a discussion can only be fruitful if three dimensions are looked at with greater openness: the theological dimension, the lived experience dimension and the pastoral dimension.
The theological dimension
There is the Church’s own reflection and study on sexuality, marriage and morality which is an important theological endeavour that in reality is already underway in the ongoing Synod on the Family and in wider academic circles. One must remember that theology is not about fixed and unchangeable moral codes and we hope that a continual genuine discussion of these themes continues.
Theologians such as James Alison, Jeanine Gramick, Richard Woods and Margaret Farley have contributed and continue to contribute to this important discussion that can help the Christian faithful and the Church respond to the new signs of the times. It is also worth noting that a form of blessing of friendship between persons of the same sex existed in the early and medieval Church and this could be a possible way forward for further exploration.
As Drachma, we are committed to encouraging this ongoing theological discussion in Malta and abroad, and we feel that only a genuine exploration can create the right space for the Holy Spirit to continue to enlighten the Church and the sensus fidelium. These prospects for dialogue should not be conceived as a threat but rather as an opportunity to deepen our theological understanding, in tandem with the signs of the times.
The lived experience dimension
A second important dimension relates to the lived experience of LGBTIQ people who provide the Church with the tangible experiences of committed Christian LGBTIQ persons who strive to integrate sexuality with their spiritual experience. We feel that the Church needs to continue to listen and sensitise itself to these experiences, and especially appreciate the positive qualities of gay people and their relationships, a point also acknowledged for the first time in the first working document issued by the Synod on the Family in October last year.
In this respect, the issue of the blessing of gay couples also requires more consideration. While the current ritual and liturgy is restricted to blessing man-woman couples, this should not impede priests from encouraging genuine Christian LGBTIQ couples who wish God to be part of their lived experience of committed self-giving love. Indeed, if priests are allowed to bless animals, cars, houses and businesses, but are not allowed to bless gay couples, what message comes across about the Church and its refusal to the blessing of that love?
One appreciates that for the Church the blessing of houses and the blessing of gay relationships are two very different things, especially because the second type of blessing gives the message that the Church approves of same sex relationships at a time when the Catechism of the Church still states otherwise. Yet, this could also be an opportunity to start thinking a little ‘out of the box’ and allow more exploration into these realities.
The situation that has developed as a result of Fr Mark’s gesture needs also to take into account the initiative that the gay couple itself took to voluntarily seek a Catholic blessing for their love. This is extremely interesting and provides us with a beautiful opportunity to reflect on the genuine yearning of several gay committed Christians who want to include Christ in their lives and in their relationships, which is very positive in itself and something to be encouraged. This can also be an opportunity to properly discern what the Spirit is telling us in these circumstances and to re-visit theological studies and re-read them in the light of these developments.
The pastoral dimension
This sensitivity and respect toward gay people should mirror Christ‘s own attitude in his mission as described in the Gospels. Christ related personally to each individual in their own life situations and did not allow rules to stop him from reaching out to others and embracing them. One remembers Pope Francis’ invitation to the pastors in the first days of his pontificate, when he asked them to be close to their flock and to have the feel and the smell of their ‘sheep’ on their own skin. This should be at the heart of the Church’s pastoral work with LGBTIQ persons. In this respect, we welcome Mgr. Scicluna’s encouragement to Fr Mark and to other priests who have courageously reached out to the LGBTIQ faithful.
Drachma will be hosting James Alison: Catholic theologian, priest and author
23-27 April 2015
Drachma fosters this spirit of genuine dialogue and understanding and invites the Christian faithful, the LGBTIQ community and the shepherds of the Church to continue this ongoing discernment. Drachma has also incorporated the three dimensions mentioned above and which are very much part of its vision and pastoral undertaking.
In this spirit, Drachma will be hosting the Catholic theologian, priest and author James Alison from the 23 to the 27 April 2015. Alison, who is a respected thinker in modern Spiritual Theology, will be delivering three public talks in Malta and Gozo and the public is cordially invited to attend:
· On Friday 24 April at the University, Gateway Building Hall E at 18.00 hrs.
On Saturday 25 April at Manresa Retreat House, Victoria Gozo at 19.00 hrs.
· On Monday 27 April at Verdala Palace at 18.00 hrs.
Drachma hopes that through these encounters and opportunities for dialogue and reflection, the LGBTIQ community, the Church and the general public in Malta can continue to explore new grounds for more inclusion and openness, as well as foster a culture where homophobia, transphobia and all forms of xenophobia and racism would have no place.
Coordinator – Drachma LGBTI