Recent news out of Malta concerning Catholics and sexuality/gender issues seems to contradict information released by the nation’s Catholic bishops about the opinions of Catholics there on marriage and family topics.
This tiny, heavily-Catholic island nation has witnessed some important progressive political developments lately in terms of LGBT issues and Catholicism, yet the bishops report seems to indicate that Catholics are satisfied with traditional church teaching in these arenas.
Last month, we reported that this country approved civil unions for lesbian and gay couples, including the right to adopt, though the Catholic bishops there strongly opposed the measure. Furthermore, Malta also made history in the area of transgender equality by becoming the first nation in Europe to protect transgender people in a constitution. Malta Today reported:
“Malta has become the first European state to have gender identity in its constitution following the proposed amendment that was approved yesterday evening in parliament.”
Yet, according to data released recently by the Maltese Catholic bishops, the Catholic community in this country responded in a very traditional way to the survey about marriage and family issues in anticipation of the upcoming world synod on these topics. According to The National Catholic Reporter, here are some of the results:
- Nearly 50 percent of Maltese accept and live by the church’s teaching on birth control, and nearly 20 percent said they ignored the church’s teaching on birth control.
- 62.5 percent agreed that marriage is the indissoluble union between a man and a woman that has children as a goal; 3.8 percent disagreed with this statement and 5.8 percent was unsure; 25.4 percent didn’t answer.
- 43 percent said not allowing divorced and remarried couples to receive the sacraments was a cause of pain, and 14.7 percent said they have felt this pain; 17.2 percent said divorced or remarried couples should be allowed to receive Communion.
The Maltese survey statistics are one of the few sets of data that bishops around the globe have released that show that Catholics in the pews seem to support church teaching. Almost every other set showed great dissatisfaction by the laity in the areas of teaching about marriage and family. (For more information about other survey results, click on the “Synod 2014” link under the “Categories” heading in the column at the right of this page.)
So what can count for this difference between political reality in this nation which is 98% Catholic and the responses given to the survey by Catholics? Perhaps the bishops did not get a random sample of Catholics responding to their questionnaire. Perhaps people responded in a “false positive” sort of way because they did not want to appear to be dissenting from church teaching. Perhaps people are happy for their government to be more progressive about marriage and sexuality, but they do not want their church to be so.
So, while the news report noted that the Maltese bishops were “surprised but reassured by the findings of the survey,” perhaps they need to do some serious soul-searching. One other possibility for the discrepancy highlights a possible serious pastoral problem. Perhaps many of the nation’s Catholics are disaffected or alienated from the church, and did not receive the survey.
This possibility raises an important concern for bishops not only in Malta, but worldwide. As they gather for the synod, they need to take into account not only the opinions of Catholics in the pews, but also those who have left the pews because they found church teachings on marriage and family life not consistent with what their consciences were telling them.
Malta had a powerful glimmer of hope in this regard this past week. Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna, who was the prominent spokesperson for the hierarchy’s opposition to the civil unions bill, took a more reconciliatory step by meeting with members of Drachma, the Catholic LGBT group in Malta.
Pink News reported that Scicluna took part in an event for the International Day Against Homophobia, which was celebrated world-wide on May 17th. The bishop, who during the civil unions debate had declared such recognition as a “grave moral act” was not the only Maltese Catholic leader who showed up for the event. Pink News reported:
“Bishop Scicluna along with a number of other priests were joined by dignitaries from Maltese political parties in support of Drachma and their work with LGBT people.”
Such a gesture of reconciliation with the LGBT community is very much in line with what Jesuit Father James Martin called for in a recent article in America magazine. More gestures of outreach and reconciliation are needed in our church.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry