Singapore’s Archbishop William Goh has apologized to lesbian and gay Catholics for disparaging remarks he made in late June, which has satsified some who now seek furthered dialogue and angered others in the small Asian nation.
Goh released the first open letter to Catholics in the archdiocese on June 21, allegedly in an attempt to make clear the hierarchy’s position on family. Gay Asia News reports on the contents, quoting parts of the letter:
“The Church ‘recognizes that there are individuals who are attracted to people of the same sex’ but ‘continues to maintain, that the family, comprising a father, mother and children, remains the basic building block of society,’ he said.
“It ‘upholds the view that LGBT sexual relationships are not in accordance with the plan of God,’ he said adding that ‘this kind of lifestyle should not be promoted by Catholics as it is detrimental to society, is not helpful to integral human development and contrary to Christian values.’
“In his letter he prays that ‘the Holy Spirit restore them to wholeness.’ “
Goh included language about the need for the Church to show “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” towards LGBT people and to oppose discrimination, though Singapore still criminalizes homosexuality in a law dating to the days of British rule. The archdiocese’s 300,000 Catholics are a small minority at about 5.7% of the nation’s population, and the archbishop’s comments come as LGBT rights are an increasingly debated issue there.
Prominent Singapore political leader Vincent Wijeysingha, who is gay and was raised Catholic, lashed out at Archbishop Goh’s comments, saying:
” ‘The Catholic leadership has remained silent on the real problems that face our world…Today, it has no authority whatsoever, moral or otherwise, to comment on whom I can and cannot love.’ “
Last week, Archbishop Goh released a second letter apologizing for harm caused by the aforementioned statements on homosexuality. He recognized that many had “expressed hurt, anger and disappointment” due to his words, writing:
“I apologize if my initial statement conveyed insensitivity as from your feedback, I have come to realize that there is much variation in thought and lifestyle within this community. I want you to know that I am not indifferent to your pain and frustration, as I see many Catholics with same-sex orientation for spiritual support, counselling [sic] and healing.”
He then went on to explain the Church’s teaching at length, as he understands it. Notable statements from this second letter include the following, which seem based on questionable assumptions:
- “Hence when science seems to contradict divine revelation as taught in the Bible, our faith must hold fast to the Word of God even if we cannot agree…There are many texts in sacred scripture which explicitly state that sexual relationships between those of the same gender are not permissible.”
- “Whether same-sex orientation is due to nature or nurture is something that science has not proven conclusively. If it were so, there would be no debate. To date, there has been no concrete discovery of a homosexual gene but only inferential studies from behavioural observation to postulate nature. In contrary, we find that upbringing, culture or education may play a part in nurturing persons with same-sex attraction. In addition, inner wounds inflicted on a person in-utero or in childhood through sexual abuse or otherwise, can also nurture this. In this respect, healing of such wounds may quell any tendencies as seen by several individuals who lost their attraction for the same sex after encountering inner healing of their childhood wounds.”
- “While the argument is that the child may still receive love from both partners who are in a stable same-sex relationship, the lack of a parental figure as portrayed by a member of the opposite sex may still render the child at risk…Those who come from same-sex parentage share how they face an identity crisis as to their sexuality and orientation and their confusion as to how they should relate to people of different sexes. Some also shared the tendency to be unfaithful and to have multiple sexual partners.”
At the second letter’s end, Goh announced the creation of a new pastoral group to help “those with same-sex orientation” to live chastely. You can read the full letter here.
Pink Dot, a grassroots LGBT organization, released a statement saying they were “heartened that this constructive debate is taking place within the Catholic Church under the leadership of Pope Francis” and hope it will inspire other communities to follow suit.
As is often the case, the real scandal regarding LGBT people is the misinformed and vicious attacks against them that some bishops feel are necessary. Archbishop Goh’s initial letter was meant to clarify Church teaching, but instead he created a damaging pastoral situation that captured news headlines. His second letter reveals a deep misunderstanding about homosexuality, the relationship between faith and science, a responsible exegesis of Scripture, and the truth about children raised by same-gender parents.
Diverse views are integral to being part of the Catholic community, and the bishops are free to have differing opinions on LGBT issues, just as Catholic lay people do. That said, the situation in Singapore reveals how essential it is for bishops to speak from an educated perspective and be clear with their words. Hopefully, Archbishop Goh will use this controversy as an opportunity to overcome his ignorance by sitting down with LGBT Catholics and their allies to listen and learn.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry