The Year of Mercy now underway will hopefully “start a new era for the Church,” said one Maltese bishop who recently spoke extensively about the need to welcome LGBT people and their families.
Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo, part of the Mediterranean island nation of Malta, added that not only the style but content of church teaching must be different. In an interview with the Times of Malta, when asked whether same-gender couples in a civil unions should be welcomed by the church, Grech said:
“Of course. They are part of God’s people, and like everybody else they are going through a journey and the Church needs to support them in revealing God’s hidden face. We cannot define such a journey in stages and put up barriers, as the road is wide open to those truly seeking to follow God’s footsteps, regardless of their sexual orientation.”
Grech said that “there can be different forms of relationship” beyond marriage, though he still defined it hetero-normatively. He said the church must clarify the “difference between civil and ecclesiastical marriage.” Importantly, the bishop set questions about marriage and relationship within the broader context of Christian life:
“We are neither condoning nor condemning anybody. As long as the individual tries to imitate the values preached by God, we embrace them. There are other values in the gospel, which are difficult to attain, such as forgiving the enemy. We need to strive to reach this goal. We seem to have very clear ideas about justice and love but then stumble upon kindness. These are all proposals put forward by God – like marriage between a man and a woman who form the natural family.”
The bishop pushed back against those suggesting Pope Francis’ emphasis on mercy is just appeasing a culture in transition. Grech said mercy is not populism, but the gospel, and criticized those whose ecclesial vision has prioritized ethical judgment:
“Before being a moral agency, the Church is an experience of God. I fear that at certain times we have put the cart before the horse as we speak on moral obligations but leave no room for mercy and forgiveness. The Church must be different. If God is at the centre of our lives all other things would naturally follow.”
Commenting on the Synod on the Family, Grech said homosexuality was not discussed because it “could have seriously jeopardised the approval of the entire document.” He continued:
“On many occasions accidental issues have replaced the core substance. If need be, we must cleanse ourselves of certain things in order to be close to the ideals. There must be greater urgency to reach out to people out there as many are looking for God, in various forms.”
He included in this outreach the children of LGBT parents, noting that such outreah is “already happening” and is “fully accepted” by the church, and necessarily entails full access to the sacraments. Children, Grech said, are not “accountable for their parents’ deeds, decisions or way of life” and therefore:
“Why should the Church deny the opportunity for same-sex parents wishing to give a Christian formation to their adopted children? They are most welcome.”
Bishop Grech’s pastoral vision for the church is inclusive of, but extends beyond LGBT considerations. He is proposing a renewed and reformed Catholic Church, which understands that life is complex and that the church is composed of human beings. In the bishop’s own words:
“Life is not black or white – there are also a lot of shades in between. What makes a good Christian? Perfection? If this were the case it would probably be beyond everybody’s reach. . .Life is a journey from one stage to another, and the Church needs to support the faithful in their quest to find God.”
You can read Bishop Grech’s interview in full by clicking here.
Similar to the interview reported on yesterday with Mumbai’s Cardinal Oswald Gracias, this interview with Bishop Grech reveals a church leader dedicated to understanding the realities of Catholics’ lives and trying to accompany them. Though imperfect for LGBT advocates, his vision of a church where inclusion and conscience are prioritized, and all are supported despite difference, is a good one. May more church officials be converted to this vision during the Year of Mercy!
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry