The headline in Australia’s Star-Gazette newspaper was intriguing: “No place for bigotry against gays in Catholic Church, says Sydney’s new archbishop.” I was ready for some really good news, but my hope was dashed somewhat when I read the story. I didn’t need to read very far. The first sentence hurt enough:
“Sydney’s next top Catholic has told the Star Observer he will not stand for homophobia in the church, but he stopped short of distancing himself from comments made two years ago when he said same sex marriage would lead to polygamy.”
It might seem that Archbishop-elect Anthony Fisher is a lot better than his predecessor, Cardinal George Pell, who in 2011, according to the newspaper, “compared homosexuality to the ‘flaw’ in a carpet maker’s otherwise perfect carpet.” It is not so much Farmatta’s opposition to marriage equality which is so surprising or outrageous, but the way that he argues the case is disrespectful to gay and lesbian couples.
In a 2012 essay on same-sex marriage, Fisher raised the specter that marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples will bring about polygamy:
“Now the social engineers have their sights set on removing the ‘man and woman’ part of marriage as well. All that will be left is marriage as an emotional union: it’s enough, as they say, that people love each other. But if marriage is just about feelings and promises, it obviously can’t be limited to a man and a woman: two men or two women might love each other. But on the same logic so might more than two.”
But he didn’t stop there, and he also predicted other travesties:
“If polygamy is irresistible on the ‘all that matters is that they love each other’ line, so is marriage between siblings or between a parents and their (adult) child. Once again this is not just ‘slippery slope’ pessimism: it simply reflects the fact that the advocates of SSM [same-sex marriage] give no account of marriage that would exclude such intimate partnerships from being deemed marriages. Only marriage understood as the kind of comprehensive union I have outlined can resist such ‘morphing.’ “
The simplest answer to this illogical thinking is: “No one is asking for polygamous or incestuous relationships to be recognized.” The marriage equality movement arose because there is a natural equality between the love that a gay or lesbian couple share and the love of a heterosexual couple. The social goods from such love are also the same in both types of couples. No one is saying the same thing about polygamous or incestuous relationships. To make the comparison is not a logical argument, but fear-mongering.
But where the archbishop-elect’s line of thinking is most disrespectful by the fact that he sees the advent of marriage equality as a result of the sexual revolution, and not as a question of justice and liberation, as more and more Catholics have begun to see it. Embedded in this line of thinking is that all that matters to gay and lesbian people is to have their sexual relationship recognized. That is simply not the case. What they want recognized and protected is their love and commitment to one another, so that their partnership, which might include a family, can develop strongly, can protect their emotional and personal needs, and can contribute to the common good.
The Star-Gazette news article quoted Fisher’s statement on abhorring discrimination:
“Fisher added that he would not tolerate discrimination: ‘The Catholic Church teaches that God is love and that all He has created is good, God loves everyone and there is no place for hatred and bigotry in His Church towards people with same sex attraction.’ ”
Yet, in this very statement he shows, again, disrespect by using the term “same sex attraction” and not “gay and lesbian” which is how the overwhelming majority of such people identify. If he wants to show that he is concerned about this community, the first thing he should do is to respect their self-identification. Even Pope Francis uses the word “gay.”
Fisher, like many other members of the hierarchy, needs to learn that if he really wants to welcome LGBT people to the church, he needs to become more knowledgeable about their lives, the nature of their relationships, and about the real forms of injustice and inequality that they experience. Too often such bishops think that they are being “compassionate,” when in fact, they are being unjust.
Fisher needs to replace his “logic” with a dose of reality. His first line of business as archbishop should be to open a dialogue with LGBT Catholics to learn about their faith journeys and their gifts. I don’t think that someone like him is unreformable, but I think he needs to see how his “logical” arguments are, in fact, pastorally and personally harmful.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry