Raphael Vassallo | Sunday, 08 February 2009

Make up your blessed minds

On Tuesday, Gozo Bishop Mario Grech issued a clarification regarding his own claim, uttered 10 days earlier, that “whoever does not accept Christ’s teachings should be honest with themselves and excommunicate themselves from the Church.” Bishop Mario Grech does this sort of thing a lot. He comes across as forceful and outspoken one minute, but no sooner are his words interpreted along purely logical and natural lines (I will return to this theme shortly) than he suddenly realises that... Oh dear, I really put my foot in it this time, didn’t I? And off he goes, mumbling some incoherent “explanation” that leaves us none the wiser than before.

This week’s “clarification” is an excellent example, but it is hardly the only one. In December 2007, the same Bishop Mario Grech even confessed on live TV that he had to write to the Vatican for official guidance, after expressing some rather bizarre opinions on the subject of artificial contraception: among them, that condoms do not offer reliable protection against AIDS (this, by the way, during a sermon on the occasion of World AIDS Day).
We never got to know if the “Holy See, Holy Do” actually wrote back. But I can just imagine the general reaction at St Peter’s: “Look, Mario, you’re a bishop now. You can’t expect us to keep to holding your hand every time your big mouth lands you in a tight spot. You got yourself into that mess... now get yourself out of it. Fond regards, Josef.”

But back to Grech’s “self-excommunication” remark, which the Bishop would now have us believe was unconnected in any way to a very public act of self-excommunication, performed just a few days earlier by two prominent personalities... specifically in protest against the Church’s views on homosexuality.
Bishop Grech now claims that his words were taken out of context; that he had been “misinterpreted”; that gays and lesbians were very far from his mind when he argued that people who disagree with the Church should simply ‘up and leave’... and it was merely a coincidence that, of all the available means to express disagreement with the Church, he happened to mention the least likely option imaginable, and which had just a few days earlier made international headlines specifically in connection with disgruntled gay Catholics.

Well, my advice to Mgr Grech is: go tell it to the Mormons. As the person to have joined all the dots and made all the above connections, I feel I have to correct His Grace on a couple of small misconceptions.
Far from taking his words out of context, what I did was put them into a context... not just the context of the recent self-excommunication incident (which he dragged into the equation, not me); but also the context of countless similar pronouncements by the Church – both local and international – on this thorny and quite frankly unresolved social issue.
Bishop Grech may be unaware of this, but the Church’s position regarding homosexuality is not just a private matter for the Vatican alone. It is a matter of intense global discussion and debate, as well as a cause of deep distress to millions of people around the world. It has provoked suicide and depression, bullying at school and discrimination at the workplace... and as such, any public pronouncement on the subject by a prominent and widely-respected Church authority is automatically open to analysis and interpretation by the general public... whether the Bishop likes the idea or not.
It is for this reason that when intelligent people speak in public, they tend to weigh their words very carefully before uttering them... and not afterwards, as the Gozo Bishop seems to have a habit of doing.

He is not the only one, either. Archbishop Paul Cremona appears to operate along similar lines, as evidenced by his remarkable homily on September 8 2008.
No allusion to gays this time; instead, we were told that “secularism” is a “threat” to Malta’s cultural values, to be reckoned alongside the Islamic invasion of the late Middle Ages, or the war against Nazism 70 years ago... without any consideration to how this gross analogy would afterwards be received.
He also drew a subliminal link between divorce, abortion and (of all things) euthanasia, and – most hurtful and hateful of all – suggested that people outside the immediate influence of the Church do not themselves have any values.
And when a number of observers, myself included, pointed out the obvious – i.e., that the Archbishop’s remarks were both untrue and deeply offensive – well, like Bishop Grech he immediately claimed to have been “misinterpreted”... and he even appeared on a television programme to (unsuccessfully) waffle his way out of the self-inflicted situation.
Personally, I am still waiting for a proper explanation of his “value-free society” comment... as well as a justification for the Archbishop’s argument that divorce legislation would lead inexorably to euthanasia.
But I am beginning to suspect that our Bishops are above all that; they are entitled to spout whatever absurdities they please, and then invoke special divine protection the moment their remarks are scrutinized.

The second reason I reject Bishop Grech’s clarification is that – as tends to be the case with dubious retractions – he has overcompensated for his indiscretion, supplying his own, original version of the Church’s position on homosexuality.
All well and good... but for the fact that the Bishop’s views are entirely inconsistent which those of the Vatican whose policies he supposedly represents.
“We need to welcome them with respect, love and sensitivity,” Bishop Grech said. More specifically, he also made the claim (or was this also a misinterpretation?) that “sexual orientation is not a moral disorder.”

Really? How fascinating. I suggest he informs the Vatican right away, because all its recent pronouncements point in a very different direction. The official Church line – traceable, incidentally, to a paper written by Cardinal Josef Ratzinger himself – defines homosexuality as “an aberration and irregularity”. Elsewhere, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Catholic Education Congregation, said recently that “homosexuality is a deviation, an irregularity, a wound.”
This is not a matter to be taken lightly, as evidenced by the recent Rocco Buttiglione affair (Rocco was denied an EU Commissionership, simply for repeating the above definitions in public). I would love to hear Bishop Mario Grech’s explanation for his comment that “sexual orientation is not a moral disorder”, when Pope Benedict XVI so clearly seems to think it is.

And to compound matters, it also appears that Bishop Grech is not entirely aware of the goings-on within his own Archdiocese, either.
While the Bishop was busy welcoming gays with respect and love, the Media Centre in Blata l-Bajda – that’s the Curia’s publishing house – released a book by ultra-conservative Brazilian theologian Atila Sinke Guimaraes entitled ‘The Catholic Church and Homosexuality’.
The following is an excerpt lifted directly from the Media Centre’s website (freely translated by yours truly):
“This book briefly explores the Catholic tradition regarding homosexuality, so as to fully clarify all the associated problems, so that none will remain in any doubt as to the ugliness of this abnormal practice and the way the Church has always looked at it.”
This in turn is clearly a watered-down translation of the publication notes, which say (in English): “this book ... will clarify the issues once and for all, with no doubt left in anyone’s mind about the intrinsic evil of this disgusting, unnatural practice, and how the Church and society have always legislated against it.”

So much, I suppose, for “welcoming them with respect, love and sensitivity.”

Now, I ask you all: in the light of Grech’s revised opinions, expressed last Tuesday...will the Media Centre now remove the above remark from its website, and apologise for the hurt it may have caused? Or will the Archbishop’s Curia lash out at the media in general, and probably myself in particular, for being “sensationalist” in our reporting; for taking the words out of context, or putting others into the Media Centre’s mouth?

No prizes for guessing the answer, but quite frankly they can lash out all they like. After all, you can’t really argue with people who seem to change their views every time they find themselves with their backs against the wall. Or for that matter, with people who clearly do not think before they speak, and then, when caught out in glaring contradictions, turn around and accuse everyone else of twisting their words.


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