Thursday, 12 February 2009

Malta Today: Taking it seriously 
Wednesday, 11 February 2009 by Harry Vassallo

Most of us are not gay. Some of us are homophobic. The vast majority are altogether unaffected by the issue.

Patrick Attard is gay, out and free. When he is insulted publicly he responds appropriately, logically and shockingly in the eyes of many of us who are attuned to the prevailing culture which invites us always to fly low and slow.

His self-excommunication from the Catholic Church in response to Pope Benedict’s “intrinsic evil” Christmas message caused quite a stir just weeks ago. Most people who are no longer comfortable being Catholic walk away quietly. Ing. Attard was not happy to become yet another lapsed Catholic. He discovered that there is a formal procedure for exit from the Catholic Church, filled in the forms and made the fact public.

Ironically his is a very Catholic attitude, logical, legalistic and absolutist. He is the appropriate counterpart to the self-righteous Catholic for whom every issue is clear cut good or bad, permitted or prohibited. Whether or not it arises from an unproven premise, it follows a mechanical logic.

In an irresistible provocation, the Church’s Media Centre advertised, sold and distributed under state license and a book entitled The Catholic Church and Homosexuality with the ominous sub-title The Appendix to In The Murky Waters of Vatican II. Its author, Atila Sinke Guimaraes, demonises homosexuality quoting the Old Testament and describes the AIDS epidemic as God’s punishment on homosexuals. Patrick Attard responded with a press release demanding an apology, the withdrawal of the book and the sacking of the person responsible for its publication in Malta.

Beyond the issue of homosexuality itself, the contest is set to raise the more fundamental question of Church/State interface. When does the expression of one’s belief become a violation of another’s right to live in peace? Any religion must be entitled to teach its faithful that anything is an abomination. If that teaching happens to be in defiance of the guarantees to peaceful co-existence offered by a modern state, can the teaching be done legitimately in public?

Under Sharia law the punishment for adultery is death by stoning just as it was under the law of Moses. Muslims are free to believe that it is morally right to inflict death by stoning on adulterers and even to believe that it is their moral obligation to carry out the sentence. If they act on such beliefs in a modern state they will become liable to the punishments meted out for murder.

It must be the same also for Catholics. Where should the line be drawn and who in Malta Cattolicissima will draw it? Which political party wants to be seen to be in conflict with the Church? Will any Maltese politician dare to defend the fundamentals of civic tolerance in the face of an overwhelmingly dominant faith now spoiling for a fight? Assuming that there exists a such a stalwart, endowed with the philosophical umph to realise the threat to civil authority and peaceful civic co-existence, will his or her party allow any expression of concern when both parties in parliament hang by a thread?

The danger is not only to gays, few of whom will follow Patrick Attard’s example, it is to all of us, also to those of us who lapsed long ago. In this most Catholic of countries, the assault of the dominant current in the Catholic Church on its own Vatican Council II reform can have a devastating success and far beyond the issue of homophobia. Does anybody else see it coming?

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