1.2.9; by RAPHAEL VASSALLO
Gozo Bishop Mario Grech last weekend signalled a whole new direction in the rapidly deteriorating relations between the Catholic church and its homosexual members: those unwilling to accept the Church’s position on the subject are now encouraged to simply pack up and leave.
“Whoever does not accept Christ’s teachings should be honest with themselves and excommunicate themselves from the Church,” Bishop Grech said at a meeting for Gozo’s parish priests last Saturday, “People should not be disheartened if the Catholic Church was no longer one for the masses, but was becoming a minority.”
Although Grech did not specifically refer to gay Catholics, his comment came directly in the wake of a recent decision by three gay Maltese citizens to excommunicate themselves in protest against Pope Benedict XVI’s comments on homosexuality.
Dr Patrick Attard, a candidate for Alternattiva Demokratika, was among the group to formally sever all ties with the Church earlier this month.
“Since the Curia does not want to disassociate itself from the Pope’s hateful remarks he preached on 22 December 2008, where he called homosexuality a destruction of God’s work, then there is no choice but to excommunicate myself publicly from this power and money-hungry institution,” Attard said.
A Curia spokesman told MaltaToday that Attard’s initiative was not an isolated case – a number of other persons have also excommunicated themselves in the past, though no details were forthcoming regarding these cases.
It is not yet clear whether Bishop Grech was echoing formal Church doctrine by encouraging self-excommunication, or merely voicing his personal opinion.
The issue is further complicated by the intervention of the Archbishop Paul Cremona, who recently sought to placate gay Catholics by arguing that, contrary to ‘misreporting’ in the world media, Pope Benedict did not specifically refer to homosexuality with his Christmas homily.
But Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Catholic Education Congregation, separately reaffirmed the Vatican’s general position that “homosexuality is a deviation, an irregularity, a wound.”
Gaby Calleja, director of the Malta Gay Rights Movement, counters: “The biggest problem (with the Vatican’s position) is that it reinforces popular misconceptions of the homosexual man as a being more voracious and insatiable than his heterosexual counterpart,” she told MaltaToday. “But there is no evidence to back this up.”
Bishop Grech’s comments have meanwhile found their way onto online various gay resources such as Pinknews, where they are being interpreted as active encouragement for gays worldwide to follow Attard’s example and have themselves excommunicated.
Elsewhere, outspoken gay lawyer Joseph Carmel Chetcuti wrote: “It is high time, I respectfully submit, for gay men and lesbians to confront head-on the ‘encouragement’ for gay men and lesbians to excommunicate themselves.”
It remains to be seen whether Bishop Grech’s remarks last Saturday will spark a worldwide Diaspora from the Catholic Church.
Outside the fold
The Archbishop’s Curia clarifies popular misconceptions about excommunication
What is excommunication?
Derived from “communication” and “ex”: by excommunication, one is severed from the communion of the Church. Full communion comes through baptism, profession of faith, the sacraments and adherence to church authority. However, one needs to make a distinction. Baptism binds a person to Christ and the Church for life, and this cannot be revoked. For this reason, even a person who does not remain in full communion with the Church remains subject to Church Laws. However, one may be exempted from certain ecclesiastical laws.
Is self-excommunication the only way to sever ties with the Church?
Canon Law recognizes two ways how people can fall away from the Church: by slipping from active bonding to the faith, sacraments and ecclesiastical authority; or by a formal act declaring that they have left the Catholic Church.
Have there been other cases of persons in Malta choosing to excommunicate themselves?
Yes, in the sense of a formal act declaring that one has left the Catholic Church, but we cannot give details.
Excommunicated individuals are not allowed to receive sacraments. Would the Church consider making exceptions in certain circumstances (e.g, last rites)?
The Church is always a merciful mother and is always ready to forgive and receive back those who have left even by a formal act. But the Church also respects the freedom of choice of individuals. If an adult has made a formal declaration of leaving the Church and before losing consciousness did not express his will that he has changed his decision, the priest must respect the last known will of the individual. This applies to the celebration of the sacraments as well as of a religious funeral. One has to keep in mind that this does not imply any type of judgment with regard to his/her afterlife. That remains solely in the hands of the Lord.