Sunday, 8 February 2009

Times: People are warmer than arguments
Sunday, 8th February 2009 by Fr Joe Borg

"This man really loves gay people." Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

I watched most of the January 30 edition of Xarabank which discussed the Church and gays.

I particularly liked the interview with Archbishop Paul Cremona. It was a very difficult interview which could have easily gone wrong. Peppi Azzopardi was very fair in his line of questioning and gave the Archbishop all the time he needed to make the points he wanted to make. There was no evidence of the 'fil-qosor' attitude which is imposed on the presenter and the guests by the very nature of the programme.

Mgr Cremona had to navigate between two difficult poles. He had to clearly explain Church teachings on the subject, which would not endear him with the gay community. But he also had to show respect and love for gays.

One can dissect his answers and find points which were not as clear or strong as one would have liked them to be. But the Archbishop's strength lies not in his ability to give perfect answers but in his caring and loving attitude. It is really a case of 'the medium is the message'. A friend of mine who is generally critical of any interview he sees made just one comment: "This man really loves gay people."

Fr Anton Gouder was very well prepared, as he always is. He has facts and statistics at his fingertips. But this time his strength was elsewhere. He clearly made an effort to lower the usual pitch of his interventions by one or two notches. That saved the day. Fr Gouder was not mainly interested in winning the argument but in winning people over. His participation went down well, even with people who usually don't like what they consider to be his too brash style.

The day after the programme I asked Azzopardi whether he considered the panel unbalanced. He gave me a whole list of people and organisations the Xarabank team had contacted in an attempt to get "a sane Catholic voice" (his quote). They all said no.

He told me it would have been very easy for him to get well-known homophobic Catholics. It would have generated a 'fantastic' discussion but the subject would have been sensationalised beyond redemption, something that the producers wanted to avoid. Perhaps even Church authorities preferred to have the Archbishop and Fr Gouder defend the Church's case without the 'support' of overzealous Catholics.

A couple of days later Azzopardi phoned me with statistics showing that Mgr Cremona and Fr Gouder had spoken for as long as all the others panellists and guests put together.

Isn't it a pity that the Church, which in the past has produced people ready to face lions, finds it difficult to find anyone ready to face TV cameras? This is not the first time Catholics of a sensible disposition have shied away from TV discussions. Hot heads, on the other hand, seem to find no such problem.

This refusal to take part brings with it a different kind of imbalance. The Archbishop and Fr Gouder were presenting arguments. The members of the gay community were presenting their lives, loves, hurts and joys. People are always more warm than arguments, and generally tend to get people's sympathies more than concepts and ideas.

What the Church needs to prepare for the TV apostolate is not just (or mainly) good debaters but good witnesses - people who can give witness to their Christian living in the midst of the problems and difficulties they encounter.

Christianity, after all, is about people, not arguments.

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