Friday, 27 December 2013

Times: In the footsteps of Pope Francis
Saturday, December 14, 2013, 10:17 by Fr Joe Borg

Auxiliary Bishop Mgr Charles Scicluna’s statement criticising legislative measures for adoptions by gay couples did not make him popular with several people as comments on show! Although one could easily notice that several people comment without attentively reading the text they are commenting about. (An extensive report of the statement can be accessed here.)

On the other hand, bishops, unlike politicians, socialites and celebrities, don’t have a need to be top of the pops all the time.

Their role of shepherding has never been an easy one; probably it is a bit more difficult today. They are continually faced with, among other things, the task of enlightening consciences without in any way imposing on them. They are tasked with being the salt of the world while doing their best not to alienate from the Church those who do not like salt one little bit. They are obliged to speak out to proclaim the Gospel and apply it to concrete situation while respecting those who could have reached a different conscience-decision based on their subjective understanding of the same Gospel as well as respecting those whose gospel is different. They are also obliged to listen to, empathise with, and most of all love those who heed or oppose their words.

Bishop Scicluna has opted to speak openly, courageously and humanely on the current debate about civil unions and adoptions by same-sex couples. Those who followed him on Xarabank know that he had no problem apologising for the undignified way the Church has treated gays. In the statement referred to at the beginning of this commentary Bishop Scicluna once more took a very clear and critical position on the proposal to let gay couples adopt without previously conducting a holistic study about the adoption regime in Malta including the possibility to enlarge it to include adoptions by gay couples.

Let me open a parenthesis.

A lot of song and dance has been made of the fact that in Malta a single person can adopt and consequently the members of a gay couple can become adoptive person in a roundabout way. But as Bishop Scicluna said in his statement, adoption by single persons is an exception. Fact bears him out. The number of single persons who adopted children in Malta is almost insignificant when compared to the number of married couples and, barring some exception, all were women!

Many have tried to create the impression that adoption by gay couples is a universally recognised right. There is nothing further from the truth. There are over 190 countries in the world: only 14 countries and some territories allow adoption by same sex couples. Adoption by gay couples is not a matter of course but a universal exception.

End of parenthesis.

Bishop Scicluna’s decision to take such a public stand finds comfort in Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” wherein he strongly attacks the position of those who want to banish the Church from the public sphere.

Pope Francis writes:

“182. The Church’s teachings concerning contingent situations are subject to new and further developments and can be open to discussion, yet we cannot help but be concrete – without presuming to enter into details – lest the great social principles remain mere generalities which challenge no one. There is a need to draw practical conclusions ... The Church’s pastors, taking into account the contributions of the different sciences, have the right to offer opinions on all that affects people’s lives, since the task of evangelization implies and demands the integral promotion of each human being. It is no longer possible to claim that religion should be restricted to the private sphere and that it exists only to prepare souls for heaven. …

183. Consequently, no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society.”

Bishop Scicluna followed the lead given by Pope Francis who emphatically wrote that the Church “cannot help but be concrete.” It is a pity that his words for prudent caution in the matter will fall on deaf ears. It is now very clear that government only listens when international pressure is paramount not when the voice of reason is so clear.

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