An Open Letter to Archbishop Denis Hart
the Catholic Bishops of Australia and all Catholics
Dear Archbishop Hart,
You are wrong. You are dead wrong. And history will prove it.
I have read your widely distributed pastoral letter to the Catholics in Melbourne about marriage equality. The very first thing I noticed, hitting me right between the eyes, was, we are not included in it. And by we, I mean LGBTI Australians. And I am one of them. We are not there. You mention “families, our indigenous brothers and sisters, migrants, refugees and all who need the compassion and mercy of Christ,” but no gays. No LGBTI. We are excluded. As usual. Excluded from your considerations. Excluded from your pastoral care. Excluded from your church. But this does not surprise me. You represent a church that has excluded us from the very beginning of the Christian movement, and continues to do so today.
The exclusion by the Catholic Church of gay people, both historically and in the modern era, is one of the most reprehensible acts of bastardry that we have witnessed in all of religion. It has caused incalculable harm to people, and damaged millions of lives. I am just one of the casualties of that exclusion. And so are many of my friends. As a result, most LGBTI people feel deeply hurt, distrusting and resentful of what the Catholic Church has done to us.
The oppression is historic. From capture, mockery, torture and execution in the Mediaeval Era, to the vilification, exclusion and discrimination in the 21st century. Good people’s careers blocked in hospitals and schools; people thrown out of accommodation and employment at the behest of Roman pronouncements or episcopal letters. And worst of all, the odious doctrinal declarations from the the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. We are “intrinsically disordered,” we are “inclined to moral evil,” and our expressions of sexuality, “gravely immoral”. All of this is still official Catholic teaching. Unscientific, damaging, destructive invective that has filtered through societies and fed homophobia and bigotry. In the hands of some ignorant or hateful, such invective has even become murderous. That language is not love. It is hate.
Your church has done violence to us. In the past, it was physical. Now it continues to be emotional, psychological, social and spiritual violence. Today in Australia, you continue to do us violence. You would fire people should they marry their loved ones. You would block people’s careers should they marry their loved ones. Yet Australia is the land of the fair go. Your threats do not even meet the fair go test, let alone the higher standard you are supposed to meet, that of being Christ-like. I say your threats are abhorrent. I say they are not remotely Christ-like. I say your behaviour is shameful.
Your insistence on sticking to an outdated ideology over the dignity of human beings is repugnant. And what is that ideology? The so-called philosophy of Natural Law. Your pastoral letter is suffused with it. God made them man and woman. God made them straight. The imago dei. Created in the image of God. Once again, guess who’s not represented. Guess who gets excluded. Guess who gets ‘othered’. I say you need to read up.
Because God made us gay too. Gay people have been around since the beginning of recorded history, so the records tell us. And gay people have been identified in every single ethnic group on earth without exception, against all the odds, and despite the Christian Church’s relentless persecution, and the societal sanctions it installed. We’re still here. Nothing has wiped us out. We keep getting born to straight parents and into straight families. Millions and millions and millions of us. Gays always, gays everywhere. We are part of the human condition. We are an equal part of humanity. Despite the teaching of your church, we are not inferior. Our relationships are not inferior. And our love is not inferior.
And after two thousand years of Christian oppression, we have had enough of religion derogating us and declaring to the world that we are sinful or sick or broken or possessed. We do not accept this any longer. It is not acceptable behaviour. The teaching of your church is wrong. It has been wrong from the beginning, and it needs to change. Our sexual orientation does not make us sinful, sick, broken, or possessed. We utterly reject such damnable teaching. What untold harm it has done to good people!
Gays are not going anywhere. We are here for keeps and we want to be treated as the integral part of human society that we are. The science, the history, the sociology and the anthropology trump your outdated natural law concepts that say we are against nature. We are not against nature. We are part of nature. Nature has gayness in it. Over 1500 species in nature have been identified to have same-sex pair bondings, so spare us the natural law lecture that says we are against nature and inferior to heterosexuality.
I have researched extensively all the Church’s documents, all the official declarations and have written exhaustively on the topic. They do not relate to me or anyone I know. I have researched all the the science to date, including the psychology, the biology, the genetics and the physiology around gay sexuality. It is abundantly clear that our sexuality is natural to us, that it is not chosen by us and that it cannot be changed.
Since gayness is found throughout creation and if the imago dei is true, then it follows that gayness is as much in the heart and mind of God as is straightness. So please, we are not sinful, sick, broken or possessed. We are real human beings who just happen to fall into the natural and consistent variation of human sexuality wherein we are physically and emotionally attracted to those of the same sex. A psycho-biologic reality that we have no choice in and we must learn to accept at the cost of significant psychological harm should we fail. Gayness is integral to our ontology. It is not as you quaintly put it, “persons who experience same sex attraction.” Our sexuality is part of our identity. Our self. Not an added-on extra, not a preference, not a lifestyle, not a choice. We are sacred. We are wonderful. And we are beautiful.
You should understand that the Catholic Church does not own marriage. Neither does Christianity. Neither any religion, Abrahamic or otherwise. Marriage is owned by humanity. And it has come in a number of different forms historically and has changed countless times over the centuries as societies have changed and imposed new and adjusted meanings.
Now Archbishop and Bishops, you will need to understand something that every adult in a sexual relationship already understands but that you do not seem to comprehend. Marriage is not for children. Sexual activity is primarily not for children. It is primarily enjoyed as adult fun, and for two people to bond and express love. Even the first mention of relationship in the Bible, “it is not good for a man to be alone” speaks not to procreation but to companionship. When couples have finished having their families, they generally do all they can to avoid pregnancies. I find it absolutely imponderable that the Catholic Church is still teaching that every sexual act should allow the possibility of a pregnancy. It is utterly preposterous! And most Catholics in the Western world at least have abandoned any such idea in perfectly good conscience. You clearly have not been in a relationship recently. And the fact that you haven’t, and have instead devoted your lives to mandated celibacy for decades, makes you singularly unqualified to be telling the rest of us how our sex lives should be run.
Every Australian understands that most young straight couples in marriages will have children, but we also understand that many will not. And older couples marrying mostly do not have children. And some people cannot have children. They are all nonetheless marriages. The presence of children does not define marriage. One of my good friends has been married to his wife for sixteen years and they have not had children. Are you seriously telling us that theirs is not a marriage? Marriage is for a number of things, but not solely for children. The Church’s teaching here is absurdly reductive in that it essentially diminishes sexuality and marriage to plumbing and pregnancy. Well they’re not, and every person actually in a relationship could tell you so, before breakfast.
Marriage equality in Australia is a simple proposition: It is about extending the right of marriage to two people of the same sex, not, as you put it, “every and all relationships”, to marry in civil ceremonies. Over seventy percent of marrying Australians marry in a civil ceremony, eschewing religious sensibilities. But I do not see you picketing their marriages, or writing pastoral letters. It’s just us gays. It’s always the gays.
This push of yours to vote no to deprive us of this experience of happiness is but the latest example of Catholic oppression of us as a group of people.
You say in your letter, “human rights are important. But so are human responsibilities. We are responsible for the impact of our decision on future generations”. You are implying that extending marriage rights to same-sex couples may somehow devalue future generations. But you don’t say how.
Well, let me have a go.
How about we teach future generations that all Australians are born equal, that we are a diverse nation of people where everybody should be respected and valued, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation or ableness? How about we stop teaching future generations, both our straight kids and our gay kids, that gay people are sinful, sick, broken or possessed? How about we raise the next generation free from historic bigotries like racism and homophobia? How about we put aside all that hate and ugliness? What an incredible country we could become.
But you also suggest that there should be no change without a conversation. You seem to be suggesting that Australia hasn’t yet had this conversation. But Archbishops and Bishops, the first time a piece of legislation was put before the Parliament was in 2004. That’s thirteen years ago. Since that time, Australians have had an insufferably long conversation about marriage equality with countless hours of air time and oceans of print and digital space given to this issue.
And Australians have made up their mind. Two thirds of Australians are deeply uncomfortable with segregating gay people as you would have them do. They don’t buy your model. And why is that? Because they know gay people. They know same sex couples. They know we are not “abominations”. They know we are not “intrinsically disordered”. They know we are their doctors, their psychologists, their bankers, their sportspeople, their lawn carers, their aged carers, their nurses, their teachers, their brothers, their sisters, their daughters and sons. And they believe that in 2017 with what we know today about human sexuality from the sciences and social sciences, same sex couples should get a fair go in this country we all love, and be treated equally under our law. It is plain to most people.
Why is this so hard for you?
The slippery slope argument against marriage equality is the refuge of the desperate. It has been universally debunked overseas where none of the catastrophic predictions you suggest have come to be realised. And further, marriage equality is not about gay parenting or the education system or free speech or freedom of religion. Australia already has familiar historic protections.
When you tell your flock to vote no, you carry on the tradition of oppression of the Catholic Church against gay people. You, who have shot your authority to pieces to moralise over other people’s lives, due to the barbaric way your Church has dealt with the rape of children, have the gall to stand up in the public space, threaten Catholic LGBTI employees and tell all Australians that it is gay people who are the dangerous ones to the next generation, that it is ordinary gay people, about 7–10% statistically of the population, that are the harbinger of the destruction of society. Your temerity defies belief. And on the clerical sexual abuse obscenity, you and your brother bishops historically put the Church before the victims. Well, as LGBTI people, we know what that feels like too.
But you do not have to do this. You could change this. You could learn to live with same sex couples getting married in civil ceremonies, like you did in earlier decades with straight people. You could show some compassion for God’s sake. My father died before he got to see his third of four sons married. You could show that you understand the human condition in a more modern way than the ancient theological models you cling to. You could put people first for a change. And even if you don’t agree, at the very least, you could stand aside and not get in the way, and still marry your own people in your churches without anyone getting hurt. Loving and committed same sex couples are desirous of declaring their vows before their friends and families and having the affirmation of society celebrate the strength of their relationship as it is solemnised by a duly authorised celebrant of the Commonwealth of Australia. What the hell are you so afraid of? People are watching, Archbishop. You do the Gospel no good service by acting like a religious thug. You should re-think your position. All of you.
And to Catholics everywhere, I hope you ignore your Bishops. Like you already do on the contraception question. Like you already do on any number of areas where you privately depart from official teaching for something that is more workable and makes more sense to you. Of course the fundamentalist Catholics may jump up and down and tell you you’re not a real Catholic. Fundamentalists do that in the non-Catholic world too. But you shouldn’t worry too much about them. Your faith is your own and so is your conscience. The unscientific and destructive Catholic teaching on gay sexuality is deeply flawed and reprehensible and absolutely needs to change before it harms more people. The present Pope has started to change the language as a first step but there’s a long, long way to go to change the teachings.
I ask you everyday Catholics, “what kind of Australia do you want to live in?” An Australia of segregation? An Australia of sexuality apartheid? Where the gay people are treated differently to everybody else and the Church encourages that? What about your own gay sons and daughters, or brothers and sisters, or friends, or work colleagues? How about them? Can you not imagine a world where same sex couples get to marry their life partners in civil ceremonies without the collapse of Rome, the apocalypse beginning, or the world ending?
Australians are a diverse bunch. We value hard work and good people. We value kindness and helping our mates out. We certainly value fairness. And those of us who follow Jesus in our own way know that these values are in keeping with the ones he taught. Think of his incredible story The Good Samaritan. Jesus focused his attention and care on the marginalised, not the elites. Gay people have been a systemically oppressed people for centuries. In the modern world, we are doing our best to hold our heads high, having fought hard for acceptance, be proud of who we are and our personal journeys, and to establish our lives the best way we can. Many of us are in loving relationships, as strong and as beautiful as any straight relationship. Many of us would like to marry our partners, and all of us want to feel like we belong. We are so tired of exclusion, both societal and religious. Can you see a way through the religious ideology and vote Yes in the survey?
You will not regret it if you do.
Dr Stuart Edser is a Counselling Psychologist in Newcastle, NSW and is the author of Being Gay Being Christian (Exisle, 2012). He has experienced both wings of the Christian Church, Catholic and non-Catholic, and has been a leader in the past in the Christian Church for many years. Now, alongside a busy Private Practice, he is passionate about helping LGBTI Australians to live their lives happily, healthily, and to their full potential.