Thursday, December 14, 2017

Archbishop on gay rights: Free to love like a brother

Roman Catholic archbishop Fr Joseph Harris has said Dr Fr Stephen Geofroy used an “unfortunate turn of phrase” in expressing support for rights for the gay community.

He also said the Church has always “held there should be no discrimination based on sexual ori­en­ta­tion”.

Harris was responding to Geofroy, who expressed support on Monday for the gay community, saying their rights, including the right to love whomever they want, should be included in the Constitution. He spoke at a consultation on the draft constitution at The University of the West Indies (UWI) Sport and Physical Education Centre, St Augustine campus.

He said the matter should not be debated further and Government should be all-embracing towards its citizens.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Harris said: “It is unfortunate; he used an unfortunate turn of phrase when he said people should be free to love whom they want to love. I hope, therefore, when he was speaking about people being free to love, he was talking about love in the platonic (brotherhood). Love is platonic. The Church has always said homosexual acts are not allowed. It is against the natural law. There should be no discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

Harris added: “I would hope when he said “you are free to love”, it was understood to be in the Christian way. I don’t think he was talking about sexual activity.”

But Harris was adamant the Church does not support same-sex marriages.

“If you are talking about same-sex marriages. The Church has spoken about it. And it does not agree with same-sex marriages. That cannot be allowed,” said Harris.

Asked about the Church’s policy on gay priests, Harris said: “There are priests whose sexual orientation is towards their own sex. All priests are called to celibacy. But as long as a priest is not acting out his orientation, he is okay.”

Harris said Fr Geofroy was “a priest in good standing”.

Asked about 2,500 reported cases of young girls about 12 years old being impregnated by older men, Harris said: “That is a disaster! We are not caring for our young people. When we don’t care enough, they fall into behaviours which are incorrect. As a nation, we have to make a great­er effort to ensure children live lives that children should live. We should ensure teenagers live lives they should live. Married couples should live lives that married couples should live.”

President of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) Harrypersad Maharaj, who is also a counsellor and mediator, said Fr Geofroy’s

pronouncement reminded him of a similar situation at a religious con­ference at Stanford University in San Francisco, California, USA. He li­kened him to “an oracle” for the gay community.

Maharaj said: “In the late 90s, I attended the conference and someone was speaking. Suddenly, he began crying. People rushed to him because they did not know what was happening. It was shocking to everyone. People were sympathetic to him when he said, ‘I am gay’. So many people had a relation or knew someone who was gay.”

Maharaj said people should not shoot the messenger. As a religious leader, he said he often met people who confided in him about issues ranging from politics, sports to sex. Geofroy, he said, was serving an important function as the “voice of the gay oracle”.

He said: “For those people (gays) themselves, they might be ashamed to speak. The priest may have been the oracle. There are so many people who will go to priests and the religious person. They see them as the channel to vent their concerns. They don’t have a place or don’t know where to go to seek comfort or express their feelings about a sensitive issue.”

Maharaj said the reformers of the Constitution should be cognisant about change, especially with regard to lifestyles and sexual preferences. He said there must be room for additional consultation.

He said: “The reality is these prac­tices (homosexuality, lesbianism) are now existing. And they have existed since time immemorial. While we might say we don’t support same-sex marriages, we must acknowledge there are a large number of people whose way of life is chan­ging at a rapid pace. Whatever chan­ges are made, we must be conside­rate with the change that is taking place.

“I don’t think we should say it is the final round of consultation. More people are beginning to express their views that were suppressed in the first time around.”

Anglican Bishop Claude Berkley said the Church was guided by the Lambeth Resolution (1.10), which does not allow for gay discrimination but they are denied access to hierarchical positions, including deacons or the right to marry. Like the proverbial ostrich, the Anglican Church “has not buried its head in the sand (on homosexuality),” he said.

He said: “Homosexuality has become crucial for the Church. In trying to deal with it, there was the Lam­beth Conference for reflection, worship and discussion. Resolutions are passed which talk about the gays being members of the Church. They should not be discriminated against. The Church could not authorise a rite talking about marriage or ordaining them as deacons. We have never denied there are gays who are members of our church.”

Asked about teenage girls becoming mothers, Berkley said: “It is as result of the breakdown of family life, coupled with factors like chan­ging economic circumstances. You have to look closer at the role of the Church and the intervention of the State. You have to consider giving clo­ser support to the training of the children. They must be encouraged to pursue education and skills training.”

Berkley sounded a warning. “Some­thing is out of order. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. It is not working well. These little children need protection from predators. We have to identify the men who are preying on young girls. There is the need for more social action in the community. I find sexual abuse reprehensible.”