PARRAMATTA, Australia (ChurchMilitant.com) - An Australian bishop won't fight the upcoming gay marriage referendum, instead criticizing the Church for failing to be sufficiently welcoming to gays.
From September 13 to November 7, Australia's government will be collecting postal surveys on whether so-called same-sex marriage should be legalized. While the survey is not legally binding, the outcome could affect whether legislation to change the country's Marriage Act would be introduced.
On Wednesday, Bp. Vincent Long Van Nguyen of Parramatta wrote a pastoral letter that made clear he would not fight vigorously against same-sex marriage. "It is not a referendum on sacramental marriage as understood by the Catholic Church," he wrote.
Bishop Long, calling this "an opportunity ... to listen to what the Spirit is saying through the signs of the times," called on Catholics "to exercise their consciences" in the postal vote.
"It should not be a matter of a simple answer — yes or no ..." he declared.
Restating a comment he made at his installation, he said, "I am committed to make the Church in Parramatta the house for all peoples, a Church where there is less an experience of exclusion but more an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity."
In February, Bp. Long told the royal commission on child sexual abuse that "I was also a victim of sexual abuse by clergy when I first came to Australia, even though I was an adult." He said the experience "had a powerful impact on me and how I want to ... walk in the shoes of other victims and really endeavor to attain justice and dignity for them."
The late Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a pioneer in reparative therapy, where homosexuals are helped to overcome unwanted same-sex attractions, stated, "Homosexual behavior is always prompted by an inner sense of emptiness."
He explained, "Homosexuality is not about sex," adding, "It is about a person's sense of himself, about his relationships, how he forms and establishes relationships, his self-identity, his self-image, personal shame, his ability to sustain intimacy."
Back in 2016, Fr. James Martin, in an article in America magazine titled "We need to build a bridge between LGBT community and the Catholic Church," quoted Bp. Long:
We cannot talk about the integrity of creation, the universal and inclusive love of God, while at the same time colluding with the forces of oppression in the ill-treatment of racial minorities, women and homosexual persons. ... It won't wash with young people, especially when we purport to treat gay people with love and compassion and yet define their sexuality as "intrinsically disordered."
Bishop Long is joined in his position by Jesuit priest Fr. Frank Brennan. In a lecture titled "Citizenship and the Common Good," Fr. Brennan stated that "I will vote 'yes' at any plebiscite or survey on same-sex marriage."
He rationalized legalizing same-sex marriage for reasons of the "common good." Those reasons include pandering to citizens of countries where gay marriage is already legal and legitimizing the families of children living with same-sex parents.
Similar to Bp. Long's stance that civil unions are not sacramental marriage, both men state that issues of religious freedom should be worked out after the gay civil unions are legalized.
On the other side of the debate stands Abp. Denis J. Hart of Melbourne and chairman of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. On August 22, he released a pastoral letter stating, "The Catholic Church, along with other faith traditions, teaches that marriage is a natural institution established by God to be a permanent union between one man and one woman, intended towards the formation of a family in which children are born and nurtured."
In an interview with Fairfax Media, Abp. Hart warned that employees of the Church "are expected totally to uphold the Catholic faith and what we believe about marriage. People have to see in words and in example that our teaching of marriage is underlined."
Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, bishop of Perth and chairman of the Bishops' Commission for Catholic Education, is also against gay marriage. He told Fairfax Media, "In accepting a role in a Catholic school, staff will recognize their responsibility to conduct themselves in such a way as not to undermine the fundamental ethos of the school."
Archbishop Costelloe's pastoral letter from 2012 notes that "the foundational role which families play in the well-being of a society" and governments should recognize and protect it. He claims redefining marriage by the state is a misuse of power, and for this reason "it is right to 'discriminate' in favor of marriage and to acknowledge that this special union of a man and a woman who come together to form a family is unique."
Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher did not release a pastoral letter on the issue. He told The Australian, "In other parts of the world that have legalized same-sex marriage, those who believe in traditional marriage have been harassed or coerced into complying with the new view of marriage." He added, "It would be extremely naive to think that won't happen here."
Catholics at the parish level are also being affected by the divide. A source who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals from other parishioners told Church Militant of an instance where a parish secretary was forced to make a public apology for emailing information on sacramental marriage. Church Militant was told the parish priest, Fr. Ian McGinnity, whom the source claims is a close friend of Bp. Long and "a fan" of Fr. Martin's book, "did not approve" of the document.
McGinnity told Church Militant, "I have a policy of not distributing material unless they come from a legitimate church authority per the legitimate magisterium. The nature of the material sent was not in dispute."
He also denies he is a fan of Fr. Martin's book or that he is "close" to Bp. Long, although he admits "I do admire the way he has shepherded our Diocese since his arrival ... ."
A 2015 poll showed that 55 percent of Australians are in favor of legalizing same-sex unions, while more recent polls put the number as high as 63 percent.