Through their National Office for Evanglization, the Catholic bishops of Australia recently launced a national advertising campaign inviting those who have drifted away from the Church to come back. Part of the campagin includes these words: “The Church is God’s family and, like any family, has its differences. Sometimes people are hurt by other family members. We ask your forgiveness if you have been hurt in some way through the Church.”
The bishops are to be applauded for taking this step to reach out to those who have been hurt by the Church, seeking the forgiveness that is necessary to repair damaged relationships. But this is only a step, and seeking forgiveness is only one part of the process of reconciliation, as any 2nd grade Catholic preparing for his/her first confession can tell you. Other critical elements of the reconciliation process — be that sacramental, interpersonal, or social reconciliation — require that the sins be named, repentance be sincere, and a firm “purpose of amendment” be embraced.
As in the United States, I have no doubt that there are scores of Australian gay and lesbian Catholics who have drifted away from the Church because the message they have heard from the “official” Church is not the Good News of the Gospel, but rather a message telling them they are “disordered,” “sinful,” and not worthy of the respect that full human dignity demands. If such Catholics are to return, what welcome will they receive? Will the bishops and clergy of the Church in Australia engage in the dialogue that true reconciliation requires, or will they expect these faithful and spiritually hungry people simply to come back, sit down, and be quiet? Will the bishops’ hearts and minds be open at least to listening to the stories of gay and lesbian catholics, stories that bespeak a God Who is not a cookie-cutter Creator, but whose Hands have lovingly formed each and every human person in unique and diverse fashion? Will they be willing at least to consider that such diversity is reflected not only in “race, language, and way of life,” but also in the divine gift of sexual orientation?
I am thankful that the bishops of Australia have taken this first step. I pray they may have the faith and courage to take the next step, too.