Homosexuality: “If it is a God-given tendency then who are we to judge, who are we to condemn…” Card. Oswald Gracias

Light of truth

Cardinal Gracias, in an interview you gave in Rome in October, you’ve spoken with understanding, compassion and warmth on homosexuality and the LGBT community. So let me ask you, as one of the foremost cardinals, how do you view homosexuals and LGBT people?
I would say very clearly and I think that this is the stand of the Church and the stand of Pope Francis also, that we are all part of the Church. If somebody has a particular homosexual orientation it doesn’t mean that we reject that person, we cut him out. We need to be compassionate, understanding and give pastoral care to everybody, including homosexuals. I have no doubt about that at all. So, I was a little surprised that there was a surprise about my comments because of this. I think is what the Church is moving towards.

In your eyes is homosexuality a choice or is it a God-given condition?
Now this I would say we would depend on (?) science. There are different views on this. I spoke to many African cardinals and African bishops when I was in Rome for the Synod and I was surprised at the amount of emotion on this issue and then I realized that, they told me that there were many young men, young boys, over there who were bitter because they had been made that way by people who had come for sex tourism in certain parts of Africa. That is why they are so hostile to the very idea of showing any compassion or care to homosexuals. But while I understand that and those who victimize young boys and make them get this particular orientation, surely they should be condemned, but we can’t put everybody in the same basket, in the same trade, and say everybody really is bad. A person with homosexual orientation, there are really two views, I’ve discussed this often before with doctors, with scientists, with psychiatrists. Some say it is induced, some say it is really a God-given tendency which they have. If it is a God-given tendency then of course how, who are we to judge, who are we to condemn and reject them? If it is induced, then we should help them to see what they should do and how to rectify the situation. So whatever it is, I do think that we must give them pastoral attention, and I have no doubt about this whatsoever.

Now, in India as you know, the Delhi High Court decriminalized between consenting adults in private in 2009 but last year the Supreme Court reverse that ruling and has made it a crime again. How do you view the step the Supreme Court has taken?
The Supreme Court really has taken a technical stand that it is the legislature which makes law, not the judiciary. That’s a technical matter for them to decide, but the Church itself is not for the criminalization of homosexuals and homosexual acts. We say these acts are not moral in the sense that they are not the normal way we think God wants things to happen but certainly we do not want criminalization of homosexual acts.

Now, in the interview that I keep referring to, the one that you gave in Rome in October, you say, and I’m quoting you, you say this of homosexuals, “I realize their goodness which many people do not realize, you cannot put them in chains.”
In which case, what do you say to members of the clergy as well as to many members of the laity who regard homosexuality as an evil or as a disorder?
I would say to them, “Please be compassionate.” Most people have not met people who have got this tendency. When you meet them, and you understand their suffering, their anxiety, their wanting to be part of the Church, their wanting to really be in the mainstream again, then you understand what exactly they are going through, what exactly they are feeling. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the official document of the Church published only in 1990 I think explicitly said there should be no discrimination in word or in article against homosexuals. This is the general teaching of the Church and this is really Pope Francis has been insisting consistently, insisting with us to be compassionate, merciful, and I do think the Church should be that. People are maybe angry. They don’t, I think many people do not fully understand these people, they have not met them. The first step would be meet these people, talk to them, see their difficulty and then see how we can help them.

I want to come to the attitude of the Church towards homosexuality and the LGBT people. You keep stressing the need for compassion. You say that the Catechism of the Church is to be compassionate, to believe that these are people and full-fledged members of the Church. In that interview you say, and I’m quoting you, “my own view is that the Church has to be all-embracing, inclusive and take care of everybody.” But there are many who believe that that’s not been the traditional attitude of the Church and are you saying to those hardline, rigid traditionalists that they need to change their thinking?
I would say so. I would say so. I do understand why they feel that way. Probably they have never reconsidered. They’ve always, I think that many people have felt that this was something that was done totally by choice and therefore people try to define regular norms, set norms and become homosexuals, etc. “Please,” I would say to them “Look at the cases, meet the people, see their suffering… my conviction is that people will gradually come to accept what the Church is saying, what I’m saying that is, and that’s really the direction in which the Church will be going.

I want to quote something else that you said in that interview in Rome because I think in many ways that’s a seminal interview. You said, “To not to be welcoming would not be a Catholic attitude. It would not be Christ’s attitude.”
How should the Church make itself more welcoming to homosexuals and the LGBT community?
I would completely stand by what I said and that really is true. The Church has got to be welcoming to everybody whatever their sexual orientation and I think in that interview I said, “No mother rejects her own children no matter what and therefore the Church has got to be embracing, trying to find what pastoral care we can give and we discussed this during the Synod. It came up for discussion in the Synod also. We could not come to an agreement because of different people saying different things, but I think that this is the direction the Church would go because I think that this is what Christ would do. The Church, we, should as disciples of Jesus Christ have got to do what He would do, and I think that’s what He would do, He would be welcoming, understanding and guiding and helping them.

But it’s no great secret that the clergy, bishops, archbishops in Africa take a very different view to homosexuality. They do genuinely believe it is evil and sinful. How can you convince them to be more welcoming, to be compassionate, to be embracing?
I know, I know.

As I mentioned to you in my discussion with some of the African bishops, I, I, I, … first time understood why there’s so much compassion in this, because they have seen cases of young African boys being, who have been molested by people who have from outside and have made these boys homosexuals. And he says, the bishops told me, “Boys come and tell me, Father, I was not like this, I was made this, I was made this,” and the bishop was, I could make out that he was very emotional, almost tears in his eyes when he spoke of how cruel these people were towards these boys. Now when there’s so much emotion at this moment, you cannot really argue too much and therefore you’ve got to understand why this emotion is … I was thinking of the boys, the African boys who have been victims. Now we must give them pastoral care also, we must welcome them, help them too, I can see why Africa feels so strongly only now after the Synod after I discussed with some African bishops. I do see it will take some time before Africa is able to discuss this.

You do accept that as far as Africa and the Church in Africa is concerned, you have, how shall I put it, a lot of effort to make still before they come around to your way of thinking?
Certainly, I do think, I do think, I do think. But that’s why also the governments have been so strong, laws are very stringent about this, and I was surprised at the beginning but its only after I spoke to bishops I realised why these laws are made and there’s a certain context and background but I’m hopeful that gradually things will change there too because the Church is in universal, the Church is compassionate, and we all have got to be compassionate.

In that interview, and I keep coming back to it because it is truly a seminal interview, I think one of the most striking things you said was in answer to a question when you were asked, “What would you say to homosexuals and LGBT people who feel spurned by the Church?” And this was your answer “I would say the Church embraces you, wants you, and the Church needs you. You are not someone who is a burden to the Church. You are part of us.” Now its one thing to say that in Rome. It would be a completely different thing to say it in India. Can you repeat that thought and those sentiments in public in India?
I, I, I think India is gradually getting also accustomed, this is a, a, when people understand what homosexuality is, how they have this tendency, this should of course be much more scientifically searched (sic), I don’t think that India also, India especially the liberal-minded, the Indian people think, reflect and see what’s to be done, and I think the Indian community, the Indian people would gradually also accept this.

You say that you will say to them that this is Catholic doctrine, that Catholic doctrine has always been understanding, in fact it has always embraced homosexuals, but that’s not how these people read or understand Catholic doctrine. Melwyn Fernandes, the secretary of the Association of Concerned Catholics has publicly said that the community does not agree with Cardinal Gracias and then he adds, I’m quoting him, “The Bible has never supported or mentioned anything about homosexuality.” In a sense, he’s quoting Scripture against you.
The whole of the Scriptures, the whole of the Gospels, is Jesus saying, “Be merciful, be compassionate, give love to people, help everybody. That’s the whole, the whole meaning of the Gospel is that. So I can understand. I respect what Mr Fernandes is saying but then this really what the Catholic community (?) is.

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