The Malta Independent 21 January 2019, Monday

Church must take bold choices on new realities - Fr Rene Camilleri

Rachel Attard Monday, 20 April 2015, 11:30 Last update: about 5 years ago

When our sister daily newspaper carried a story earlier this week that Fr Mark Montebello had blessed the rings of a gay couple during their engagement ceremony, he was summarily summoned by the Archbishop who told the outspoken priest to continue his pastoral work with gay people but instructed him to no longer go against the Church’s guidelines on this sensitive subject.

The Malta Independent on Sunday spoke to two other outspoken members of the clergy – Fr Rene Camilleri and Fr Colin Apap – about the controversy over whether priests should bless the rings of gay couples or couples who opt for civil instead of Church marriages.

According to Fr Camilleri: “Today, we are facing new realities such as divorced couples, civil unions and the introduction of the gender identity bill. The Church has to take account of these realities and take bold choices about them. It can’t afford to keep repeating old teachings because these realities are here to stay.”

Fr Apap, meanwhile, is hopeful that the situation vis-à-vis civil marriages will be clarified in the future, as he explains: “In these circumstances and situations, the Curia doesn’t have clear guidelines and I hope that the new Synod that Pope Francis will soon be launching will lead to significant changes in this respect.” A week ago last Friday Fr Mark Montebello blessed the rings of a gay couple during their engagement ceremony. On Tuesday, the Dominican Friar was summoned by Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who encouraged him to continue his pastoral work with gay people but instructed him to no longer go against the Church’s guidelines. Rachel Attard speaks to Fr Rene Camilleri and Fr Colin Apap about the controversy’s outcome.

Fr Rene Camilleri

“In our pastoral work as priests, people expect us to be understanding and compassionate and respect their decisions. On the other hand there are the Church rules and teachings, which need to be respected.

“In this particular situation, what I would have done depends on how and to what extent I know the couple, especially if I know there is a journey of faith involved. But I definitely do not condemn Fr Mark Montebello’s decision. The way the Archbishop reacted to the situation was very positive and I agree with what he told Fr Mark. It is very important that we continue our outreach with gay people but there are a number of parameters that we need to respect.

“Priests are going to face this kind of situation and others that are similar during our pastoral work in new emerging situations that need our utmost pastoral sensibility. The Church should always keep the person at the centre of her existence because her main concern is not to safeguard the law. If a person decides to change his or her way of life and does not conform to Church teachings, the Church itself cannot just slam the decision and use condemnatory language in their regard. We can’t exclude these people and the Archbishop did not meet Fr Mark to scold him.”

When asked if he had ever blessed the rings of a gay couple or if he would if confronted with the same situation, Fr Rene replied: “If the couple are my friends and I know about their lifestyle and they decide to formalise their relationship, I would not bless their rings because in the common perception that has a particular meaning and the Church does not consider this a marriage. On the other hand, the Church has to be sympathetic and respect their choice.

“When I am faced with such situations, I try as much as possible to respect people’s choices, at the same time trying to abide by what the Church teaches. In many situations that demand pastoral sensitivity, the priest has to make choices in favour of people’s dignity and I assure you we find ourselves in many situations where you may not agree with the choices people make but you cannot deprive them of the blessing for which they ask. We are there to accompany people, wherever they are and whatever they choose to do.

“Today we are facing new realities such as divorced couples, civil unions and now the introduction of the gender identity bill. The Church has to take account of these realities and take bold choices about them. It cannot afford to keep repeating old teachings because these realities are here to stay.

“I do not know whether the Church will ever revise its position on such issues but it will definitely need to do a lot of rethinking. We have to keep in mind that the only reason the Church exists are people themselves!”

Fr Colin Apap

“In its statement, the Curia was very diplomatic. In the first part, the Curia said that it appreciated the work that Fr Montebello is doing among homosexual people and encouraged him to continue. In the second part, where there is a lot of technical and legal terminology, the Church is basically saying that Fr Mark is promising to continue obeying the regulations and rituals of the Church. Concretely, what this means is that Fr Mark is promising that he will follow Church teachings.

“In these particular situations there are no specific directives from the Church. There are just understandings. What the Archbishop did was right, in the sense that after he saw the story in the newspaper he called Fr Mark to see what had happened. I think this is a new way of how things should be done from the Curia’s end and not condemn you before he listens to you.

“In these situations the role of the priest is to tell the person that he does not approve of his or her decision but we also believe that God is merciful. When I am faced with a similar situation as that of Fr Mark, what I do is this: I pray with them; I make it very clear that the Church does not approve of their decision and I make sure that this is done privately, not publically. We priest pray with a lot of different people such as prostitute, gays, divorced couples and it doesn’t mean that I approve of their lifestyle.

“When a couple gets married without Church rites and they are my friends, what I usually do is that I do not go to the first part of the civil ceremony, but go later.

“In these circumstances and situations the Curia does not have clear guidelines and I hope that the new Synod that Pope Francis will soon launch will lead to significant changes in this respect.”

Gozo Bishop Mario Grech

The Malta Independent on Sunday also contacted Bishop of Gozo Mario Grech. The only comment he chose to make was: “There is nothing else to add with what Archbishop Charles Scicluna said in his statement last Tuesday. I agree with the position that the Archbishop took.”

 

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