We need robust engagement and the confidence to call one another out regardless of rank if we are to renovate the Church for its mission, writes Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya. He reflects on the recent “Divine Renovation Conference” held across South Africa by Canadian priest, James Mallon and his international team of clergymen.
It did not take long for me to find a personal meaning for two of the themes that I took away from the Divine Renovation Conference in Johannesburg. My favourite hangout spot, social media, reminded me why this conference was necessary and why the Church needs Divine Renovation – and needs it urgently.
I was taken aback to read an attack, albeit politely couched, of a retreat being organised by the Jesuit Institute for members of the LGBTQI+ community and their families.
The person, we shall call The Catholic Priest, pointed out that the Church would have to arrange retreats for philanderers and thieves now that it had shown the appetite to entertain people in same-sex relationships or who identified themselves in ways other than the heteronormative ones.
How one finds a link between thieves and a sexual orientation is and will continue to be a mystery to me.
At a time when the Church is once again faced with a massive sex-scandal affecting boys and girls violated by adult priests, it does not make sense for anyone to condemn those who identify as gay or transgendered. Even worse is the sentiment that such a person should be hounded out of the Church.
Speaking at the conference, Fr James Mallon suggested that one of the things that kept the Church from its missionary duty to evangelise was, firstly, the destructive desire its faithful had to not offend those with whom they disagreed – especially in cases where these persons were consecrated.
If the Church is to grow in its mission to spread the Good News and to be a refuge to those who are marginalised, it cannot be business as usual. The Church cannot afford to stand aloof from, let alone be judgmental of, other children of God. Far too many of us seem to be stuck in a bygone era where prejudice and bigotry are tolerated when expressed with a smiling face or a voice seemingly dripping with kindness and politeness.
What I found disturbing reading the Facebook comment and the ensuing thread was that very few seemed ready to call out The Catholic Priest for his obvious and open bigotry. Maybe it was because of his rank that some avoided engaging with his views a little more robustly. Even as I tap-danced around the issue as they did, The Catholic Priest was ever more convinced of his stance.
Again, Fr Mallon warned his brother priests of the propensity to assume that being ordained gave them special wisdom or leadership gifts.
Like religious fundamentalism, clericalism benefits neither the ordained nor the laity. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are for all including those who have not recieved Holy Orders. Interestingly, it is this ever-present reality of clericalism to which Pope Francis refers in his letter to the faithful on the current abuse scandal facing the Church.
For those in power to dismiss the wisdom and lived experience of those who sit in the pews at the expense of exaggerating their place, because they are ordained, makes the Church’s collective experience poorer and weakens its mission to preach the Good News.
In 2018 we should not be having a debate about sexual orientation. If for no other reason than that the matter has already been dealt with in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
No form of bigotry should be entertained. Why is it that nobody is allowed to get away with racism, but we seem to believe that being homophobic is excusable?
For the sake of those who insist that adulterers and thieves ask the Church to arrange a retreat for them: why should the Church not reach out to those who have not encountered Christ? Why, as Fr Mallon implied, must we wait for “sinners” to convert before they are embraced as brothers and sisters?
Pope Francis said in Evangelii Gaudium: “We cannot forget that evangelisation is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ… Many of them are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries of ancient Christian tradition. All of them have a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone.”
Like with our own families, nobody expects that we will always agree with one another on every topic. But we do need to be respectful. And, we certainly need to guard against our own self-righteousness and bigotry – or as The Catholic Priest himself declares publicly on social media: “Freedom of expression does not imply that all manners of expression are irreproachable”.
Dare I say, this is certainly one expression that needs to be freely called out.
*The LGBTQI+ Retreat Morning will be held on Saturday, 8 September at the Jesuit Institute in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. For more info contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 011 482 4237