The newly-appointed Administrator of St Francis Xavier's Cathedral in Adelaide, Fr Maurice Shinnick, has called for the church to bless homosexual relationships.
Speaking on the ABC youth radio station, JJJ, on October 17, 1997, Fr Shinnick - who is the Adelaide Chaplain to the homosexual group, Acceptance - said that the churches were moving towards recognition of homosexual relationships, and one of the purposes of his recent book on homosexuality, This Remarkable Gift: Being Gay and Catholic, was to facilitate that process.
A young woman, who described herself as a Protestant Christian, asked: "I was wondering if you, as a Catholic, could have a homosexual marriage? Or do you not believe in homosexual sex, just that it's OK to be homosexually orientated?"
Fr Shinnick replied, "That's a very loaded question!
"Part of the discussion in all the churches is: can gay relationships be recognised, should they be recognised, should there be some form of blessing for them?
"They are not a marriage. They are a different kind of union, and some churches are moving towards [this] ... Maybe there is room for those relationships to be recognised; because they already exist.
"They already exist as very loving and stable and faithful relationships.
"So it's not as though the Church would be creating something. It would be recognising something existing. I think part of the purpose of this book is to open up the dialogue about that. See what we're saying in each of our churches, what the social sciences are saying.
"And it's down the track before, I guess, we come to any consensus on the issue."
On the ABC program, Fr Shinnick also rejected the idea that persons who wished to change their sexual orientation should be encouraged to undergo treatment. He made no distinction between the kinds of orientation which exist, varying considerably from individual to individual - some of which are amenable to successful treatment.
He said, "It would seem from what I've read, that while they might be able to modify behaviour, it doesn't modify the world of fantasy and feeling, and it doesn't change the inner person. And a lot of those programs actually are very dangerous and lead to a sense of complete failure and great depression.
"So I'm very wary of those programs that promise to change anybody's sexual orientation one way or the other."
He added that he believed that development of a sense of "good self-worth was a far healthier way to go, and a much better foundation for a good moral life."
Confusion and concern
Other comments by Fr Shinnick have also caused confusion and concern among Adelaide Catholics.
In the Adelaide Advertiser (October 25, 1997), Fr Shinnick was quoted as saying, "The Vatican arrogates to itself the position of sole authority in possession of the truth about homosexuality."
He added, "It has hijacked the debate about gayness and constricted public discussion. But the discussion does take place, too often in the form of heated exchanges in which no party listens to the other. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that it is the Vatican that is the problem."
This statement has caused confusion among Catholics who believe that the Second Vatican Council explicitly affirmed the role of the Church to teach the faithful on contentious moral questions. Section 25 of the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church says:
"Loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff even when he does not speak ex cathedra in such ways, indeed, that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and that one sincerely adhere to decisions made by him, conformably with his manifest mind and intentions, which is made known principally either by the character of the documents in question, or by the frequency with which a certain doctrine is proposed, or by the manner in which the doctrine is formulated."
Far different from Fr Shinnick's approach was that adopted in Melbourne, where a group of homosexuals attempted to turn a Mass in St Patrick's Cathedral into a demonstration in favour of recognition of homosexuality.
Archbishop George Pell announced from the altar that he did not have the power to over-ride the Church's teaching on homosexuality, and asked the protesters not to present themselves for Communion.
When a group of homosexuals, wearing pink sashes, presented themselves at the altar, Archbishop Pell declined them Holy Communion but blessed them, instead.
Archbishop Pell was supported by visiting Cardinal John O'Connor, who was the Pope's personal representative at the celebration. He said the Church's rule on sexuality "is basically the same for everyone, heterosexual or homosexual. If an individual is actually engaged in, by public admission at any given time, a practice contrary to Church teaching and a serious matter, then that individual is not entitled to receive Holy Communion."
For many years, Cardinal O'Connor has emphatically defended the Church's teachings on homosexuality, while showing great pastoral care for homosexuals in his Archdiocese of New York. This has included washing AIDS patients at hospices run by the Catholic Church in New York.
Cardinal O'Connor's statement and actions are consistent with the approach which the Church has taken throughout the ages, while Fr Shinnick's words are clearly difficult to reconcile with the Church's teaching on the subject.