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A closer look at a constrained statement of love and care

Rev. Fr. JP Heath comments on the statement from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. Penned by Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas, it stressed that while it supports a legislative measure that supports non-discrimination, it wants to assert its right to discriminate. ”I would strongly encourage the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines to put in place policies and lines of accountability to ensure the zero discrimination policy they have here made,” Fr. Heath says.

Genesis 1:31
God saw all that God had made, and behold it was very good.

It is to be highly commended that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has chosen to make a state in support of the Anti-Discrimination Bill. In a country where the church dominates so much of people’s lives, having the church oppose such a bill would have been disastrous. This is clear from the way in which the Catholic Church’s opposition to the Reproductive Health Bill delayed its passing for many years. Discrimination is however not something which Christianity or the Church can support in any way or form. This much is clear from the CBCP statement itself.

There are however a number of issues of concern in the statement:

  1. The insinuation that sexual orientation is a choice for anyone simply perpetuates the myth that people choose to be homosexual or heterosexual. This once again shows the lack of understanding between those who have same sex sexual activity, and those who are attracted to people of the same sex. While sexual expression may be a matter of chose sexual identity and gender expression never are;
  2. I believe fully that churches should have the right to fulfill their mandate of identifying whether a person has a call from God either to the ordained ministry or to the consecrated/religious life. For the CBCP to state that: “The Church asserts its exclusive right to determine its own criteria and to exclude even on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity” is unforgivable. It is entirely at odds with its own previous statements that this would not conform to Pope Francis’ vision of the Church;
  3. The discussion undertaken in this statement on the sacrament of marriage as opposed to legal recognition of same sex unions is also most unfortunate. If, as this statement so strongly ascertains, all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity are wonderfully created in the image and likeness of God, then placing again the “perpetuation” of humankind as the core reason for sexual relationships would in and of itself call the creativity and motivation of God into question. There is also the unfortunate insinuation that sexual relationships which are faithful and fulfilling are not possible for people who are not heterosexual.

For years lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in the Philippines have been pushing for protection and rights for LGBTI people. This has been done in the face of legal, religious and social opposition. For the CBCP to dismiss this as a call to “Free Love” is both insulting and misguided.

I do not wish to just shoot holes in the statement made by the CBCP. I strongly affirm the positive language they have used to condemn discrimination in any form against people on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity. I further celebrate the open statement that all people should be welcomed and affirmed within the Church. I would strongly encourage the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines to put in place policies and lines of accountability to ensure the zero discrimination policy they have here made. I would further call on them to provide sex education for both boy and girls which celebrates sexual diversity and teaching the gift of sex which God has given to us.

This is a statement of love and care constrained by an underlying sex negative theology which prefers celibacy to marriage and which sees sex as purely necessary for procreation. The place of pleasure and the celebration of the body which God has created for us has no place in this narrow definition and will continue to keep the Roman Catholic Church of celebrating the glorious gift of sexuality with which God has gifted every human being.

Written By

Rev. Fr. Johannes Petrus (JP) Heath was born in Windhoek, Namibia in 1964, the middle son of three children. He experienced his call to the priesthood while working in a bank. He moved to St George's Home for Boys as part of his formation. After two years of study at St. John the Baptist Seminary in Johannesburg, he was moved to St. Paul's Seminary in Grahamstown where he first finished his Diploma in Theology (with Merit), and then moved to complete a B.Th. (Honors) at Rhodes University. Fr. JP was ordained in the Diocese of Johannesburg in 1994 and served his curacy at St. Michael's, Bryanston. While serving at the Cathedral Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Johannesburg, he started a ministry for streetchildren – an outreach to people on the margins of society that continued when he was appointed as Rector of Christ Church, Mayfair, a parish placed in the middle of a predominantly Muslim and Hindu suburb of Johannesburg. In 2000, after testing HIV-positive, JP started exploring ways of initiating a ministry on HIV within the diocese of Johannesburg. Eventually, he confounded the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV (INERELA+) in 2001. He was the founding coordinator and then executive director of INERELA+ until December 2012. Fr. JP helped grow the network from an initial membership of eight, to a global network with more than 10,000 members from all faiths. In January 2013, he moved to Sweden, where he is now actively working as Policy Advisor on HIV, Human Sexuality and Theology for the International Department of the Church of Sweden. He continues to serve internationally on a number of Boards and advisory bodies, including the UNAIDS HIV and Human Rights Reference Group, the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance HIV strategy group, the Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Action International Reference Group, and the Global Interfaith Network on All Sexes, Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (GIN-SSOGIE) steering committee.


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