The calming of the storm is becoming a distant biblical memory in the lives of Catholics in Parramatta. Their spiritual leader and shepherd, Bishop Vincent Long, has recently released a pastoral letter to his flock commenting on NSW’s Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 which was introduced to the state’s parliament by One Nation’s the Hon. Mark Latham.
Bishop Long speaks of ‘concern for the wellbeing of [Parramatta’s Catholic] students and their families’, as he attempts to speak with ‘sensitivity, compassion and truth, acknowledging at all times the dignity of each person.’ This is all very noble speech. However, it is not what the bishop says that rings alarm bells but what he does not say which leaves parents and educators rightly concerned with his so-called leadership.
I recently wrote elsewhere that ‘every person – whatever their sexual attraction or gender identification may be at any given time – is welcome and has a home within the boundaries of the Catholic Church. Yes, everyone.’ I say this confidently from firsthand experience.
When my then long-term boyfriend and I dared to step through the doorway of a Catholic church some years ago, we were welcomed, included, and loved without condition amongst all the others struggling with their sinful nature. The congregation was honest, courageous, and humble enough to admit that all sheep go astray in some way or other. Their consistent witness and non-judgment assisted in showing us both where our lives needed to change and refocus. They loved us by ensuring that no stone of our lives was left unturned. They brought us to the feet of Jesus, where we individually and uniquely found the truth that brought freedom to every aspect of our lives.
I know this same welcome to be true today as I hang out with fellow Catholics after a church service. Today, the conversation isn’t just about whether to head for lunch by the river or by the ocean. It is at times spent listening to a fellow church attendee tackle the questions of whether, where and when to get ‘their’ healthy breasts removed. Those transitioning are amongst us, as are their pains and struggles, which are always welcome.
Long’s limp letter is so busy focusing on the margins, the marginalised, and the ostracised that he fails to make any mention of the fulcrum to which those on the periphery are being invited. It is particularly interesting that the person of Jesus, to whom we are led to believe Catholic bishops swear ultimate allegiance, has no specific mention in his letter.
So, it is not Long’s desire to see everyone welcomed without judgment and engaged with that is missing. It is his commitment to equally and unashamedly include and uphold the truth as revealed by Jesus Christ.
Yes, a student’s lived reality is unquestionably to be acknowledged, with every person being shown respect at all times. However, to wholly affirm a developing child or teenager down the transgender pathway of what is biologically untrue, or to fix and affirm a teen’s sexual attraction as an unchangeable orientation, smacks in the face of what Long declares he seeks to achieve, namely that ‘all students – including those who identify as gender diverse – should have the opportunity to reach their potential’.
His pastoral letter states:
As the Bishop of Parramatta, with oversight of Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta, I take seriously the trust you have placed in us to educate your children and will uphold that trust with an education based on Catholic Scripture, Tradition and Values. Parents’ role in education is vital, necessary and sought after at all times because parents are their children’s first teachers (Canon 793 §1).
Latham’s Bill is precisely about that: parents being permitted to be their children’s first teachers.
Never, however, have we seen or heard Bishop Long uphold the full message of redemption contained within Scripture when addressing matters relating to human sexuality, which one ex-gay male was heard to describe not only as Good News but as ‘bloody Great News’.
Day after day, I hear tragic stories not too unlike my own of adults whose sexuality was boxed in and mislabelled as teenagers, and those who were wrongly affirmed in their misidentification or misgendering as teens, some of whom now crawl into adulthood deeply regretting the removal of their healthy womb, ovaries, breasts or genitalia. This tragic aspect of the sexuality and gender discussions that Bishop Long wishes to keep alive in Catholic Education has never knowingly been raised by him. Why not?
Why is Long so frightened to speak of redeemed sexuality for every human being?
Why is he so intent on stirring up a storm with Latham?
Why, whilst working overtime to uphold the message of God’s mercy to every soul, does he also withhold the equally necessary and unequivocal vision of man’s God-given dignity, especially in the area of human sexuality?
Parents are right to want these questions answered.
Long says that ‘the Church is not a cult that refuses to engage and challenge our contemporary culture’, and yet he has failed to date to engage and challenge our culture with the fullness of the Gospel which he has promised to espouse, the same Gospel which has brought liberation, dignity and belonging to numerous people who have turned their backs on the tragic “born gay” myth and on suicide-inducing gender ideology.
He might benefit from contemplating further on the words of his fellow Franciscan brother, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, who starkly warned senior churchmen on Good Friday that ‘pastors need to be the first to make a serious examination of conscience.’ They ‘need to ask themselves where it is they are leading their flocks – to their position or to Jesus.’
Bishop Long is right to be attentive to those sheep in his care on the periphery. Yet the main reason he possesses and carries a crozier is to diligently pull his flock away from any situation which might threaten their eternal salvation. Until he does this with great clarity, integrity and effectivity, a greater storm will continue to stir, and those most likely to be shipwrecked are the very ones Bishop Long has overly focussed on rescuing.