Antigay Bishop Says He Was Just Following Pope's Orders

Has Pope Francis for the first time stepped into a public policy debate about LGBT people?

BY Lucas Grindley

December 30 2013 6:53 AM ET

Charles Scicluna

The outspoken auxiliary bishop of Malta, where civil unions are being considered, implied to a local newspaper that his public campaign against the bill has the backing of Pope Francis.

In an interview with the Sunday Times of Malta, Bishop Charles Scicluna says that during a meeting on December 12 he told the pope about the bill's plan to allow same-sex couples to adopt children, and "he encouraged me to speak out." Scicluna described the pope as "quite shocked by the issue of civil unions and gay adoptions."

The pope is not yet on record having personally stepped into any country's policy debate on LGBT equality, instead he's called on the Catholic Church to spend less time emphasizing these issues. So Scicluna's claim that the pope told him to "speak out" has grabbed attention.

Scicluna recently triggered outrage when using his annual Christmas homily to attack gays and lesbians. In the interview, Scicluna was actually defending himself from criticism that the sermon shows he is out of step with the new pope.

In Scicluna's Christmas message to parishioners, he described the manger scene as evidence God wants children raised by one man and one woman. Here's how the Malta Independent quoted a portion of the sermon:

"Around the manger of baby Jesus there are also a woman and a man: the mother who gave him birth and her husband Joseph whom God chose to bring up, along with the mother, the child of Mary. God, who generated his Son as a human being without the participation of a man, did not want his Son as man to be brought up without the participation of a man.

"The silent and essential mission of Joseph was to ensure that the boy Jesus, in his upbringing as a man, was not deprived of a father’s affection and example. In the upbringing of his Beloved Son, God himself ordained and chose to be subjected to the wisdom and law of creation according to which a baby should be reared by a mother and father, by a couple made of a man and a woman and not by a couple made of woman and woman or a couple made of man and man," the Bishop said.

"May the Sweet Baby of Bethlehem grant us the grace that those who in our country have the power to build or to destroy, may have wisdom to build and not to destroy the family based on the lasting bond between one man and one woman."

Scicluna has for a long time insisted that civil unions can't be allowed in Malta because it would allow gay and lesbian couples to adopt children. Before becoming pope, while serving as archbishop in Argentina, Jorge Bergoglio was on record opposing adoption by gays and lesbians.

Scicluna says that during his December 12 meeting, he asked the pope to make clear that he still believes what he said back then. "I said Holy Father they're quoting you now, and not as Cardinal Bergoglio from 2010," Scicluna told The Times. "He reiterated that gay adoptions are 'un rigresso antropologico' [an anthropological regression]."

Before becoming pope, Bergoglio had reportedly broke with more conservative factions by supporting civil unions as "the lesser of two evils" when Argentina considered (and eventually passed) full marriage equality.

Scicluna argues civil unions are the same as marriage in the eyes of the church, and although he claims to agree with Pope Francis that the church has wrongly obsessed over same-sex marriage, he hasn't stopped talking about it. He's used the Christmas sermon, several interviews and a prominent letter to a local newspaper to make the point repeatedly.

"I cannot simply shut up," he told Malta Today in November, reiterating his insistence that the Catholic Church in Malta voice opposition to LGBT equality.

Scicluna was made an auxiliary bishop after serving as the Vatican's chief prosecutor in sex abuse cases. (At the time, the media interpreted his new role as a form of demotion.)

No one can accuse Scicluna of shutting up. In a November interview, he told Malta Today, for example, that "marriage is not only about friendship and love. It is about love that expresses itself in the oneness of flesh, as scripture expresses it, 'they will become one flesh.' This is the way scripture talks about sexual intercourse, and sexual intercourse with openness to the gift of parenthood is essential to the definition of marriage. One understands that when we talk about consummation of a same-sex marriage, the idea does not make sense because two people of the same sex cannot become one flesh in a union that is open to parenthood." At one point, he wondered, "How do you consummate the marriage of a woman with a woman?"

In that same Malta Today interview from November, Scicluna also compared the pope he served with so closely — Pope Benedict — and his successor. He called Benedict "a great thinker, and a great theologian" while crediting Francis with "street wisdom that contributes greatly to the freshness of style that he has brought to the papacy."

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