S377A – TO REPEAL OR NOT TO REPEAL: A CONSCIENTIOUS DECISION
A Pastoral Letter to Catholics in Singapore
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
There is much debate today, even among Catholics, as to whether Singapore should repeal S377A of the Penal Code. Some feel the law should be retained to avoid normalising same-sex relationships. Others want it repealed in the name of human rights. Empathising with persons with same-sex attraction (SSA), they feel that the state discriminates against gay males by criminalising their sexual activity, while simultaneously permitting the sexual improprieties of opposite-sex couples, such as pre-marital sex and adultery.
This pastoral letter seeks to enlighten our Catholics on how to make an informed and prudent judgment on this matter.
From the outset, it has to be clarified that the Church regards everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, with equal respect. All of us are worthy of God’s love and mercy. The Church feels for, and empathises with, those who are struggling with homosexual inclination. She sees them with the eyes of Jesus, i.e., as people who are unique and of infinite worth, and especially loved by God as His children and heirs to eternal life. The Church therefore does not discriminate against the homosexual person. This does not mean however that the Church condones homosexual acts.
GOD’S PLAN FOR HUMAN SEXUALITY
To help us form our judgement prudently on this matter, we should first understand God’s Plan for human sexuality.
Sexuality takes into account the entire makeup of the person as a male or female. It is a fundamental component of the person that expresses the call to love as God loves, in the complementarity and totality of the gift of a person, in all his masculinity and all her femininity (cf. The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, 10).
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), “Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman.” (CCC #2360). Any action that diverts sexuality away from this end to which it is ordered, is thus, disordered. “Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such.” (CCC #2361).
The Church considers the union of man and woman part of the order of creation. “‘The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws… God himself is the author of marriage.’ The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution. ‘The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life.'” (CCC #1603).
True married love and the whole structure of family life which results from it are ordered for the greater good of humanity. In this sense, the fundamental task of marriage and family is to be at the “service of life” (CCC #1653), and for the common good of society.
All persons, whether married or single, and including persons with SSA, are called to share in God’s goodness and love by living in a chaste and authentic manner according to their state in life, so as to grow in relationship with God and others.
To help us further form our judgement on this matter, this issue (of 377A) should be seen from the perspectives of moral law and civil law.
THE MORAL LAW PERSPECTIVE
The Sacred Tradition of the Church has constantly taught that homosexual acts are “contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved” (CCC #2357).
There is indeed a distinction between homosexual acts and the homosexual person. It is only the former that violates the teaching of Scripture.The Church clearly teaches that a homosexual person or persons with SSA “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfil God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.” (CCC #2358)
From Scripture, St Paul gives his views on homosexuality (cf. Romans 1:26f, 1 Tim 1:9f). To the Corinthians, St Paul said, “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers – none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor 6:9f). Here St Paul clearly admonishes all, heterosexuals and homosexuals alike, who do not observe propriety in sexual and moral matters.
THE CIVIL LAW PERSPECTIVE
From this perspective, the Church acknowledges that the decision on S377A should come from Parliament. Nevertheless, on moral issues, the Church seeks dialogue and offers her views on the implications of the laws that are enacted in the country so that Parliament can make wise and just laws for the good of all. As to whether the law should be repealed, the principle underlying all laws is that the laws enacted must be for the common good on grounds of truth and justice, respecting human dignity and human rights. Laws should not be enacted simply on the basis of current or popular opinion but must be rooted in Truth and the common good.
Consequently, Catholics,as individuals and responsible citizens, have an important role to play in voicing their views to the government. We have a duty to speak out and be engaged in the public and social sphere to bring about the common good, which is the sum total of social conditions that promote the flourishing of individuals, family and society. We cannot be silent on issues that affect the lives of all in society and the well-being of society, today and in the future. Silence is often misinterpreted as consent.
Having presented God’s Plan for human sexuality, marriage and family; and having considered the moral and civil law perspectives, as your Bishop, I invite you to consider the following in making a prudential judgement on S377A of Singapore’s Penal Code.
On the Principle of Human Rights
- Is it true that this law deprives homosexuals of their rights and freedom? Are they in fact prosecuted when they engage in sexual activity in private?
- What is the underlying intent of the law? Is it not to underscore that the norm for our society is marriage between a man and a woman, in order to preserve the stability of marriage and the family and society?
- Does this law deprive homosexuals of their personal rights, or will the repeal of the law discriminate against the majority which holds the opposite view?
- Is the preservation of this law necessary to prevent a further weakening of the institution of marriage and the stability of our families, which is the bedrock of society?
On the Principle of the Common Good: Implications for the Church and its Faithful
- Will repealing the law help to promote the flourishing of individuals, family and society according to God’s Plan? Or will it embolden activists to push further for the normalisation of same-sex relationships, such as legislation to permit same-sex marriage and the adoption of children by same-sex couples?
- Will the repeal of this law lead to the subjugation ofthe rights of Catholics to exercise their faith values, and force them to accept homosexual values and lifestyles in their homes, schools, faith communities, work places and places of worship?
- Will the removal of this law subject the Church and her faithful to legal and political challenges for speaking out against same-sex unions, or for refusing to offer services to same-sex couples which go against our faith beliefs? Will the Church be forced to accept the promotion of homosexual values and lifestyles in our schools, let transgender persons use bathrooms for those of the opposite sex, and so on, as has happened in other countries?
ARCHBISHOP’S PASTORAL POSITION AND APPEAL
Having gone through with you the moral, social and legal implications of upholding or repealing S377A, it is natural that the faithful expect their Chief Shepherd to lead the Church on this issue. In fact, I have received many appeals from both camps to support their position.
It is a delicate dilemma for any leader to have to negotiate. I feel trapped, just as Jesus must have felt when the Pharisees posed to Him the question of whether divorce was lawful (cf. Mk 10:2), or whether it was lawful to pay taxes to the emperor. (cf. Mk 12:14f)
So, right from the outset, I want to make it clear that all the faithful are important to me, regardless whether they have same- or opposite-sex attraction. Like the Lord, I care for every child of God that has been entrusted to me.
On one hand, I feel the struggles and pains of those with SSA who sincerely love God and desire to live up to His divine plan for humanity. I feel with them when they are ostracised or marginalised by society. They too deserve to be loved and treated with dignity and respect. Indeed, the Church advocates, “every sign of unjust discrimination towards homosexual persons should be avoided and [the Church] urges States to do away with criminal penalties against them.” (Statement Of The Holy See Delegation At The 63rd Session Of The General Assembly, December 2008)
On the other hand, I share the anxieties and fears of those who subscribe to the traditional and scriptural views of marriage and family, that repealing S377A would lead the country down a slippery slope. This is because repealing the law will not be the end of the saga. Rather, it would only embolden the push to legalise same-sex unions, adoption of babies by same-sex couples, surrogacy, and even the criminalisation of those who hold contrary views of marriage and who oppose same-sex unions.
So how do we transcend this legal issue? We must do what Jesus did, by going back to the original intention of God’s creation and the spirit of the law. To the question of divorce, the Lord said, “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Mk 10:6-8) So too we must go beyond a legalistic interpretation of the law.
What is important is to ask, what is the intention of S377A? Is it intended to penalise the homosexual by punishing him for sexual acts? Does this law run counter to the Holy See’s condemnation of ‘unjust discrimination’ against homosexuals? The Church walks a fine line on this issue. While it joined with two-thirds of the UN member states in rejecting a proposal to decriminalise homosexuality in December 2008, it also urged them to eliminate criminal sanctions for homosexual behaviour. In other words, the Holy See’s stance dovetails with that of the Singapore government.
Clearly, the spirit of both the moral and civil laws is to emphasise that same-sex unions are not a social norm as they do not help to foster fruitful and life-giving marriages or cohesive families which are the bedrock of a strong and stable society. This is also intended as a safeguard to prevent champions of “gay rights” from taking their cause beyond the mere repeal of S377A.
Indeed, I would not object to a repeal of S377A if it were merely aimed at removing all potential criminal penalties against homosexuals. However, until and unless Parliament puts in place a formulation that more perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the law, guaranteeing the protection of the rights of the majority who favour the traditional family, and that no further demands be made to legalise same-sex unions, adoption of babies by same sex couples, surrogacy, or to criminalise those who do not support the homosexual lifestyle, I am of the view that S377A should not be repealed under the present circumstances. This is because, by accepting homosexual acts as a social norm, the dreadful consequences for the stability of our families, the well-being of our children, and the risks to the common good will be long-term and irreversible.
As the chief shepherd of the archdiocese, I therefore appeal to all Catholics to make a conscientious decision to reject the repeal for the future of our families, humanity and society. Looking at the dire consequences for countries which normalised same-sex unions and the ramifications that followed, may we not repeat the mistake that others have made! I pray that we will not walk the slippery path of no return.
Let us be guided by the voice of the Holy Spirit as we discern what is truly good for us, our families and society.
Your devoted shepherd,
Most Rev. William Goh
Archbishop of Singapore
18 September, 2018