A year after his appointment to lead the Catholic Church in Malta, Archbishop Charles Scicluna gave a wide-ranging interview to the Times of Malta. The following excerpt, dealing with the Church’s response to government proposals on gay conversion therapy, are of particular importance for lesbian and gay Catholics.
Did the Church commit a faux pas when expressing reservations about the gay conversion therapy Bill?
If I had to go back I would not have simply released a position paper, on such an emotional issue, done by an extraordinary team of experts, without a statement that is less technical and more pastoral.
The experience has taught me it is not enough, when discussing a Bill, to contribute to the debate only with the help of experts. You also need to factor in the impact on people’s emotions and the perception the document may create.
Did you make the conversion therapy document yours?
I approved the document for publication but it is not my document. It is the document of the Church in Malta but it is the responsibility of the signatories. I approved publication because we need to contribute to the discussion. But I feel I have to build bridges with the gay community who felt our language was too technical, too cold and too distant.
I want to reassure them that we are dead set against conversion therapy because we believe, as they do, as government does, that it goes against human dignity.
We do not subscribe to beliefs that describe gay people as sick.
These are labels that demean them. And certainly we are not going to associate gay people with paedophilia.
What the Prime Minister said in a very emotional speech last Sunday finds me in total agreement with him. I agree with him when he says he will not accept anybody calling a gay person sick. I agree with the Prime Minister when he says he will not allow anybody to call gay people paedophiles. But I would not say the experts implied any of this or that they tried to drag the nation into the dark ages with their contribution.
Fundamental to the position paper is that conversion therapy might be OK if the person is a consenting adult. The argument should have been that conversion therapy, whether wanted or forced, is wrong.
Claire Axiak [a psychiatrist who wrote that conversion therapy was wrong and harmed people irrespective if an adult asked for it] writing in the Times of Malta [last Friday] made a very strong argument that conversion therapy harms a person. This is something experts have to tell me. I entrusted the study to the experts. What I would ask the government is that human dignity be respected and if experts say conversion therapy is totally harmful then we should avoid it.
I have asked what the meaning of sexual orientation is because anthropologist Ranier Fsadni [writing in the Times of Malta last Thursday] made the point whether sexual orientation also included paraphilias – conditions like paedophilia. Experts have told me sexual orientation does not include paraphilias and so any talk of illness makes no sense. My appeal to the community at large is that this is an important law and the issues must be debated with an open mind.
Was it a mistake not to have somebody from the gay community on the expert panel?
It would have helped immensely to include people from Drachma in the preparation of the position paper because they have contributed in other papers and their contribution has been precious. When I asked Professor [Emanuel] Agius [who formed part of the panel of experts], he said that was something we could have done and we should have done, as was the case with another position paper we presented recently.