THE MACLEAN'S INTERVIEW

‘IF THERE IS NO PLACE FOR THE SINNER, THERE IS NO PLACE FOR ME’

DANYLO HAWALESHKA February 14 2005
THE MACLEAN'S INTERVIEW

‘IF THERE IS NO PLACE FOR THE SINNER, THERE IS NO PLACE FOR ME’

DANYLO HAWALESHKA February 14 2005

‘IF THERE IS NO PLACE FOR THE SINNER, THERE IS NO PLACE FOR ME’

THE MACLEAN'S INTERVIEW

Same-sex marriage

PAUL MARTIN’S PRIEST

THE CIVIL MARRIAGE ACT, introduced by the Liberals last week, would permit the “lawful union of two persons” but not oblige religious groups to marry gay couples. And yet the debate rages, dividing communities, parties, even congregations. In the Roman Catholic church that Prime Minister Paul Martin attends—St. John Brébeuf, in his Montreal riding of LaSalle-Émard—Father John Walsh, 62, sees his parish rocked by spiritual turbulence. He also has a unique view of the issue’s effect on his most prominent congregant.

How do you define marriage?

When I first began to study marriage, its purpose was procreation, education of children, and allowing people to get rid of their sex urge. Then Vatican II [reform council] opened us to new meanings of marriage. We still had procreation and education of children, but now the Church tells couples they’re creating a community of love.

So how does that definition apply to same-sex couples?

The Church has always considered the homosexual act as intrinsically evil. A samesex marriage allows two people to come together in a sinful condition. But my responsibility as a priest is to educate people as to what we see as the values of marriage, not to impose one definition on anybody.

How would legalizing same-sex marriage change things for the Catholic Church?

The Church, believe me, has made great strides to be able to welcome gays and lesbians. If there’s no place for the sinner in church, there’s no place for me. But the debate has become confrontational rather than conversational, and that I find a very sad situation. The Church is divided, Canadians are divided. And yet, bringing forth the issue from the point of view of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms shows integrity on the part of the Prime Minister.

What effect has this debate had on him?

I’ve been here five years, and he comes every year for the St. Patrick’s Day parade, and we walk together for a couple of hours. But I really couldn’t tell you. I know that the Prime Minister is a practising Catholic.

In this divide, which side are you on?

I find it difficult to come down on one side. We think of family as being a man, a woman, two children and a gerbil, you know? Well, there are more family models today than there have ever been. We have single-parent families. We have reconstructed and blended families. How does that integrate samesex marriage? Well, we’re new at it. We’re scared this is going to turn our culture upside down. But we thought that about divorce. I’d rather be inclusive than exclusive, but there are members of the Church who work from a sense of fear, a difficult attitude.

What would you say if a gay couple came to you and asked you to marry them?

They haven’t asked me yet. When they confront me, I’m going to have to sit down and do a lot of soul-searching.

What have you come up with so far?

Jesus says, “Go out and love God with your whole heart,” and I’ve met people who are gay who love God with their whole heart. Love your neighbour—they do it extremely well. Those are the two commandments, the hackdrop against which I hope we make all our decisions.

It sounds like you’re leaning toward yes.

I’m not. I’ve left it open.

What is your congregation telling you?

The spectrum. It’s healthy for Canadians to

be in this debate.

DANYLO HAWALESHKA