Archbishop reaches out, LGBTs respond

After months of heated words and finger-pointing between religious institutions and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) groups, the search for middle ground seems to have started.

Catholic Archbishop William Goh yesterday apologised for his remarks last month, where he described the lifestyle of LGBT people as "detrimental to society".

In a lengthy letter, Archbishop Goh said: "I apologise if my initial statement conveyed insensitivity as from your feedback, I have come to realise that there is much variation in thought and lifestyle within this community."

The open letter was addressed to "Catholics with same-sex orientation", in response to those who he said had expressed "hurt, anger and disappointment" at his earlier remarks.

While he reiterated that sexual LGBT relationships are not "in accordance with the divine plan of God", he stressed that the church does not "disapprove of a loving relationship between same-sex individuals that is chaste and faithful".

Announcing that he will set up a "pastoral group" for those with same-sex orientation, the Archbishop said: "I am not indifferent to your pain and frustration."

But he also admitted that he is "not at liberty to change the truth as revealed in sacred scripture".

These comments were welcomed by various people, including those from the LGBT community.

A spokesman for Pink Dot SG said the organisation is "heartened that this constructive debate is taking place within the Catholic Church".

He added that the group looked forward to working closely with religious leaders like Archbishop Goh, to address issues facing the LGBT community, including bullying in school, discrimination and intolerance.

The letter was termed a "half-step forward" by Jean Chong, co-founder of lesbian group Sayoni. "It was a nice gesture for him to apologise, and his willingness to acknowledge his own limitations, that he cannot go against the Vatican, was appreciated," said Ms Chong.

However she added that more dialogue is needed to correct what she felt was "ignorance and misinformation", such as how LGBT couples will not make good parents.

Eugene Tan, an associate professor of law at Singapore Management University, said Archbishop Goh "seeks to build bridges and a common ground over a patently divisive issue".

He said the Catholic Church is taking "a far more public position on homosexuality than it has in recent memory" and that it would demonstrate that the church is reaching out to the LGBTs within the community.

Baey Yam Keng, MP for Tampines GRC, said that the tone of the Archbishop's letter comes closest to finding a middle ground on the contentious issue.

"It's a step forward to heal the rift and, hopefully, people can be open minded and see the different views," he said.

With the Wear White Campaign and Pink Dot clashing just last weekend, Mr Baey notes that Singapore has heard only voices from the extreme ends of the spectrum.

"There is a need for more neutral and middle-ground voices, who have chosen to be silent about this," he said.

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