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The pink cross of Malaysia

The Malaysian Church is yet to put in place a mechanism to openly discuss homosexual issues
Larra Jassinta of Malaysia during the Miss International Queen 2019 transgender beauty pageant in Pattaya in Thailand on March 8, 2019.

Larra Jassinta of Malaysia during the Miss International Queen 2019 transgender beauty pageant in Pattaya in Thailand on March 8, 2019. (Photo: AFP)

Published: October 11, 2023 11:43 AM GMT
Updated: October 11, 2023 11:54 AM GMT

Adam Abraham was nine in 2007 when he detected his particular love for a schoolmate.

“I liked his face, he was handsome so I hugged him,” the 25-year Malaysian Catholic told UCA News while discussing the struggles a gay Catholic like him undergoes.

Abraham (name changed) said he knew such love was wrong because his parents taught him their Catholic faith forbids it. “I did not want to feel this way. I asked God to take it away, but it was still there,” Abraham said during an online conversation with UCA News on Sept. 16.

Just like Abraham, who grew up in Kota Kinabalu, hundreds of Catholics in Malaysia suffer shame and a sense of sin because of the Catholic Church's lack of openness to discuss same-sex orientation, experts and Church officials agree.

“There are many among the laity who struggle with the sin of homosexuality. It is so common now. I hear it all the time in the confessional,” a parish priest in Kuala Lumpur archdiocese said.

“Some priests feel there is nothing wrong with it,” said the priest who requested anonymity.

“There is a crisis in the Church,” he said referring to the division on the issue among clergy in Malaysia.

For example, Abraham said, his struggles worsened when he went to university in Kuala Lumpur. Until that point, he only felt same-sex attraction.

"The Church should be more willing to listen to people like me."

“The first time I had sex with a guy was in 2020 in Kuala Lumpur. We had a relationship for two years.”

At the university, he met a deacon involved in campus ministry, who explained Catholic teaching on homosexuality to him.

The Church accepts people with same-sex orientation, but it teaches that all sex acts outside marriage are a sin, including sex between same-sex people, he was told.

After talking to the deacon, he said he tried to restrain himself. But despite long hours of prayer, he still found himself going back to gay sites and having casual sex with men.

He confessed each time after having sex. “Otherwise, I cannot take Holy Communion,” he said.

With all this, his doubts began to increase.

“If I was naturally born this way, then why does the Church say it’s wrong? I can’t stop how I feel and I also want to be a Catholic.”

He did not speak to anyone in the Church about his situation because "some people have a negative view of this."

"The Church should be more willing to listen to people like me. Not everyone chooses to live like this.”

"Almost all seminarians feeling same-sex attractions do not want to identify as gay or lesbian"

Abraham said Catholic priests need to talk about it in sermons and Catholics should be able to ask questions.

The Church’s response to gay people can be harsh, says Fiona Biggs, a missionary disciple at the Institute For World Evangelisation, who has worked with youths for the last 12 years.

Some members of the clergy “can be harsh and unpastoral and the Church is quick to admonish” without first attempting to listen, creating safe spaces for such conversation or to love the individual as they are, she told UCA News.

Non-heterosexuality and homosexuality are “yet to be included in the Catechism syllabus which could mention these struggles as examples or in a story format. It is still regarded as a taboo topic,” the lay Catholic missionary said.

Sunday School students are introduced to the Theology of the Body at the age of 16 or 17.

“That’s far too late. The world would have fed and convinced them with a different narrative by then,” said Biggs.

“They should be embracing these beautiful truths about their body by the age of seven or eight. There’s even a syllabus for this age group which I wish more parishes would be open to use,” she added.

Bryan Shen, who specializes in non-heterosexuality estimates that a considerable number of seminarians in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand are “struggling with non-heterosexuality.”

Shen, an author and counsellor dealing with misconceptions and prejudices surrounding non-heterosexuality has taught in Catholic and Protestant seminaries in the three countries. Some 70 of the 700 seminarians who attended his classes since 2011 are non-heterosexual, he told ucanews.com.

“Almost all seminarians feeling same-sex attractions do not want to identify as gay or lesbian, and the vast majority do not reveal what they struggle with,” he said.

“Without help, as long as they achieve their goals, are respected, and can work and function to receive positive regards, they will feel fine.”

“There may even be a cultural impetus to cover the scandal"

They will turn to vices such as drinking, eating unhealthy food, slothful pleasures, pornography, and fornication if they feel stressed or think other people’s opinion of them has deteriorated, Shen said.

According to him non-heterosexuality also has non-sexual consequences such as strong compulsions to have high status, high qualifications, positions and authority, perfectionism, being pedantic to juniors, and being highly susceptible to vain glory.

Non-heterosexual people can be over-particular about portraying goodness, and are extra sensitive to perceived criticism, Shen said.

“They gravitate to social spaces where respect and positivity are given to priests without question. Envy, jealousy, and ambivalence are additional risks. So is the risk of them being either homophobic or having an emotional affinity to LGBTQ people,” Shen added.

It is hard for the clergy, especially those who have hidden their non-heterosexuality, to talk about it for two reasons. First, because of a discomfort to condemn what they know they have in themselves. The second is to protect the image of priests, Shen said.

“There may even be a cultural impetus to cover the scandal,” he said.

“As much as they do not like corrective truth, they also avoid anyone who can see through them. Some Asian clergy cultures detest counselors.”

He said it was important “to realize that there are many ordinary people in conservative religious communities” who struggle with non-heterosexuality, do not want to identify or live as LGBTQ, “and are deathly afraid of being found out, judged and condemned.”

Shen wants the Church to train seminarians to address these struggles so that it will have priests who can help non-heterosexual people and their families.

Such training will also reduce the number of priests who are “intolerant or have an emotional affinity to LGBTQ people without ever solving deep problems,” he said.

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