Play Starring Transgender Jesus Draws Catholic Protests

November 24, 2015

Jo Clifford as Jesus in the play

Catholics in Northern Ireland protested a play performed this month which portrays Jesus as a transgender woman, but the playwright defended it as an attempt to make audiences “think again” about faith and gender.

The play, titled “The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven,” was most recently performed at Outburst Queer Arts Festival in Belfast just weeks after the nation’s legislature failed to advance marriage equality legislation.

Writer and actor Jo Clifford described it as a “very important, very intimate show,” explaining to BBC:

” ‘Obviously being a transgender woman myself it concerns me very greatly that religious people so often use Christianity as a weapon to attack us and justify the prejudices against us. . .

” ‘I wanted to see if we could move away from that and make people think again.’ “

Audience members are quite moved, said Clifford, including Christians. The writer has repeatedly reinterpreted biblical stories to generate new ideas, suggesting the overall message of this play is clear:

” ‘I think it’s very important to get across the message that Jesus of the gospels would not condone or want to promote prejudice and discrimination against anybody and to try to convey a message of compassion and love and understanding of everybody. . .No matter what their belief, no matter what their gender, orientation or sexuality.’

Not all welcome that message as a small Catholic group protested in Belfast, as has at previous performances. Former Glasglow Archbishop Mario Conti once said that it is hard to imagine “a more provocative and offensive abuse of Christian beliefs” than this play.

Clifford, however, said protesters have generally not seen the play and that it seeks neither to offend nor blaspheme because she is a Christian herself. Her point is rather to reflect on Jesus’ ministry through this “work of devotion”:

” ‘I simply want to assert very strongly, as strongly as I can that Jesus of the gospels would not in anyway wish to attack or denigrate people like myself.’ “

Clifford made a similar point in another interview, available on YouTube:

“He was talking to the victims of persecution, to the victims of prejudice and he would speak to them in a very accepting way, as one human being to another.”

In this, Clifford is correct. The Gospels reveal a Jesus who elevated people’s dignity and specifically sought out those who had been marginalized.

Catholic tradition has long embraced the arts as a means for spiritual nourishment and divine revelation, opening up the human person to themselves, to others, and to God. While I have not viewed Clifford’s play, her interviews suggest she is someone committed to creating art with devotional ends. The protesters would have benefited more by attending a show and seeing what came up in their inner life, instead of casting stones from afar.

For more information on The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven, visit the play’s website here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Africans Ask Pope Francis to Preach Tolerance

November 23, 2015

LGBT folks are asking Pope Francis to preach tolerance during his upcoming Apostolic Voyage to Uganda, Kenya, and Central African Republic beginning Wednesday.

Frank Mugisha

Frank Mugisha

Frank Mugisha, who directs Sexual Minorities Uganda and is himself Catholic, understands Pope Francis may be constrained but said speaking out could do much good. He told Reuters:

” ‘If [Francis] starts talking about rights, then Ugandans are going to be very defensive. . .But I would think if the Pope was here and talking about love, compassion and equality for everyone, Ugandans will listen.’ “

Simply affirming that LGBT people should be “treated like any other children of God” would signal progress in nations where homosexuality is criminalized and the death penalty for those convicted has even been suggested in recent years.

David Kuria

Kenyan advocate David Kuria, who was raised Catholic, echoed those sentiments:

” ‘I hope the Pope would say, “Love everyone,” especially those who are still coming to church.’ “

Kuria is particularly concerned for Catholic parents of LGBT children who often face pressures in their local churches and communities. These social mores cause faithful parents to “doubt themselves as parents or as Christians,” noting his own mother’s expulsion from her village prayer group after Kuria came out.

Jackson Mukasa

Jackson Mukasa, also known as Princess Rihanna, was jailed in Uganda last year on “suspicion of committing homosexual acts,” though not convicted for lack of evidence, according to Reuters. Mukasa’s message for the pope is clear:

” ‘I would like the Pope to at least make people know that being LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) is not a curse. . .Being a gay in Uganda is a challenge. You expect mob justice, you expect to be killed, you expect to be arrested.’ “

Being openly LGBT in Uganda is dangerous, but equality advocates have made strides, Repeated attempts to pass “Kill the Gays” legislation have been suppressed. The situation in Kenya is better, though still oppressive. While homosexuality is illegal, wider tolerance means the law goes unenforced. Indeed, there are some 500 LGBT refugees from Uganda there.

What is significant is that both nations are highly Catholic, with 40% (Uganda) and 33% (Kenya) of their populations identifying as Roman Catholic. Much of the harshly anti-gay rhetoric comes from evangelical churches. Catholic leaders have been silent, vague, and sometimes supportive of oppressive measures, especially in Uganda. If Pope Francis leads and they follow, they could be critical voices for moderation and even tolerance.

The pope has called for bishops to be close their people, to be shepherds who smell of their sheep and who listen closely. Frank Mugisha, David Kuria, and Jackson Mukasa, on behalf of LGBT communities in their countries, make simple and direct appeals. Will Pope Francis listen?

Their appeals, affirmed by Catholics worldwide through the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, call the pope to the margins of his own church where sexual and gender identities remain marginalized. Will he choose to be close?

Exhorting Italy’s bishops a few weeks ago, Pope Francis asked them to begin “a creative movement” to put into practice the welcoming attitude of his apostolic exhortation,Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel).  Clearly condemning anti-LGBTQI laws and violence is a prime opportunity for Pope Francis to be creative in making real the joy of the Gospel — and to save LGBT lives. Will he speak out and preach tolerance?

Pope Francis has an opportunity to condemn LGBTQI criminalization and clarify a sometimes ambivalent Catholic stance regarding violence against sexual and gender minorities. Catholics across the world are asking Francis to send a clear message with the #PopeSpeakOut campaign.

To send a message to Pope Francis and add your voice to the many Catholics openly critical of institutionalized homophobia, visit the campaign’s website by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Fired Gay Priest: “The Church Needs a Stonewall.”

November 22, 2015

CharamsaStonewall“I can’t follow Jesus from the closet,” said Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa, the former Vatican official fired after he publicly came out as gay in October. Charamsa added, “The church needs a Stonewall,” referring to the 1960’s protests outside a New York gay bar of that name which many people identify as the start of the modern gay liberation movement.

Though fired from his job at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and now suspended as a priest by his home diocese in Poland, Charamsa was clear in a Religion News Service interview that he has no regrets:

” ‘I understood that [being closeted and being in a relationship] had nothing to do with reality. . .A moment arrived and I couldn’t do it anymore.”

That moment, just days before the Synod on the Family, arrived following the priest’s frustrated attempts to reform the church from within. Working in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Charamsa said he “couldn’t cast doubt on the strategy of homophobia” and “could not even use the word ‘homophobia’. ”

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo commented in the article that gay priests who come out usually meet with support from parishioners and friends:

“Priests I know who have come out have often done it gradually and more privately. . .[Publicly] it’s always been received with great support.”

Not all have welcomed Charamsa’s  coming out, though, and a few LGBT Catholic advocates are among his critics according to The Washington Post. Andrea Rubera, an organizer of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics’ conference right before the Synod, criticized the priest’s timing and said further:
” ‘Our fear now is that his coming out, and the way he came out, will build a wall, not a bridge.’ “
 Michael Brinkschröder, who is a leader in the European Forum of Christian LGBT Groups, said pressure “is not the appropriate means to achieve change.”

Charamsa, however, was clear that his coming out was indeed a protest. Despite disagreements over the details, LGBT advocates with whom he consulted were overwhelmingly supportive of his decision. Like any protest, there have been tremendous costs and Charamsa reported that family members in Poland are suffering, too, including the bullying of his brother’s children by their peers at school.

Commenting on the Synod itself, Charamsa said Vatican staff “entered into panic” in response to the 2014 Extraordinary Synod’s more welcoming tone towards lesbian and gay people. Describing this year’s deliberations as “inhuman theater,” he added to his initial criticism of homophobic comments by Cardinal Robert Sarah:

” ‘Sarah should have been reported (to the police) for his statements, but the synod didn’t say anything. . .He’s only one expression of a mentality; they think like him, because they didn’t contradict him. It’s a mentality and a paranoid vision of homosexuals.’ “

Charamsa’s hope is in Pope Francis who can, in the priest’s words, “turn on a light in the hearts of bishops” to promote reform. He is clear, however, that Francis must act concretely for inclusion and not just speak merciful words. The gay priest’s own target for reform is quite clear: institutional homophobia.

In an extensive interview with The Washington Post, Charamsa describes growing up Catholic in Poland.  He said that coming to understand his own identity was “like hell,” asking God for years to cure him of this illness. He explained to AFP:

” ‘The Catholic Church doesn’t actually kill people, but it kills them psychologically. . .It kills them with its backward stance, with its reject, contempt and constant preaching against homosexuals.’ “

Charamsa said church teaching on homosexuality is “like saying Earth is flat” and that these teachings are similar to religious fundamentalism. Speaking specifically about church leaders’ silence when it comes to anti-LGBTQI laws, Charamsa claimed the church was pleased by criminalization as a confirmation of its own teachings. He said further:

” ‘As long as [the church] does not openly reject and condemn this criminalisation, it is an accomplice of anti-homosexual terror.’ “

Krzysztof Charamsa’s decision to come out as a gay priest was a personal one, and he should be applauded for having the integrity such an act entails, particularly with the consequences he has faced. Regardless of how one feels about Charama’s own coming out announcement and the detail that he has had a partner, his points about institutional homophobia ring true. For his decision to speak out publicly against this homophobia, all LGBT Catholics and their allies can be most grateful.

Next week, Pope Francis has an opportunity to condemn LGBTQI criminalization and clarify a sometimes ambivalent Catholic stance regarding violence against sexual and gender minorities. Catholics across the world are asking Francis to send a clear message with the #PopeSpeakOut campaign.

To send a message to Pope Francis and add your voice to the many Catholics openly critical of institutionalized homophobia, visit the campaign’s website by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Cloistered Argentine Carmelite Nun Reaches Out to Trans Women

November 21, 2015

Regular long-time readers of Bondings 2.0  may remember our posts about Sister “Monica,” a U.S. nun who pioneered ministry to transgender people.  We’ve covered her involvement in this groundbreaking work a few times (here and here, for example), and you can read about her ministry and why she chooses to remain anonymous, using only the pseudonym Sister “Monica” when she appears in the media.

Sister Monica, third from right, with her group of trans women in Argentina.

In another part of the world, another Sister Mónica has emerged who is doing similar outreach work with the transgender community.  This Sister Mónica (which is her real name) lives in the Neuquén province of Argentina and is a member of the Discaled Carmelite Order, a contemplative community.  Her ministry has even attracted the attention and support of Pope Francis.

Her story first appeared in OhLaLá, an Argentinian web magazine for women.  Thanks to “Rebel Girl,” the blogging name of a contributor to Iglesia Descalza, a site for progressive Catholic reflection, we have an English translation of the article featuring Sister Mónica Astorga Cremona.

The story recounts how Sister Mónica’s pastoral life has always been with those on the margins of society, and that an encounter with a young transgender woman focused her attention on the needs of this community.  The nun described the story:

” ‘I feel that God wants me to accompany the wounded and that’s why I take responsibility. They often tell me I stand with them; it’s that I feel that from that place I can understand them. Because when we look at them from the other side, it’s impossible. I get in deep,’ the sister adds.

“And because of this kind of attitude, it’s not surprising that in December 2005, when Romina, a trans woman, approached Lourdes parish, the bishop decided this was a job for her.

“Romina went at that time to the church because she wanted to donate a tenth of her wages. ‘When the priest asked her where it came from, she told him from prostitution, and she explained that that was the only work she could get. At that point, the priest called me and told me about the case.’ “

Sister Monica Astorga Cremona

Sister Monica describes the poignancy of many of the simple hopes that some transgender women face, as well as the crushing obstacles to living with dignity:

” ‘The first time I came to see the group of trans women, I asked them to tell me their dreams. One of them, Kathy, told me that hers was to have a clean bed on which to die,’ says Mónica. At that time the nun contacted a priest, told him about the case and got an abandoned house which eventually became the refuge of the girls, as Mónica calls them.

“As she got to know this group of women, she learned how they lived — that they couldn’t hold any job except prostitution because they weren’t accepted in any position, that they often didn’t finish their studies because they were discriminated against in school, and that hospitals threw them out when they were about to die, so that in most cases they died alone and abandoned.”

As with many pastoral ministers who stand in solidarity with the marginalized, Sister Mónica has had her detractors, though she also seems to have the ability to turn those detractors into friends sometimes:

“Mónica admits that within the Church itself there are conflicting opinions as to her work with these people, but says she has the support of Pope Francis and that in her community small advances have already been achieved.

” ‘Once, when Romina had just come to the church, a lady came to find me and told me,”There’s a transvestite.” I replied that she was a trans woman, and then she asked me what she was doing in the church, to which I replied, “What are you doing here?.” At first, she continued questioning me about Romina’s presence, until I asked her what would happen if that were your child,’ she says.

” ‘After a couple of days, she came back and apologized to me, and at the following Mass she went looking for Romina to give her the sign of peace,’ she adds.”

As for the papal support she has received, the nun explains that she has been in email correspondence with Francis:

“. . . [S]he affirms that Pope Francis knows of the work she is carrying out with this group of women and that he supports her. In an email he wrote her: ‘In Jesus’ time, the lepers were rejected like that. They [the trans women] are the lepers of these times. Don’t leave this work on the frontier that is yours.’ “

The nun sees the possibility of a society that is free of oppression of transgender oppression, noting that such oppression is what causes these women to live lives of poverty and addiction:

“The girls make a huge effort against the stream. We have to help them and integrate them. They are capable and intelligent people, but they are abused. We ourselves are the ones who lead them to the streets. If society would open the door to them and give them a chance, we could help them get out of this. . . .

“. . . I think who is that person to judge like that and bury another live.”

The witness of Sister Mónica should challenge all of us to take one more step along the journey of advocating and standing in solidarity with trans people.  It is people like her who are building God’s reign of justice and peace in the world and in our Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

On Transgender Day of Remembrance, Looking at Gifts and Challenges

November 20, 2015

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, a time set aside each year to remember those trans people who have been beaten and murdered because of their identities.  It can also be a time to remember the gifts of trans people to church and society—especially their spiritual gifts.

The transgender experience is more intimately connected to divine reality than usually imagined says a scholar of gender and religion.

In an essay on the Huffington Post, Professor Susan M. Shaw of Oregon State University wrote that “the biblical witness itself proclaims that God is One who transcends gender. Trans means “across,” “beyond,” “through,” “changing thoroughly,” “transverse,” “on the other side of.”  The transcendent God is the one who crosses over, the one who moves beyond and through boundaries. God encompasses all gender and is therefore trans-gender.”  Shaw continued:

“Those humans who are transgender also reflect this crossing over, this moving beyond boundaries. They too are people created in God’s image, reflecting yet another aspect of God’s transcending and encompassing gender. Therefore, they are not outside God’s creation but are a reflection of the very diversity that is the being of God.”

This understanding would resonate with Julie Chovanes, a Catholic transgender woman and advocate, who was interviewed recently by NewsWorks.  Chovanes, who is also an attorney, runs the Trans Resource Foundation, which offers legal and social services to transgender community in Philadelphia and provides professional training about trans people to the broader community.  She sees herself as neither male nor female, but as transgender, and as a part of the diversity of God’s creation.  But as a Catholic, Chovanes is disheartened by the Church’s response to her and the transgender community.

Many Christians see transgender persons as outside God’s creation, while at the same time preaching a message of love and opposing the bullying transgender persons often experience, according to Shaw.  Shaw also noted that,

“[W]ithout irony, [these Christians] suppose that they can tell us something is wrong with transgender people and then assume they are not partly responsible for the climate that has led to . . . murders [and] all the other acts of violence against trans people that happen every day.”

Chovanes recited the statistics of such oppression:

“90 percent of us are harassed, mistreated or discriminated against on the job; 57 percent experience family rejection; 41 percent attempt suicide; 61 percent are victim of sexual assault; 64 percent are victim of sexual assault.”

Chovanes herself has experienced the misunderstanding and judgment of people who are not transgender.  She personally felt rejected when Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia refused to allow a Catholic parish to let New Ways Ministry to hold a workshop on gender diversity in their facilities during the World Meeting of Families.  Chovanes was a speaker at this event, which eventually took place in a nearby Methodist church.

Acts of violence can occur when a person or group is seen as the “Other.”  According to Shaw:

“[t]he ‘Other’ is any of us who are outside the mythical norm (In the U.S., that includes those of us who are people of color, women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer, poor, immigrants, non-Christian). When the dominant culture constructs a group of people as ‘Other,’ it dehumanizes them, it makes them less than, and it provides justification for mistreatment.

Shaw believes the Gospel calls us to “embrace the Other,” a phrase she borrows from theologian Grace Ji-Sun Kim.  In her book, Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love, Kim wrote that the power of the Spirit “opens our hearts to cross boards and embrace the Other.”

For people of faith in a God who transcends all, no one or group should be seen as the “Other.”  As Shaw concluded:

“If God is the One who transcends, transgresses, transforms, the One who crosses over, then surely all of God’s people should be people who cross over — who cross over prejudices and stereotypes and bigotry — to embrace God’s transgender children as fully human, fully created by and loved by God, fully welcome in God’s family and in our churches.”

The City of Philadelphia gives witness to the welcoming approach advocated by Shaw.  Chovanes refers to Philadelphia as the “best city in the world for trans people” and cites its anti-discrimination laws and the support of Philadelphia mayors past and present.  Indeed, the “City of Brotherly Love” has much to teach the local and universal Catholic Church.

–Cynthia Nordone, New Ways Ministry




USCCB Voting Guide Retains Focus on Marriage, Against Protests by Some Bishops

November 19, 2015

U.S. bishops at Baltimore meeting

Despite protests from several vocal bishops, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) passed a revised version of the election-year guide, “Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship,” retaining a key emphasis on their opposition to same-gender marriage, now the law of the land throughout the U.S.

David Gibson of Religion News Service noted that the bishops’ discussion of the document at their annual Baltimore meeting revealed “unusually sharp disagreements on how much they can, and should, adjust their priorities to match those of Pope Francis.”  Though they didn’t follow Francis’ advice to not obsess about same-gender marriage, the “bishops at least had taken to heart the pope’s admonition to engage in robust debate, ” observed Tom Roberts of the National Catholic Reporter.

The document states:

“Some issues involve principles that can never be abandoned such as the fundamental right to life and marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

According to Rachel Zoll of the Associated Pressthe bishops cautioned voters against voting for candidates which support these issues:

“They said voting for a candidate specifically because the politician favors a ‘grave evil’ such as abortion rights amounts to ‘formal cooperation’ with that evil by the voter.”

But for the first time since 2007 when the current version of this voting guide was issued, a strong opposition was put forth by a number of bishops who felt the document was unhelpful and outdated.  They specifically cited Pope Francis’ new agenda for the church in their opposition.

Gibson reported:

Bishop Robert McElroy

” ‘In the most impassioned objection to the voter guide, San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy took the floor to argue that the document — which was a reworking of an 84-page treatise first written in 2007 — should be scrapped because it did not reflect the way that Francis has elevated the battle against poverty and for the environment as central concerns for the Catholic Church since his election in 2013.

“ ‘I believe that this document is gravely hobbled,’ said McElroy, who was an outspoken advocate for the church’s social justice teachings even before Francis named him to the large and growing Southern California diocese earlier this year. . . .

“Apparently referring to political conservatives who argue that Catholics cannot vote for candidates who support abortion rights or gay marriage, McElroy said the new draft still ‘provides a warrant for those who will misuse this document outside this room to exclude poverty and exclude the environment as key issues and say they are secondary, and cite this document as they have done for the last two election cycles.’ “

Roberts reported another passage of McElroy’s intervention:

“The framework [of the voter guide], he said, ‘does not take into account the fact that Pope Francis … rapidly transformed the prioritization of Catholic social teaching and its elements — not the truth of them, not the substance, but the prioritization of them. [He] has radically transformed that in articulating the claims that fall upon the citizens as believers and disciples of Jesus Christ.’ “

Gibson also cited two other bishops who spoke out against the revised guide:

“ ‘I think we need a new document,’ said Tuscon Bishop Gerald Kicanas. ‘I think it was a mistake to try to revise a document from 2007 when so much has happened since then.’ He called Faithful Citizenship ‘very complex and not helpful.’ ”

“Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockon, Calif., agreed that ‘the times have dramatically changed’ and said the ‘cumbersome’ new draft needed to be scrapped.

The bishops passed the document by a vote of 210-21, with five bishops abstaining.

Writing before the vote on the document was taken, the National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters offered what looks to me like one of the strongest criticism’s of the bishops’ guide.  At first he focused on their strange emphasis at this moment on marriage:

“If the bishops adopt the proposed draft of ‘Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,’ their quadrennial document issued in presidential election years on the responsibilities of Catholics as citizens, they should have the honesty to rename it ‘Forming Consciences for Fighting Same-Sex Marriage.’ By my count, the issue is mentioned 10 times, which is strange. First, Pope Francis did not think it necessary to mention the issue directly even once during the six days he was here in the U.S. Secondly, the issue will not appear on any ballots next year, candidates may speak about it but they cannot really propose to do anything about it unless there is a court-packing scheme of which I am unaware. Finally, at a time when racial tensions are at their worst in my adult lifetime, the proposed text equates same-sex marriage with racism, calling them both intrinsic evils, even though civil same-sex marriage is not, and cannot be, an intrinsic evil. I can scarcely imagine a comparison better designed to alienate young Catholics. “

In his conclusion, he criticized the bishops for ignoring Pope Francis’ advice to them when he visited the U.S. earlier this fall:

“To be perfectly clear, if the bishops accept this document as is, it will be impossible for any reasonable observer not to conclude that the bishops of the United States have collectively decided to ignore what the pope said to them at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, as well as what he said to the U.S Congress. Set this text alongside the Holy Father’s Address to Congress and compare them. The bishops like to stick together and they are loath to permit a sign of disunity to mar their proceedings. But, the unity of the Catholic hierarchy is not the result of a vote, it is a unity with and under Peter, and this text reads like it is from a different planet from what he has said and taught.”

Sad it is that the U.S. bishops appear to be resisting Pope Francis’ new priorities and continuing on the road to vocal opposition to marriage equality, an issues squarely resolved in the nation’s law, and, more importantly, in the hearts and minds of millions of U.S. Catholics who support the law.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

National Catholic Reporter: “Francis’ priorities vs. the priorities of the U.S. bishops”



As Wedding Bells Ring in Ireland, Mary McAleese Calls Church to Do More for Equality

November 18, 2015

Mary McAleese

As wedding bells begin ringing for the first time for same-gender couples in Ireland this month, former Irish president Mary McAleese spoke with The Irish Catholic about her support for marriage equality in the referendum and, more broadly, the Catholic faith which drives her pursuit of LGBT rights.

McAleese, whose son is gay, explained her decision to publicly endorse marriage equality by saying:

“My views are founded emphatically in the Gospel. . .What infuses me, what is the essence of my being, is my faith in Christ. And it is the love of Christ and his offer of mercy to the world, the sense that every single person is a child of God, it is that which infuses me, gives me the outlook I have on the world. . .[That] is the outlook I have on our gay citizens.”

To not have spoken out “would have been an act of craven and unchristian cowardice,” McAleese added. She is “ashamed” that the church has not advocated LGBT rights and said it has been “a major conduit for homophobia which is toxic, a form of hatred that has nothing to do with Christ and is unchristian.”

McAleese was equally clear in her criticism of current church teachings on homosexuality, about which she stated:

“I believe the Church’s teaching on homosexuality to be wrong. Period. I am not going to fudge my language just because somebody doesn’t like the language I am going to use. I am as entitled to stand up and state it to be wrong just as someone else is entitled to stand up and say that I am wrong. That is fine.”

Looking forward, McAleese envisioned a Catholic Church that is more affirming of LGBT justice and inclusion even if it avoids the marriage question. How would the church be a “champion of gay rights”? McAleese explained:

” ‘That would be very simple. It [the Church] wouldn’t necessarily have to be a champion of gay marriage. I’m quite happy for the Church to stay away from civil marriage and let the State provide for that – that is not the issue.’

“It would mean ‘not adhering to views from the Old Testament about homosexuality, which have long since been discredited by medical science’ and being ‘actively engaged in today’s world with all the information that it has [about homosexuality.]’

” ‘It would mean looking at the language that the Church uses to see whether that language is capable of hurt, and of conducing to homophobia, which it most certainly does.’ “

McAleese closely tied magisterial language about homosexuality to homophobia’s proliferation in the world, calling the church to “take responsibility for the extent to which its words and its language conduces to homophobia.”

Drawing historical comparisons to problematic language used in church teachings against the Jewish people or in Northern Ireland’s religious sectarianism, McAleese said:

“The target of such language is entitled to reply and say how they feel when they hear those words and if they say those words make them feel hated, belittled or instil fear in them then those who utter those words in the first place have to listen very carefully.”

McAleese also commented on Pope Francis, whom she described as “the most intriguing Pope of my lifetime” and praised him for inviting open discussion in the church. She said:

“[Francis’] wonderful gift to the Church is to welcome the debate that has been going on any way in all the quiet spaces where two or more were gathered, and festering in frustration, and he has just let it out and that is a joy. . .I think Francis is allowing the Church to breathe and that is a wonderful thing.”

In a related story, Archbishop Charles Brown, the Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, also commented on the referendum, according to The Irish Times. He said the nation’s bishops “did an excellent job in presenting in a compassionate, convincing way the teaching of the church on this issue.” Brown’s assessment that the bishops were convincing seems off base, given the many same-sex weddings that took place last Monday, the first day such ceremonies were legal, thanks to the May 2015 referendum.

More convincing has been the witness of faithful Catholics like Mary McAleese, preaching joyfully a message of reconciliation and justice consistent with the Gospel.

McAleese’s interview reveals a lay Catholic thinking critically about her faith and how it relates to our world. She is highly attentive to church teaching (and history), yet remains foremost committed to her conscience. Thought-provoking and inspiring, her words are worth reading in full, which you can do here.

Want to celebrate marriage equality in Ireland? Consider “Ireland: Land of Rainbows and Wedding Bells,” an LGBT-friendly pilgrimage with Sr. Jeannine Gramick in April 2016. You can find more information here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry



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