Ireland’s leading archbishop met with faith-based LGBT advocates last week, with the focus of the discussing being on his participation at the Synod of Bishops this fall, and keeping Ireland’s marriage referendum clearly as a backdrop for the conversation.
Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, the Primate of Ireland, met with representatives from Faith in Marriage Equality (an ecumenical group) and We Are Church (a Roman Catholic church reform group) organizations at his residence last Wednesday. The meeting was requested by the groups before the May referendum in which equal marriage was approved by nearly two-thirds of Irish voters.
At the October synod in Rome, Martin will represent the Irish church alongside Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. The LGBT advocates at the meeting with Eamon Martin asked him to raise the pastoral care of gay and lesbian persons, sharing some of their own stories which were well received.
Brendan Butler of We Are the Church, a Catholic reform organization, highlighted the harm the church’s language inflicts on LGBT people. He singled out for particular mention, the language in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1986 letter, which described a homosexual orientation as “an objective disorder and ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil.” Butler stated:
“If the Catholic Church is to regain credibility not only with the gay and lesbian community but also with the wider Catholic community then existing Catholic teaching needs to change.”
Jim O’Crowley, a gay Catholic, also shared stories in the meeting, following up on a booklet, “To Have and To Hold: Stories and Reflections of LGBT People, Their Families, and Friends,” the archbishop was sent. According to Irish Central, Martin said “he found it helpful to read this book and also to listen to accounts by gay Catholics.”
Faith in Marriage Equality’s Richard O’Leary affirmed the meeting as a “positive step to open dialogue,” building upon Diarmuid Martin’s call for a “reality check” by church leaders in the wake of Ireland’s referendum. O’Leary added:
“We were positively received by Archbishop Martin who said he was committed to continuing dialogue and that he was particularly concerned about the pastoral care of gay persons.”
Martin’s record is increasingly positive on LGBT issues. He publicly criticized Cardinal Raymond Burke’s characterization of the Irish as “worse than pagans” for voting for marriage equality, saying he “wouldn’t use that language.” Preceding the vote, his record was more mixed having said religious liberty was being threatened but also publicly critiquing a fellow bishop who compared homosexuality to Down’s Syndrome.
In addition, the Irish bishops had threatened that priests would no longer grant civil marriages if the referendum passed. Now, Archbishop Martin is second-guessing that stance, reported The Independent, saying church leaders would “monitor the situation to see if it’s possible for us to continue.”
The Association of Catholic Priest’s Fr. Gerry O’Connor said ending priests’ role in marriage was always a “false threat” used against voters. He noted that it would be deeply troubling to do so because it would curtail one of the church’s limited avenues with younger Catholics who comprise the majorities of weddings, while also being largely absent from churches otherwise.
After the Irish referendum in May, commentators from all quarters speculated about the impact the vote had and would continue to have on not only the Irish Church, but the Catholic Church globally.
Archbishop Martin’s meeting may be a first fruit, incarnating the culture of encounter called for repeatedly by Pope Francis but which is still too often denied to LGBT Catholics. Sharing stories and personal relationships have been instrumental in advancing equality, inside the church and out, and their importance will remain to keep shifting culture even as legal rights advance.
Let us pray that Archbishops Martin and Martin will listen attentively to the voices of Irish Catholics, bearing their desires for greater justice and inclusion to the synod in Rome for all the church to hear!
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry