Gay Priests Have a Place in the Catholic Church, Says Irish Senator

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Senator Jerry Buttimer

An Irish legislator has affirmed a place for openly gay priests in the Catholic Church, comments made as discussion continues about an unhealthy sexual atmosphere at the country’s national seminary.

St. Patrick’s College Maynooth is in the spotlight after Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin decided to withdraw the archdiocese’s seminarians from the school. As Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday, he cited as his reasons an alleged “gay culture” and questioned whether the seminary was a “good place for students.”

This archbishop’s decision has elicited many responses, including that of Irish Senator Jerry Buttimer who, according to the Evening Echo, said he was unsurprised that gay men would be in formation for the priesthood

Buttimer, an openly gay Fine Gael legislator from Cork and a faithful Catholic, said church leaders should welcome this reality rather than regard it as a problem. He said the church has failed to respect people of all sexual identities, and Archbishop Martin’s decision “exposed the hypocrisy of the Church around its teachings on sexuality, celibacy and attitude towards gay people.” This case highlights for the senator “the need for the Irish hierarchy to embrace LGBT people of faith and make them part of our church,” adding:

” ‘Many of these [LGBT] people are already making a huge contribution in parishes across Cork. The Church is nothing without its people, all of its people. Many of us pray for a Church that is inclusive, welcoming, accepting, open and transparent. We are fortunate that in many parishes across Cork and around the country a vibrancy does exists and liturgies are participative, led by good men. However, unfortunately, we could do a lot better.’ “

Buttimer studied at Maynooth for five years, and spoke highly of his time there which left a “lasting impression” upon him, saying he never regretted studying there. But he continued:

” ‘I disagreed with them at times about issues surrounding formation and teachings of the Church, but I still believe today that they were, in the main, interested in developing and educating young men to be good priests. As a person of faith, I pray and yearn that my Church and its leaders would move to be more progressive, open and transparent around the teaching on sexuality.’ “

Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, founder of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), concurred in a piece for The Independent  where he called on Irish Catholics to use this controversy as a time for re-imagining ministry. Flannery suggested that most applicants to seminary today were either gay men (or at least men confused about their sexuality) and traditionalist men. He wrote:

“There is absolutely no reason why a gay man should not be a priest, but if a particular profession is attracting a far higher percentage than is present in the general population, then questions need to be asked about the nature of the profession. . .what type of priest is needed in today’s world, and what type of spiritual and theological formation should they be given?

“I believe that the present malaise has much deeper roots. The solution would have to involve a radical revision of our understanding of ministry and the requirements necessary to become a priest. So, rather than just tinkering around with Maynooth, the Catholic Church needs to initiate a process of discussion at all levels to discern what type of ministry is best suited for the Church of the future.”

Flannery said beyond affirming gay men in the priesthood, the church must critically examine the issues of women in ministry, clericalism, and Roman interventionism.

Fr. Brendan Hoban, himself a member of ACP, said Martin’s decision amounted to “moving deck chairs on the Titanic” because the larger question behind the Maynooth happenings is the crisis of priestly vocations. He told The Irish Times:

” ‘[In seminary] you are always going to have a mixture of gay and heterosexual candidates, that has always been the case, and there will be – from time to time, incidents that people would prefer didn’t happen. But they do happen, human nature being what it is.’ “

Hoban said despite allegations, “there doesn’t seem to be anything substantially proven.” ACP’s statement defended Maynooth, and claimed criticisms were coming from disgruntled former students, traditionalist Catholics, and “right-wing commentators who are unhappy with the focus on the theology of the Second Vatican Council and suspicious of modern psychological and other insights.”

Several commentators have also said that homosexuality is, perhaps unfortunately, a feint to hide the real and much larger problems at Maynooth and beyond. Irish Times columnist Una Mullally said hypocrisy was the real scandal in this incident, writing:

“The immature, archaic and coded language clergy members and others have used to describe the Maynooth story – ‘gay subculture’ ‘strange goings on’ ‘quarrelsome’ ‘not the healthiest place’ – belongs in the past, and compounds homosexuality as something to joke about or be scandalised by. Across social media, the temptation for crass jokes and wink-wink-nudge-nudge comments was too much for many. Unfortunately, all this does is re-enforce an attitude towards homosexuality that is crude and childish. . .

“The church still views homosexuality as a ‘problem’, inside and out of its organisation. But the real scandal at Maynooth isn’t about gay priests. Of course there are gay priests. Tonnes of them. The real scandal is the church’s addiction to secrecy, arrogance, and its hierarchy of hypocrisy.”

Colum Kenny, also writing in the Irish Timessaid the Maynooth controversy has nothing to do with sex or theology at all. Ireland’s hierarchy has again proven itself  not to be credible, Kenny said, and so the Irish church must use this opportunity to renew itself:

“It is a question of the spirit, a challenge to be converted to a new order of witness and theology – one that can help Irish people of Catholic background who have rejected outdated dogma and practice as empty forms to live spiritually in the modern world.”

Allegations of sexual relationships, harassment, and mishandling at Ireland’s national seminary will assuredly keep provoking conversations. Archbishop Martin’s decision to withdraw his seminarians remains controversial. This incident is immensely painful for an Irish church already in crisis and surely so for the seminarians and staff of Maynooth.

The responses to this case show the necessity and the increasing willingness of many Catholics to have extremely hard conversations about ministry, sexuality, ecclesial power, and the intersection of these issues. If done well, this moment of pain and scandal could lead to a time of renewal and flourishing.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

8 thoughts on “Gay Priests Have a Place in the Catholic Church, Says Irish Senator

  1. Thomas August 21, 2016 / 7:24 am

    This is both informative and thoughtful, underscoring once again that the Church is ignoring some of its best talent, hard workers and faithful supporters. Now, if only the Church could find it in its heart to support them.

  2. lynne1946 August 21, 2016 / 7:57 am

    The Irish seem to have taken a sensible, practical view of the problem! Would that we all could do the same!

  3. cherylr774 August 21, 2016 / 11:11 am

    oh my, once again the LBGT community is the target of all the problems that occur in the seminary/convents etc. ……..maybe the Church needs to address ‘sexuality’ in general and update and allow the light of the Holy Spirit to help us all grow as a Church………not just citing the homosexual orientation and basically continuing to imply fault here but to address the gift of sexuality overall including how in need of review also is the Church’s understanding of sexuality especially the gift of heterosexuality and celibacy which is also in need of review……….perhaps it is not so much the ‘gay culture’ that’s the problem here but the understanding of ‘sexuality as a culture’ that needs a complete overhaul…..continuing to put heterosexuality as the entitled and ‘normative’ culture to be emulated out and inside of the seminary/convents is what seems to me to be the heart of the problem, with a blindness that this dualism is creating continued mess ups especially for those out of the seminaries/convents as we continue to see the divorce and spousal abuse rates rise amongst the ‘heterosexual culture’ we are ALL sexual beings whether we act on it or not in our behavior, made in God’s image and God said we were all ‘very good’…………let’s begin for some real authentic efforts to grab this paradox with honestly to help stop the errors of hierarchy in the Church when it comes to all matters of sexuality and use of the gift of, be it hetero..homo….bi or celibate…..come on now….stop dumping on the LBGT people ……haven’t you had enough lack of unconditional love splashed on all of us………I wonder what St. John Henry Neumann would think of all of this ?????????

  4. Ed August 21, 2016 / 3:45 pm

    “disgruntled former students, traditionalist Catholics”, should read, sexually assaulted former students, or, ‘and sexually assaulted former students’. And sexual assaults of young seminarians aren’t just happening in Maynooth. Why no discussion here about the sexual assaults, the victims/survivors of sexual assaults in Catholic seminaries? Again, it’s all about the clerics and the victims/survivors are left out, minimised, painted in a negative light, while the clerics are painted as the victims. If this is from “right-wing commentators” why aren’t the left-wing commentators standing up for the victims of sexual assault as well as gay priests?

    • Friends August 21, 2016 / 9:20 pm

      Actually, you make some very valid points, Ed. This whole issue of seminaries, seminarians and sexual transgressions — i.e., transgressions by both priests and seminarians against the formal moral rules which forbid all sexual activity in seminaries — is fraught with cover-ups and complicit silences on the part of all the involved parties. The existing rules simply are not working — precisely because they do not conform to basic normal and predictable human needs and behaviors. If the Catholic Church would allow both seminarians and priests to have normal human relationships, encompassed within the moral norms of loving and faithful partnerships which properly apply to ALL Christians, a lot of these problems would be mitigated. I’d be curious to know if Episcopal, Anglican and Lutheran seminaries experience the same extensive problems with acute sexual misconduct. I tend to doubt it — precisely because their ministry candidates are allowed to have normal nurturing bonded human relationships. The “fix” for this social dysfunction in the RCC is perfectly obvious — but our Ecclesiastical overlords stubbornly refuse to recognize it.

  5. Ed August 22, 2016 / 1:57 am

    “If the Catholic Church would allow both seminarians and priests to have normal human relationships, encompassed within the moral norms of loving and faithful partnerships which properly apply to ALL Christians, a lot of these problems would be mitigated”. If child sexual abuse, unfaithfulness in marriage and sexual misconduct in any profession and religion is anything to go by, celibacy makes no difference. Sexual misconduct is as common in other denominations though the other denominations seems to be more about heterosexual misconduct. Anyway, your comment doesn’t really answer my question. Why do such discussions always go back to being about the clerics – why are victims rarely if ever mentioned and shown support? Well, perhaps it is an inherent phobia about homophobia – discussing gay sex as misconduct, abusive, regardless of the context, could open even lbgtiq communities to being seen as homophobic. So, let’s just support gay rights, even for supposed celibates who aren’t celibate. But what about the victims of gay seminarian sexploitation – and yes, it does happen.

    The other reason I don’t think removing mandatory celibacy for straight and gay, would stop this behaviour is because what the men in question here seem to be seeking is not a monogamous loving power equal relationship but just the freedom to have sex when and where they please, all under the umbrella of clerical celibacy, and, in the name of gay freedom. But sometimes, this involves the sexual harassment, grooming and sexual assault of younger seminarians and others. One of the sad outcomes of all this is that this is perhaps one of the real reasons for the child sexual abuse cover-up: So many clerics, straight and gay, have so many skeletons in their closets, often stemming from their seminary days, that it becomes a “you tell on me and I’ll tell on you” – so, no one tells, not even when child sexual abuse happen. Nor do so many ever even discloses themselves being abused.

    Very sad. But is there a place for gay priests? Of course there is, as long as they are (at this point in church time) celibate and do not fool abuse anyone – same goes for straight priests or any in between. If the church ever allows gay priests and straight to form relationships, then one would expect them to be monogamous and also no-abusive in anyway. Or is gay monogamy questionable as well. I suspect that some of the priests involved in this story would have preferred it to stay as it was – a nice comfy lifestyle, all needs met and all accounts paid for. Meanwhile, what has happened to their victims? That’s what I wish we were discussing here. Why is this article not looking beyond lgbtiq theory and emotion and done some research into seminarian abuse and the harmed reality of many men’s lives? Too controversial?

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