Controversy at Irish Seminary Prompts Conversation on Gay Priests

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 13, 2016

This summer’s controversy at Ireland’s national seminary over the use of a gay dating app by students has quieted, but it has since inspired many worthwhile commentaries on homosexuality, ministry, and the future of the Catholic Church. Today’s post features excerpts with links provided if you would like to read more.

St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth

Earlier this year, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin removed three archdiocesan seminarians from St. Patrick’s College Maynooth over allegations of a “gay culture” there. But he also expressed more general concerns about the closed, strange world of seminaries, and proposed that new models of priestly formation would be needed. Other bishops have rushed to defend the seminary, and a review with an eye towards reform has been conducted.

Michael Kelly’s column in The Independent speculated that the review of priestly formation now underway could actually “kickstart an authentic reform and renewal of Irish Catholicism.” He noted that, according to history, the concept of seminaries was itself a response to problems in the priesthood, but now:

“The world has changed and the way that Irish priests are educated needs to change to meet the needs of the modern world. Pope Francis – that great herald of Church reform – recently observed that Catholicism is not living in an era of change, but a change of era.”

These changes must include the church acknowledging and affirming the presence of gay and bisexual men in the priesthood, said former Irish president and LGBT advocate Mary McAleese. She told The Irish Times:

” ‘We have the phenomenon of men in the priesthood who are both heterosexual and homosexual but the church hasn’t been able to come to terms with the fact that there are going to be homosexuals in the priesthood, homosexuals who are fine priests.’ “

McAleese tied this problem to church teaching and its damaging language about homosexuality as “intrinsically disordered.” Thislabelling  has resulted in Maynooth’s culture where “policing celibacy is more important than pastoral service” and where they seem “to be concentrating on the wrong things.”

Promoting an atmosphere hostile to gay clergy was most noticeable, McAleese said, when Maynooth was visited in 2012 by Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop Edwin O’Brien. She commented:

” ‘They wanted to be reassured that neither place was, in their words, ‘gay friendly’ . . . so they walked away happy that they were gay unfriendly, hostile to gay people – what sort of message does that send out to young men who are there who are gay, to priests who are gay?’ “

One commentator, Tom Clonan of The Journal, suggested that focusing on gay seminarians and priests is driven by external prejudice, and i misses the actual crisis in the Irish church:

“To be honest, I believe the sexual orientation of seminarians or priests is largely irrelevant in the context of the grave challenges that confront the institution of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Indeed, much of the coverage has been voyeuristic and gay shaming – perhaps unwittingly revealing a deep-seated homophobic bias among some commentators.”

But in general, Irish Catholics have said that a main, if not the primary, issue at Maynooth this summer has been a toxic culture around gay and bisexual men in the priesthood. Voices like Senator Jerry Buttimer, a former seminarian, and Fr. Tony Flannery, CSsR, have affirmed gay priests. Others have rejected outright the allegations of gay dating app use which prompted this controversy.

This question of homosexuality in ministry is not limited to Ireland, however, and affects the global church. Some priests, like Fr. Warren Hall and Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa have been sanctioned because of LGBT issues. Too often conversations are problematically focused around the question of celibacy, rather than the gifts and opportunities gay and bisexual priests offer the church. Ignored is the faithful service of gay men like Fr. Fred Daley, Fr. Michael Shanahan, and Fr. Ron Cioffi, who has said:

“Yes, I am a gay person whose self-identity includes an abiding call to ministry in our church. . .my orientation is a blessing from God for use in and for the church that is called to help each of us discern and celebrate the good and always affirming love of God for all persons.”

The Maynooth incident has been yet another ugly scandal for an Irish church already crippled by the clergy sex abuse crisis. Instead of turning inward and implementing new restrictions on seminarians, which only further remove them from reality, the nation’s bishops should welcome gay and bisexual men (and, ultimately, people of all sexual and gender identities) to the priesthood with open arms. To paraphrase Pope John XXIII, this is a clear moment to throw open Maynooth’s windows and let the fresh air in.

5 thoughts on “Controversy at Irish Seminary Prompts Conversation on Gay Priests

  1. Thomas October 13, 2016 / 6:41 am

    This is a fascinating piece. The Church is missing the boat once again. Mistaking the dreadful sexual abuse by clergy for something homosexual is one thing, but to disregard the concept that gay men and women frequently have highly spiritual, comforting and pastoral abilities is another. And it’s a shame.

  2. Dr. Sarah A. Dolan October 13, 2016 / 7:59 am

    As a Clinical Psychologist here in the U.S. I have done much research on Homosexuality. Much of the research in professional journals, seems to indicate that the last gene to be expressed before an infant is born, does not come down. That is the gene that determines one’s sexuality.

    • Wilhelm Wonka October 13, 2016 / 9:50 am

      Thank you for the information.

      When you say that the last gene does not come down, do you mean that it is missing from homosexuals’ DNA?

      And what of bisexuals? (I’m in the latter category.)

  3. Albertus October 13, 2016 / 8:15 am

    I do not see how the wish that ”the nation’s bishops should welcome gay and bisexual men (and, ultimately, people of all sexual and gender identities) to the priesthood with open arms” will in any way serve the cause of making life easier for gay men in the priesthood. It seems to me that calling for ”people of all gender identities (?)” be accepted into the priesthood will only have the undesireable effect o f further demonising gay men in the priesthood. Women cannot be ordained priest and that is not going to change, so it is useless and even harmful to confuse that issue with the issue of gay priests Since 2005, gay men may not be ordained priest, but the ordination o f a gay man, though now officially iilicit, is still – as always – valid. Women , on the other hand, cannot be validly ordained according tor official Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) sacramental teaching, which is considered to be irreformable dogma. So, please, one thing at a time. As long as gay men may not be licitly ordained – due to the US BIshops clamouring for the Pope to issue such a prohibition , which he did in 2005 – until that prohibition is lifted, gay priests will be unwanted, disliked, pushed aside, slandered and most will be forced into the closet. This issue has to be dealt with before any other issue regarding homosexuality and the priesthood, it seems to me.

  4. Wilhelm Wonka October 13, 2016 / 9:07 am

    Isn’t it wonderful to have a free press? Without the spotlight it shines on the Church, reform within it (especially of clerical behaviour) would be highly unlikely.

    What should have changed by force of conscience was constrained by social pressure. It is the same with the controversy at Maynooth. What has been happening here would have continued unabated without press scrutiny.

    It throws into sharp relief the role of people in the Church as a whole: to watch out for one another AND to hold one another to account for unchristian witness. No one is exempt from this, including popes and magisteria.

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