Irish Referendum Results Warrant a “Reality Check” for the Church Says Dublin Archbishop

May 24, 2015
Dublin's rainbow as referendum results are announced

Dublin’s rainbow as referendum results are announced

With 62.07% of the vote, Ireland became the first nation to approve marriage equality by popular referendum yesterday.

Ireland is more than 80% Catholic, meaning the debate over marriage rights was closely tied to the church.

Recent months included many Catholics coming out publicly for the “Yes” campaign, including religious and priests. The Irish hierarchy took a muted tone in comparison to their brother bishops abroad, and many considered this vote a referendum on the Irish church’s power as well.

Below,  Bondings 2.0 provides initial reactions to the referendum’s successful outcome. To view our full coverage of the debate from recent months, click here.  You can read New Ways Ministry’s reaction by clicking here.

As soon as the vote was tallied, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said the church needs a “reality check” in response to the “social revolution” signified by the referendum results.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

The archbishop criticized the church for being a “safe space for the like-minded,” rather than a church going out to the margins for which Pope Francis has called. Martin, as reported by the Irish Independentsaid the church needed new language because its teachings were clearly alienating to young people:

“It’s very clear that if this referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people that the church has a huge challenge in front of it to find the language to be able to talk to and get its message across to young people, not just on this issue but in general.

“I think really the church needs to do a reality check right across the board, to look at the areas in which we’re doing well and see have we drifted away completely from young people.”

Martin noted that he appreciates gay people feel marriage equality will be “enriching the way they live.” Though these admissions are obvious for many Catholics, such remarks from an archbishop are rare and a positive sign that members of the hierarchy might be learning more about same-gender relationships.

Father Seamus Ahearne of Finglas echoed the archbishop’s sentiments about a new language for the church, telling the International Business Times:

“Religion and the Catholic Church have almost become irrelevant in people’s lives…This pompous, pious, arrogant language we’ve used for so long — it’s wrong. The church has to speak a different kind of language now, reaching into people’s hearts.”

Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan

Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan, plaintiffs in an unsuccessful 2006 lawsuit seeking marriage equality in Ireland, gave their response to the vote to the Boston Globe. Their Catholic roots are deep, having met at Boston College after Gilligan spent time in religious life. The couple’s proposal was broadcast live on television as results came in and they plan to hold a wedding soon because, as Zappone says, “There’s nothing like an Irish wedding.”

Political analyst Sean Donnelly told the The Washington Post:

“We’re in a new country…When I was reared up, the church was all powerful and the word ‘gay’ wasn’t even in use in those days. How things have moved from my childhood to now.”

Health Minister Leo Varadkar

Health Minister Leo Varadkar, who came out as gay in January while endorsing the referendum, said the vote was a “social revolution.” Crux quoted him further:

“We’re the first country in the world to enshrine marriage equality in our constitution and do so by popular mandate. That makes us a beacon, a light to the rest of the world, of liberty and equality.”

New Ways Ministry director Francis DeBernardo said in a statement that Ireland’s victory on LGBT rights combined with yesterday’s beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero signified real gains for lay people in the church. The post says, in part:

“What do these two stories have in common?   In both cases, the opinion of Catholic lay people has won the day, even when the church’s hierarchy opposed both developments.  In both cases, the sense of the faithful overcame institutional fears and customs.  In both cases, Catholic ideals were articulated and lived out by the laity.”

DignityUSA director Marianne Duddy-Burke said in a statement:

“It is very significant that the first nation to legalize same-sex marriage by popular referendum is a predominantly Catholic country…[Catholics] voted with their hearts and their consciences, and the result is increased justice.”

The response from those who opposed marriage equality, led by the conservative Iona Institute, is noteworthy. David Quinn, a spokesperson, congratulated “Yes” campaigners and accepted the results, a contrast to the often acidic tone which has characterized marriage debates in the United States and elsewhere.

Finally, Buzzfeed reported that some Twitter users are opining that a rainbow appearing over Dublin yesterday is Jesus’ approval of the referendum’s outcome.

Ireland’s vote means twenty nations have now legalized same-gender marriage and many of them are predominantly or historically Catholic. To see the official Irish results, visit the Referendum 2015 page here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


A Great Day for Irish Lay Catholics! And for Lay Catholics in El Salvador, Too!

May 23, 2015

The following is the statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry, on the occasion of Ireland voting to legalize marriage for lesbian and gay couples:

Today, headlines around the world announced Catholic news from two different parts of the globe, which may seem disparate, but which share an important common theme.

Crowds outside Dublin Castle celebrate Ireland’s marriage equality victory.

In Ireland, one of the most Catholic nations on earth, hundreds of thousands voted overwhelmingly in a general referendum to enact marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.

In El Salvador, a strongly Catholic nation, hundreds of thousands turned out for beatification ceremonies for Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was martyred 35 years ago while celebrating Mass.

What do these two stories have in common?   In both cases, the opinion of Catholic lay people has won the day, even when the church’s hierarchy opposed both developments.  In both cases, the sense of the faithful overcame institutional fears and customs.  In both cases, Catholic ideals were articulated and lived out by the laity.

In Ireland, the Catholic bishops spoke out consistently against the establishment of marriage equality.  Their statements have been documented here on this blog.  But lay people insisted that allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry was consistent with Catholic principles of equality, fairness, human dignity, and family stability.

In El Salvador, lay people instantly declared Romero as a saint at the time of his death, but his cause for canonization was hindered during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI because Vatican officials feared any possible endorsement of liberation theology.  But lay people, especially those who were living in poverty, insisted that Romero, who defended their rights and human dignity fearlessly, was indeed worthy of veneration as a martyr.

Crowds gather for the beatification Mass for Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador.

In both of these cases, the prayers and work of lay people have won out over hierarchical reluctance.

New Ways Ministry prays with joy for both nations for their courage and determination to bring about justice and Catholic ideals into the public square.

There is still work to be done in both cases. In El Salvador, the advancement towards canonizing Romero as a saint must still be completed. The support of Pope Francis in this case may help to speed up the process.

In Ireland, the Catholic Church there needs to learn to work together once again–hierarchy and laity.  There will be pastoral work needed to help unite Catholics who were opposed during the marriage equality campaign.  U.S. bishops who have been involved in marriage equality debates have yet to do this type of work, and our church is hurting and losing many of the faithful because of omission of this step.

In Ireland, the job may be a bit lighter because the hierarchy’s leader, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin (vice- president of the nation’s bishops conference) has been extremely courteous in their opposition to marriage equality.  While maintaining consistent and strong opposition to marriage equality, he also voiced respect for those who held a different opinion.  He worked hard for his position, but he worked even harder to make sure that those who disagreed with him would not be alienated from the Church.

Congratulations and prayerful thanks to the Catholics of Ireland who have shown what we here in the U.S. have known for a long time:  that Catholic lay people support marriage equality because they are Catholic, not in spite of being Catholic.

Congratulations and prayerful best wishes to the Catholics of El Salvador who have shown that the preferential option for the poor is a pillar of Catholicism and that our church should honor those who live out that principle even in the face of violent opposition.

Yesterday was a day when, to paraphrase Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,  the arc of the moral universe bent a little more toward justice.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Ireland Votes on Marriage Today, While Bishops’ Political Influence Wanes

May 22, 2015

Thousands of Irish “Yes” campaigners rally in Dublin just days before today’s referendum.

Irish voters will decide today whether to legalize same-gender marriage in this most Catholic of nations. If they succeed, the vote would be the first national referendum in the world to endorse marriage equality.

Catholic supporters of the “Yes” campaign have been prominent and manifold, with the unsurprising exception of the nation’s Catholic bishops. Many observers are noting that the stature of Ireland’s once powerful church hierarchy is now falling.

Catholics’ outspoken opposition to the hierarchy’s position reveals an Irish church undergoing fundamental shifts, what Daily Beast columnist J.P. O’Malley describes as:

“[T]he complete collapse of the old guard of archaic, socially-repressive Catholic institutions that have dominated Irish society since the Free State was formed in 1922…What this referendum represents is a seismic shift in the zeitgeist: progressive-modern-Ireland is finally breaking free from the shackles of a de-facto Catholic State that was unofficially run from Rome for decades.”

Initially, Ireland’s bishops refrained from the harsh rhetoric and showy displays favored by many American bishops on this topic, but this restraint changed as the referendum approached. Their initial statement about the referendum’s announcement did not even ask voters to oppose marriage equality, merely to think it over. Fintan O’Toole wrote in The New York Times:

“[The bishops’] ability to influence the referendum on same-sex marriage is limited. Many church leaders have avoided taking a hard line. This owes something to Pope Francis’s more conciliatory tone on homosexuality, but even more to an awareness that many of the faithful. . .no longer take church teaching on sexuality as gospel. The archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, went so far as to warn church leaders not to use ‘language which is insensitive and over-judgmental’ — a warning surely rooted in his understanding of the other, more personal force in this debate.”

Due to the Catholic Church’s domineering influence, Ireland did not decriminalize homosexuality until 1993. Now, polling shows marriage equality support consistently above 70%. Young Irish citizens living abroad are returning home to cast their vote. In other signs of change, leading politician Leo Varadkar came out as gay several months ago, and Ireland’s government has repeatedly been clear that church worker discrimination will not be allowed if the referendum is approved.

Rita O’Connor, a parishioner of Dublin’s cathedral, succinctly summarized this cultural shift, and the thinking of many Irish Catholics, when she told an Irish Times journalist:

“I’m just going to vote for gay people because I have nothing against them…I can’t understand why anybody is against it…[The bishops’ opposition] is a stupid carry-on.”

There is a deep reality behind these sentiments, documented by Bondings 2.0 in the months leading up to today’s vote (see articles listed at the end of this post). Lay Catholics, like their counterparts in many other nations, have been at the forefront of pro-equality campaigning. Former Irish president Mary McAleese, who has a gay son, gave a moving address earlier this week, challenging anti-LGBT voices who claim marriage equality will harm Irish children. She said, in part:

“We who are parents, brothers and sisters, colleagues and friends of Ireland’s gay citizens, we know how they have suffered because of second class citizenship. This referendum is about them and about them alone. The only children who are certain to be affected by this referendum are Ireland’s gay children. It is their future that is at stake…

“We the majority, we have to make it happen for them and for all the unborn gay children who are relying on us to end the branding, end the isolation, end the inequality, quite literally, once and for all in our Constitution. A yes vote costs the rest of us nothing. A no vote costs our gay children everything.”

What has been unique to Ireland is the strength of public support from the clergy and religious women. Throughout the campaign, clergy and religious women have been more vocal in their endorsement of marriage equality than in almost any other nation that has debated the issue.  One priest came out as gay during a sermon in which he endorsed marriage equality. which his congregation met with applause. Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, the founder of the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland, predicted that 25% of Irish priests might vote for marriage equality today, according to a report in Buzzfeed.

As one of the world’s most Catholic nations historically, a “Yes” victory in Ireland today can have ramifications in the Catholic world beyond Ireland, too.

Add your prayers to those of Catholics worldwide that Irish voters make the Christian choice and endorse marriage equality today!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Articles on Ireland’s referendum on Bondings 2.0

2015

May 14: “Nun and Priest Join with Other Irish Catholics Set to Vote ‘Yes’ for Marriage Equality

May 8: “Dublin Archbishop Calls for an “Ethics of Equality” in Marriage Debate

April 19: “Sr. Jeannine Gramick Calls on Irish Population to Vote for Marriage Equality

March 23: “Dublin Archbishop: I’m No Expert on Family; Anti-Gay Groups’ Language is ‘Obnoxious’

March 21: “Catholics Leave Mass Over Bigoted Homily, but Not All Priests Oppose Marriage Equality

March 12: “Archbishops Correct Irish Bishop’s Insensitive Remarks About Lesbian & Gay People

March 10: “Bishop’s Insensible Remarks Reveal the Great Need for LGBT Dialogue

March 3: “Irish Arguments About Marriage Equality Go From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

February 3: “Ireland’s ‘Gay Moment’ as Marriage Referendum and Ban on Employment Discrimination Approach

January 10: “Irish Priest Comes Out During Mass, Endorses Marriage Equality to Applause

2014

December 22: “Ireland’s Gay Catholic Voices Speak Out for Faith and Equality

December 12: “Elphin Bishop, Bert & Ernie, Gay Priests, and Colin Farrell Are All Involved in Ireland’s LGBT Debates

December 9: “Irish Bishops and Laity Have Differing Views on Marriage Equality

September 9: “St. Vincent de Paul Society Gives Grant to LGBT Center Despite Bishop’s Challenge

September 8: “Ireland’s Catholics March Onward for LGBT Equality

March 14: “LGBT Rainbows Are Appearing Over Ireland

February 11: “Signs of Openness on LGBT and Marriage Issues from Two European Church Leaders

January 9: “Former President of Ireland Calls for Change in Church’s Teaching on Homosexuality

2013

November 7: “Marriage Equality Referendum Scheduled In Ireland: Where Will Catholics Stand?

April 16: “Equal Marriage Rights Progress Around the World-Especially in Catholic Nations

April 8: “Irish Bishops Threaten Action if Marriage Equality is Passed


Dublin Archbishop Calls for an “Ethics of Equality” in Marriage Debate

May 8, 2015

Ireland’s upcoming referendum on marriage equality has evoked the expected opposition from the Catholic hierarchy in that nation, sometimes approaching an extremist tone, such as publicly considering that Catholic priests would not be allowed to perform any wedding ceremony–heterosexual or homosexual–if the electorate approves legal marriage for lesbian and gay couples.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

Yet, recently, the archbishop of Dublin has offered a more reconciliatory tone.  While he still opposes the marriage equality law, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has also called for “an ethic of equality” which would include legal protections for gay and lesbian committed couples.

London’s Tablet reported on the archbishop’s comments, made at All Hallows’ College, Dublin, during an address to diocesan communications specialists. You can read the entire text of his talk on the Archdiocese of Dublin website. I will excerpt some of the main points in this blog post.

The main point of Martin’s talk is to defend the issue of complementarity as essential to marriage and social and human stability.  For most of his talk, he explains his reasons for this defense.  He also argues for the importance of theological input into social and political debates.  If one were to read only this section of the talk, one might think that this was his only point, but towards the end of his talk, his subject he considers the situation of lesbian and gay people.

After discussing Pope Francis’ example of openness to lesbian and gay issues, he examines the idea of equality:

“An ethics of equality does not require uniformity. There can be an ethic of equality which is an ethic of recognising and respecting difference. A pluralist society can be creative in finding ways in which people of same-sex orientation have their rights and their loving and caring relationships recognised and cherished in a culture of difference, while respecting the uniqueness of the male-female relationship.”

Martin also critiqued people who cite Pope Francis in a positive way when they discuss Catholic support for marriage equality, saying that the pontiff has clearly expressed his defense of heterosexual marriage and complementarity. Of these Catholics, Martin said:

“I find it interesting that many of those supporting the yes campaign object to the use of religious language, but they are not shy in quoting Pope Francis in support of their arguments, although I feel that their knowledge of Pope Francis’ repertoire is somewhat restricted.”

He presented the pontiff’s view of same-gender marriage and LGBT people, noting that neither conservatives nor progressives are completely happy with the nuanced position:

“In the debates around same-sex marriage in Argentina, Pope Francis was unequivocal in his judgment about its non-admissibility, yet he consistently told people not to judge any individual. Many find that a position of that kind is untenable: certain things, they will say, are simply wrong and to be condemned and there is no way in which we can countenance any response except repentance and change of life style. Others will say that the only way in which the Church can show mercy is by changing its teaching. Pope Francis espouses neither of these positions in isolation.”

Archbishop Eamon Martin

More important than the content about same-gender relationships, however, is the Dublin archbishop’s discussion of traditional hierarchical discourse about marriage equality. In the same week that Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, the Primate of Ireland warned that religious freedom would be endangered by passage of marriage equality, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin took a more reconciliatory approach.

Diarmuid Martin, who in the past has acknowledged that church leaders and others have too often spoken negatively to and about LGBT people, admitted that he may not been as credible by some:

“I know that the harshness with which the Irish Church treated gay and lesbian people in the past – and in some cases still today – may make it hard for LGBT people to accept that I am sincere in what I am proposing.”

Noting that hierarchical language has often been “insensitive and overly judgemental,” Martin advised:

“The Church has to learn to voice its criticism clearly and without fear, but it must always do so in language which respects her Master.”

He recognized that the harsh language has been one of the biggest ways that bishops have failed in getting across their view of marriage:

“The problem in many ways is that the Church has often in the past presented its message poorly. What is a message of love was presented in language that was harsh. What was rational argument was presented as a dogma which all should accept. The truth about Jesus Christ can only be proclaimed in love.”

Martin has made the case for a more civil debate about LGBT people before and has called on church leaders to be more courteous and respectful in their discussions.

Ireland’s referendum will be held on May 22nd.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

 

Irish Times: “Churchgoers give their views on marriage referendum”

Belfast Telegraph: “Catholic bishops urge ‘No’ vote in Republic of Ireland’s marriage equality referendum”

The Independent: “Voting No to same-sex marriage is not homophobic, say bishops”

The Journal: “Senior Archbishop warns: Church could face legal action for opposing gay marriage”

Irish Times: “Interfering with definition of marriage not a ‘trivial matter’ “

The Independent: “Catholics fear being labelled homophobic – Primate”


Sr. Jeannine Gramick Calls on Irish Population to Vote for Marriage Equality

April 19, 2015

A Catholic nun is calling on Irish citizens to vote for marriage equality this May, the latest in a series of voices hoping to legalize same-gender marriages in the country through a nationwide referendum.

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister JeannineGramick, SL, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, has been in Ireland this past week for a gathering of Catholic Church reformers. She also has been meeting Catholic LGBT organizations there.  In an interview with The Independent, she commented on the upcoming referendum:

” ‘You can be a Catholic and vote for civil marriage for lesbian and gay people because it is a civil matter – it has nothing to do with your religion.’ “

She added that the bishops were “like little children” with their threats that priests would stop performing civil marriages, adding:

” ‘I think [the bishops] would be punishing heterosexual couples in the sense of making it more difficult for them as they would have to have two ceremonies and it wouldn’t hurt the gay population.’ “

In a radio interview, Gramick also said she imagines a future where priests are married to either men or women. You can listen to an audio file of this interview by clicking here, and scrolling down to the bottom of the text of the interview to find the audio file.

Mary McAleese, the former president of Ireland who has been an outspoken advocate for church reform, added her support for a “Yes” vote. Invoking the 1916 Easter Proclamation (which established the Republic of Ireland), she framed the referendum as a matter of good for children, telling The Irish Times

” ‘[My husband and I] believed it to be about Ireland’s gay children…We owe those children a huge debt as adults who have opportunities to make choices that impact their lives, to make the right choices, choices that will allow their lives grow organically and to give them the joy of being full citizens in their own country…We want, in the words of the proclamation, the children of the nation to be cherished equally.’ “

Challenging the language of “intrinsically disordered,” McAleese added:

” ‘The danger of calling it intrinsically disordered and at the same time calling for the love, Christian love for those who live the homosexual life meant people have been forced into the shadow, have been forced into self doubt, deeply conflicted.

” ‘[It] is a terrible thing for a young person who has grown up, for example in the church, and have been told they are loved absolutely to discover at 15,16 or 17 that all the language they have heard – particularly the homophobic language that they may have heard, the locker room language – applies to a person like them and applies to them.’ “

However, the Association of Catholic Priests, founded by Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, has refrained from taking an official position on the marriage referendum due to a variety of opinions in the organization.

The referendum, scheduled for May 22, could be the first time globally that marriage equality is affirmed in a popular referendum and, according to The Boston Globe, both sides say the “Yes” side is likely to win. One anti-LGBT leader has admitted that marriage equality could “win by a landslide,” but this has not stopped the Catholic bishops from mounting a campaign against the measure.

Regardless of the outcome, Tánaiste [Deputy Prime Ministr] Joan Burton of Ireland’s Labour party has already made clear that there will be no “right to discriminate” clauses written into Irish law that would allow businesses to deny service to LGBT people. This is a direct response, reports The Independent, to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s request for such clauses if marriage equality passes.

Finally, much of the debate in Ireland is playing upon Catholic values so ingrained in this historically Catholic nation. The ad below from “Yes” campaigners is a prime example, asking voters to “bring your family with you” on May 22:

Elsewhere campaigners talk of justice and faith, such as this video from two Catholic parents making their own appeal for equality.

It seems that in Ireland, as all over the world, Catholics are once again voting for marriage equality because of their faith and not in spite of it.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Dublin Archbishop: I’m No Expert on Family; Anti-Gay Groups’ Language is “Obnoxious”

March 23, 2015

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin displayed a humility rarely seen by someone of his office, admitting last week he knew little of the realities of family life today. He also criticized the language used by anti-marriage equality campaigners in Ireland, saying plural societies must respect gay and lesbian people.

Speaking on “The Teaching of the Church on Marriage Today,” at the Iona Institute, Martin answered critics who question the bishops’ credentials in pronouncing on marriage and family life, reports The Independent. These critics, including former Irish president Mary McAleese, doubt “rightly” because, Martin continued:

“I have no experience and understanding…I must be honest and say that I am also lacking in knowledge of more fundamental day-to-day realities of the sexual, marital or parental experiences in a family.”

The Iona Institute is a think tank actively involved in the ‘No’ campaign against marriage equality in Ireland.

Elsewhere in his talk, the archbishop criticized anti-LGBT groups during his speech . PinkNews quotes Martin as saying:

” ‘I have consistently said that the debate must be carried on respectfully without the use of intemperate language…

” ‘I do however feel obliged to say that I have received in recent time correspondence from people who support a “no” vote in the referendum in which the language used is not just intemperate but obnoxious, insulting and, unchristian in regard to gay and lesbian people.

” ‘If people use such language to support a position they feel is Christian, then all I can say is that they have forgotten something essential about the Christian message.’ “

While opposed to marriage equality, Martin said society must ensure equality before the law. The Independent reported:

“Dr. Martin suggested that a pluralist society could be creative in finding ways in which people of same-sex orientation had their rights and their loving and caring relationships recognised and cherished in a culture of difference.

” ‘I’m not saying that gay and lesbian people are unloving or that their love is somehow deficient compared to others, I am talking about a uniqueness in the male-female relationship,’ he said.”

Archbishop Martin has also called for a “conscience clause,” should the referendum pass, to allow lay people who are opposed to marriage equality to express objections, such as denying business services for lesbian and gay weddings, without breaking equality laws. LGBT organizations are calling such clauses a “license to discriminate,” reports Yahoo News.

Though opposed to marriage equality, Martin has also made a name for positive statements on LGBT issues. Just last week he and another archbishop openly condemned Irish Bishop Kevin Doran’s comparison of homosexuality to Down’s syndrome and spina bifida. He has previously said church teaching is “disconnected from real experiences of families” and had been used “in a homophobic way” to do great harm. There are also no reports that he sacked a Dublin priest for coming out and openly endorsing marriage equality during Mass a few months back.

Criticism of anti-LGBT voices from any church leader is rare and this is not Archbishop Martin’s first time calling for a more respectful tone from the church on LGBT civil rights. Rarer still is the humility displayed by Martin that he is no expert on marriage and family. That is unprecedented in all of the discussions during last year’s synod and those that are leading up to this year’s meeting. The archbishop seems to be willing to follow Pope Francis’ requests to bishops to be close to their flocks.

This latest admission of non-expertise will hopefully allow for a greater opening space for those with expertise in family life — like married couples and LGBT people — to speak their truths during next fall’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholics Leave Mass Over Bigoted Homily, but Not All Priests Oppose Marriage Equality

March 21, 2015

Gaelic footballer Eámon McGee, left, supporting the ‘Yes’ campaign

Catholics in Ireland walked out of Mass recently after a priest made prejudiced and personal attacks during a homily against marriage equality, about which the Irish are set to vote in a referendum later this spring.

Fr. John Britto, a Carmelite from India, encouraged parishioners at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Annagry, County Donegal, to deny same-gender couples the right to marry by voting ‘No.’ He also attacked local Gaelic footballer Eamon McGee, who has publicly supported the ‘Yes’ campaign, recently telling the Irish Examiner:

” ‘I don’t know would I be more ashamed that I didn’t vote or the fact I voted against it. It comes down to equality and one less difference in society…It’s not that I have any friends who are gay or any close family members but it’s a social issue.’ “

In response to Fr. Britto’s homily, more than a dozen attendees stood up and walked out, including family members of the woman for whom Mass was being offered on the first anniversary of her death. One parishioner who left told The Independent:

” ‘He (the priest) is entitled to his view but it didn’t go down well. After the Mass some members of the congregation approached the family of the woman being remembered to say they only stayed because of them, otherwise they would have walked out too.’ “

Former altar boy and longtime parishioner Noel Sharkey, who assists the ‘Yes’ campaign there also commented:

” ‘As a Catholic and a gay man from the area, I think it’s essential that we engage on this issue in a respectful and tolerant way, and I ask people to avoid using hurtful or upsetting language. Yes Equality Donegal asks people to focus their attention on the key principles of love and equality as they make their mind up on this important issue.’ “

Fr. Britto, however, denies these claims and refuses to clarify what happened, saying only:

“I didn’t see anybody leaving. I didn’t see that…I won’t talk to the media because the media will only twist what I have to say; I speak to the people in church and I only the speak the truth and the Word of God.”

It was reported that the priest issued an apology to McGee, but Fr. Britto denies apologizing for any of his homily, reports The Independent.

Fr. Iggy O’Donovan

On a slightly more positive note, an Augustinian priest from County Limerick announced he would vote ‘Yes’ in the referendum. Fr. Iggy O’Donovan wrote an op-ed for the Irish Times in which he stated:

” ‘It is possible to have deep and passionately-held convictions without seeking to have those convictions imposed by the State on fellow citizens who do not share them…respect for the freedom of others who differ from us is part and parcel of the faith we profess. For these and for other reasons I will be voting Yes.’ “

In a later radio interview, Fr. O’Donovan clarified that he does not endorse marriage equality and would never preside at a same-gender wedding, but he could not judge others and how they choose to live their lives. He ventured that other priests would likely vote ‘Yes,’ too.

With about ten weeks until Irish polls open, the ‘Yes’ campaign is launched and the debate over marriage equality is intensifying.

The damage by negative statements from church leaders such as Fr. John Britto or Bishop Kevin Doran, who said gay couples were not parents and compared homosexuality to Down syndrome, is enormous. Catholic clergy would do well to temper their anti-LGBT viewpoints, which are increasingly not accepted by an Irish Church already devastated due to the sexual abuse crisis and other problems, and keep these thoughts out of Mass. If they wish to make their opinions known on the issue, like Fr. Iggy O’Donovan, doing so in another venue, and in a way that is respectful of and sensitive to LGBT people, should be the foremost considerations.

Marriage equality coming to Ireland could be a moment of renewed belief in marriage, love, and family in this traditionally very Catholic nation. Church leaders should choose to prevent divisive pastoral harm in the lead up to the referendum.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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