Pope’s Influence Fails to Move Slovaks to Oppose Marriage & Adoption Equality

February 9, 2015

Even with the endorsement of Pope Francis, a referendum to ban same-gender marriage and adoption by lesbian and gay couple in the heavily Catholic European nation of Slovakia failed due to extremely low voter turnout.

Billboard in Slovakia supporting ban on marriage and adoption equality.

At least 50% of the electorate would have had to participate in the referendum, but only 21.4% showed up at the polls,  according to Associated Press news story on LGBTQNation.com

The Catholic bishops in Slovakia supported the referendum’s goals, and last week at the Vatican, Pope Francis encouraged a group of Slovakian pilgrims “to continue their efforts in defense of the family, the vital cell of society.”  This statement was his most direct involvement in a national marriage equality debate.   In addition to the questions about marriage and adoption, the referendum also contained a question about allowing parents to remove their children from sex education classes in schools.

Because the referendum was dependent on a 50% turnout for it to be valid, those who opposed the anti-LGBT measures encouraged voters to refrain from voting.  That strategy seems to have worked. Deutsche Welle reported on the results:

“Ahead of Saturday’s vote, liberals gay rights activists and various media outlets had called on the nation’s electorate to boycott the referendum – a simple tactic which proved to be a success.

” ‘The result shows that a campaign full of prejudice … failed to mobilize people, which is very good news for Slovakia,’ activist Lucia Plavakova told Reuters news agency.”

Those who did turn out to vote overwhelmingly endorsed the ban on marriage equality (95%), adoption (92%), and allowing opting out of sex education (90%).   Slovakia already has a ban on same-gender marriage, civil unions, and adoption.  The referendum was meant to strengthen the bans legally.

One LGBT activist was hopeful following the vote, according to the Associated Press story:

“Romana Schlesinger, a LGBT activist said, she hoped the government will now work to make it possible for same-sex couples to live in registered partnership ‘because all our partnerships, our families are living without legal recognition or protection.’ “

More than 80% of Slovaks are Christian, and of these, most are Catholic.  Billboards (see photo above) picturing the pope giving a thumbs-up sign, with slogans supporting the referendum, appeared across the nation, but they seem to have been ineffective.  LGBTQNation.com offered the following explanatory caption for the photo above:

“A billboard depicting Pope Francis with his thumb up located at Klokocina district in Nitra, Slovakia, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, invites voters to the Slovak national referendum on the protection of the traditional family scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 7. The Billboard slogans read (in clock-wise direction from left upper corner: ‘Come to referendum 7.2.2015,’  ‘Vote 3xYES’ and  ‘ “Slovakia fights brave today for the protection of the traditional family” (as a quotation) – Pope Francis, Jan. 22, 2015, in Rome.’ “

Yet, the pope’s role seemed to have little influence on the way that they voted. Despite his charismatic popularity among Catholics worldwide, it seems that Pope Francis’ political message against marriage equality is not as powerful as the power of people who want to respect human dignity, rights, and equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


What to Make of Cardinal Marx’s Ambivalence Toward Gay & Lesbian Couples?

February 8, 2015

Cardinal Reinhard Marx

Readers of this blog may become tired over the next year of hearing about Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx.  Yet, it seems that whenever he opens his mouth he has something positive to say in regard to gay and lesbian issues (he has not, to my knowledge, spoken about bisexual or transgender topics).  He is one of Pope Francis’ nine close cardinal advisors, and at last year’s synod, he was one of the leading voices for greater welcome and pastoral outreach for gay and lesbian people and couples.  And already this year, he gave a lecture at Stanford University, California, and during the question period, he addressed gay and lesbian topics positively.

Luke Hansen, SJ, who reported on the Stanford lecture for America magazine, sat down with Cardinal Marx for a one-on-one interview, which the magazine published this week. Again, the prelate had very positive things to say about gay and lesbian people, but he also revealed his limitations on the issue of marriage.  What to make of this ambivalence, which seems to be something common among even the most progressive church leaders today?

When asked what he has learned from committed gay relationships that might influence sexual ethics, Marx answered:

“When speaking about sexual ethics, perhaps we must not begin with sleeping together, but with love, fidelity and the search for a life-long relationship. I am astonished that most of our young people, including Catholic homosexuals who are practicing, want a relationship that lasts forever. The doctrine of the church is not so strange for people. It is true. We must begin with the main points of the doctrine, to see the dream: the dream is to have a person say, a man and woman say, ‘You and you, forever. You and you, forever.’ And we as church say, ‘Yes, that’s absolutely O.K. Your vision is right!’ So we find the way. Then perhaps there is failure. They find the person, and it is not a great success. But life-long fidelity is right and good.

“The church says that a gay relationship is not on the same level as a relationship between a man and a woman. That is clear. But when they are faithful, when they are engaged for the poor, when they are working, it is not possible to say, “Everything you do, because you are a homosexual, is negative.” That must be said, and I have heard no objection. It is not possible to see a person from only one point of view, without seeing the whole situation of a person. That is very important for sexual ethics.

“The same goes for people who are together but marry later, or when they are faithful together but only in a civil marriage. It is not possible to say that the relationship was all negative if the couple is faithful together, and they are waiting, or planning their life, and after 10 years they find the way to come to the sacrament. When possible, we must help the couple to find fulfillment in the sacrament of marriage. We discussed this question at the synod, and many synod fathers share this opinion. I was not alone in this opinion.”

Looking at sexuality broadly in terms of situation, context, and quality of relationship is something that Catholic LGBT advocates and many theologians have been saying for decades now.  It is refreshing to hear a cardinal of the Church echo such sentiments.

But in the next question, which asked Cardinal Marx if he agreed with Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny’s recent statement that the church should find ways to bless the relationships of gay and lesbian couples, he stated a belief in the normativity of heterosexual marriage:

“I said in the synod that Paul VI had a great vision in “Humanae Vitae.” The relationship between a man and a woman is very important. The sexual relationship in a faithful relationship is founded on the connection of procreation, giving love, sexuality and openness to life. Paul VI believed that this connection would be destroyed. He was right; see all the questions of reproductive medicine and so on. We cannot exclude this great model of sexuality, and say, ‘We have diversity,’ or ‘Everybody has the right to….’ The great meaning of sexuality is the relationship between a man and a woman and the openness to give life. I have also previously mentioned the question of accompanying people, to see what people are doing in their lives and in their personal situation.”

It seems that Marx is not yet willing to be bold in support of institutionally recognizing same-gender relationships as equivalent to marriage.  In one sense, his statements are as confusing as Pope Francis’ remarks have been.  On one hand, they something positive, and then on the other hand, they defend traditional marriage. This ambivalence is curious.  Are they afraid that if they support marriage equality strongly that they will be discredited by the majority of bishops who do not hold their opinions?  Or are they truly as ambivalent as they sound, not yet ready to accept marriage.

Both Marx and Francis have spoken of “accompaniment,” and I think that is a good thing.  Some critics think that this accompaniment only means that church ministers will accompany gay and lesbian people on a faith journey that is ultimately leading to the acceptance of celibacy.   No doubt, some ministers will see it that way.

I think, however, that we need to be aware that any sort of pastoral accompaniment means that the minister may be changed as much, or even more so, than those ministered to.  Haven’t you found this in your own experience?  That when you think you are “giving” something to someone in need, you find that you often end up “receiving” much more than you were able to give?

I tend to see calls to accompaniment not as devious ways to get people to change their attitudes, but as ways of dialoguing, which leaves both parties open and vulnerable to change. Accompaniment has been terribly absent from most parishes’ approach to LGBT people.  Shunning and shaming have too often been the official response.   Accompaniment, while not the ideal, does seem to be the next step that is needed in the process of the institutional leaders of the church getting to know and appreciate what so many of us have already seen for so long:  that LGBT people, and their relationships, are wholesome, healthy, and holy.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Amid Conflicting Statements, Catholic Healthcare System Considers Granting Benefits to Same-Sex Couples

January 25, 2015

Conflicting statements have led to a growing controversy about whether the nation’s sixth largest Catholic healthcare system in the U.S. will begin offering benefits to employees in same-sex marriages this spring.

Last week, Missouri’s Springfield News-Leader reported that Mercy Health System, which has 40,000 workers across seven states, would begin offering benefits to employees in same-sex marriages to comply with shifting employment and healthcare regulations. The newspaper quotes Mercy spokesperson Sonya Kullmann:

” ‘As a Catholic health ministry, Mercy has followed the Church’s position on this issue in the past…However, in line with recent changes in government regulations, we will extend benefits to all legally married spouses effective this spring.’ “

However, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch later cited a Mercy statement which says the system is only “exploring how best to expand health care benefits for our co-workers, their dependents and loved ones…to help address their varied family situations…” According to an update from the Springfield News-LeaderMercy is not responding to inquiries about the differing statements.

However, this discrepancy has not stopped Catholic officials from condemning even the possibility that LGBT employees be granted equal benefits. Bishop James Johnston of Springfield-Cape Girardeau condemned the healthcare organization’s action, stating: “no believing Christian worthy of the name should violate God’s law because of ‘regulations.'” Crux reported that the bishop continued:

“Our ancestors refused to abandon the faith even when subjected to the cruelty and torture of the Roman Empire, but in our age unspecified ‘regulations,’ government funds, and fear of public ridicule is sufficient in order to secure the compliance of some,”

According to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Archdiocese of St. Louis weighed in on Mercy’s potential move by criticizing the federal government for putting Catholic businesses in a tough spot.

“ ‘It is simply inconsistent to claim to be a Catholic institution while publicly acting against Church teaching…Today, however, Catholic institutions face sanctions from the American government for fidelity to their Catholic identity.’

“The statement added that failure to comply with federal regulations would result ‘in crippling penalties that would gravely impact Mercy’s employees and patient care.’ “

Bishop Johnston and the Archdiocese of St. Louis do not yet understand how valuing and protecting LGBT employees benefits the common good.  Was it their harsh rhetoric that caused Mercy administrators to pause on their decision to extend benefits?

The Springfield News-Leader pointed out that local competitor CoxHealth, a secular healthcare provider, began offering such benefits last fall as a means of “attracting and retaining the best talent.” Mercy would not be the first church-affiliated system to offer equal benefits. For instance, Catholic Health Initiatives began offering such benefits earlier this month to employees in the 19 states in which it operates, saying in a statement:

” ‘CHI believes that health care is part of the common good and is considered a basic human right…And so it was important to make health benefits accessible to employees, their dependents and loved ones within the employee’s family where possible. The goal of expanding coverage overall will continue to align more closely with the desired culture of supporting diversity and families. This change also serves the purpose of eliminating any perceived inequity of benefits by some employees and will help CHI to attract and retain talented employees, regardless of their sexual orientation or personal situation.’ “

The same article also offers other examples of Catholic institutions finding alternative ways to provide benefits to same-sex couples:

“St. Louis-based SSM Health — which has facilities in Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Illinois and Missouri — opened employee health plans to ‘legally domiciled adults’ in 2003, according to spokesman Steve Van Dinter.

” ‘Through this innovative and compassionate program, we have been able to extend health care coverage to hundreds of adult spouses, parents, children, and friends who reside with an employee and are not otherwise insured,’ Van Dinter said in an email.

“To qualify as a legally domiciled adult under the plan, the individual must reside in the same home with the employee, be a member of the employee’s household and be 19 years old or older. The first page of a Google search for “legally domiciled adult” is predominantly Catholic institutions explaining their benefit policies, including Loyola University Maryland, Georgetown University, Denver-based SCL Health and the University of San Francisco.”

” ‘As a Catholic health ministry founded by the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, SSM Health believes that access to health care coverage is a basic good,’ Van Dinter said.”

Additionally, according to a National Catholic Reporter article from October 2014,  22 Jesuit colleges and universities in the U.S. offer benefits to employees’ same-sex partners, as will the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana.

Mercy administrators should make the just choice for their workers and patients by extending benefits to same-sex couples, a choice which both upholds Catholic identity and adheres to government regulations. In the American system where benefits, especially health insurance, are tied to employment, ensuring employees and their families are adequately cared for is an act of justice. Indeed, Pope John XXIII was one of the first voices to declare healthcare a human right in his 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris. Expanding access to quality care for all, especially marginalized groups like LGBT people, is the action of a “believing Christian worthy of the name.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


What to Make of Pope Francis’ Latest Comments on Marriage?

January 17, 2015

Until yesterday, I had wanted to write a hope-filled blog post about Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines this weekend.  On Wednesday and Thursday, I had been reading articles about the great expectation for his visit building in this nation with the third largest Catholic population in the world (behind Brazil and Mexico, and followed by the U.S.).  There has been much good news lately about Filipino church leaders speaking out for LGBT people.

Pope Francis addressing the meeting of families in Pasay City, Philippines

But then yesterday, the news broke that in one of his talks in the Philippines, Pope Francis decried the “ideological colonization” of the family, of which journalist John Allen said that a Vatican spokesman told him that “at least in part, the pope had gay marriage in mind.”

Joshua McElwee of The National Catholic Reporter provided the details of the statement, made at a meeting of families:

“Saying that God is calling people to ‘recognize the dangers threatening our own families,’ Francis stated, ‘There is an ideological colonization we have to be careful of that tries to destroy the family.’

“Obliquely referencing historical colonization of the Philippines and his native Argentina, he continued: ‘Just as our peoples were able to say no to the period of colonization, as families we have to be very wise and very strong with fortitude to say no to these initiatives of colonization that could destroy the family.’ “

Later in the story, McElwee reported on the pope’s elaboration of these ideas:

” ‘The pressures on family life today are many,’ Francis said. ‘The economic situation has caused families to be separated by migration and the search for employment, and financial problems strain many households.’

He continued: ‘The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.’ “

In the same talk, he praised Pope Paul VI’s birth control encyclical, Humanae Vitae, but also urged pastors to be compassionate in particular cases.

What to make of this development, especially since it comes just about two months after the Vatican hosted a conference on male/female complementarity in sexuality, where the pope publicly praised the concept which many see as sexist and irrelevant to authentic discussions of sexual relationships?

John Allen wrote that while many saw Pope Francis as a progressive at the last synod, and that some feared he was stacking the deck for the next synod to align with liberal notions.  Allen’s response:

“In light of the pope’s comments in the Philippines, those conclusions may have to be rethought.”

Allen may be right that for some people, both on the right and on the left, their vision of Pope Francis as a liberal is severely challenged by his recent remarks.  But Francis, while much more progressive in many ways than the previous two popes, had never really stated firmly that he supported same-gender marriage.  The furthest he had gone was to support civil unions as an alternative to marriage when he was an archbishop in Argentina, and to make a vague reference in an interview last spring to being open to the possibility of legal civil unions, though it was unclear if he meant this for heterosexual couples as an alternative to marriage or to lesbian and gay couples as a form of civil protection.

My response to the pope’s recent comments focus more on his use of the words “ideological colonization.”  That to me is more problematic than a negative assessment of marriage equality, which I did not think he ever supported.  “Ideological colonization” invokes a political framework of imposing outside values by force.  There are two reasons why that is problematic.

First, most Catholics who support marriage equality do so because they are motivated by their faith. It is not an ideological or political stand for them.  They believe in the equality of lesbian and gay people, they see their committed relationships as holy, natural, and wholesome, and they want the children in those families to be protected.  These are not ideological concerns, and they are not based in relativism.

Second, “colonization” seems to refer to statements by some African members of the hierarchy who have erroneously stated that homosexuality is not native to their countries, but brought in by Westerners.  Of course, this is not true at all, as homosexuality has existed in all cultures.  If colonialists brought anything in this regard, it was homophobia.

There is a burgeoning LGBT movement in the Philippines, and one of the reasons I was hopeful earlier in the week was that I read a news report that a coalition of LGBT organizations had written an open letter asking the pope to meet with them.   What is interesting about the letter is that there is no mention of marriage equality in it.  They wanted to meet with him to discuss stigma, bullying, assault, disease, and dehumanization, among other problems they have.  Wouldn’t it have been great if the pope met with this group and listened, rather than speaking words which do not reflect the truth about LGBT lives?

Pope Francis could also have met with Filipino pastoral workers who do outreach to LGBT people.  The New York Times reported:

“The church has also become more tolerant of those whose lifestyles conflict with church teachings on social issues.

“ ‘Gay people and people who are living with a partner outside of marriage worship and serve in our parish, said Joseph Zaldivar, a seminarian at the Archdiocese of Manila. ‘They are welcomed.’

“He said that message had reached parishes around the country.”

Or he could have spoken to one lesbian couple who were married in a non-denominational church in the Philippines on the day that the pope arrived there.

The hallmark of Francis’ papacy has not been his outreach to LGBT people, though indeed that has been more marked than his predecessors.  The hallmark has been his openness to dialogue and discussion.  He should have followed his own principles and been a listener in the Philippines, rather than a talker.

And finally, the teaching against birth control and the teaching against same-sex relationships both spring from the principle that all sexual acts should be open to procreation.  If Pope Francis is willing to consider individual cases in regards to birth control, as he said in this speech, couldn’t the same direction be given in regards to lesbian and gay couples?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

ABS-CBN News: “Little hope of Roman Catholic revolution”

Reuters:  “Pope says ‘ideological colonization’ threatens the traditional family”

CNN: “Philippines welcomes the Pope”

GLAAD.org blog: “Pope Francis called marriage equality ‘ideological colonization’ to destroy family”

Advocate.com: “Pope Calls Same-Sex Marriage a ‘Threat’ to the Family”


Florida Bishop Says Church Should Respond to Marriage Equality with “Patience & Humility”

January 8, 2015

Bishop Robert Lynch

Another bishop, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, has commented on the legalization of same-gender marriage in Florida, but this time he is seeking to calm the fear and hysteria fomented by the state’s other Catholic leaders.

In a piece for the Tampa Bay Times, Bishop Lynch begins with the expected language about the bishops’ view on marriage and encourages opponents of marriage equality to defend their views in dialogue with others. Less routine is what follows in the column’s second half, in which Lynch expresses some awareness of the contributions of same-gender couples to church and society. Invoking Pope Francis and the Synod on the Family, he writes:

“I also recognize that the reality of the family today, in all its complexities, presents the church with pastoral challenges as the church strives to accept people in the specific circumstances of their lives and support and encourage them in their search for God and their desire to be members of the church.

“Therefore, I do not wish to lend our voice to notions which might suggest that same-sex couples are a threat incapable of sharing relationships marked by love and holiness and, thus, incapable of contributing to the edification of both the church and the wider society.

“In the midst of changing societal definitions and understandings of marriage, there may no doubt be some confusion. However, with patience and humility, our church must continuously strive to discover what the spirit is saying and respond to the Synod Fathers’ suggestion to discern what pastoral response faithful to church teaching and marked by respect and sensitivity might be appropriate for same-sex couples, even as God’s creative designs for and the church’s sacramental understanding of marriage are affirmed.”

You can read the bishop’s column in full by clicking here. Its substance, as well as Lynch’s tone, is markedly different from the Florida Catholic Conference’s statement and Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski’s reaction. Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday that Wenski’s letter about the legalization of same-gender marriage intimidated church workers by warning them against publicly supporting LGBT rights anywhere and at any time.

Bishop Lynch has a relatively positive record on LGBT issues, stating previously that the Diocese of St. Petersburg wanted to welcome LGBT people. Lynch called the 2014 Synod on the Family “an important moment of honesty and collegiality.” He was one of only a handful of U.S. bishops who released diocesan survey results leading up to the October meeting in Rome. Writing on his blog about the results, Lynch said he desired to hear more from Catholics “who have fallen away” and wrote about LGBT issues:

“I have made it known that I will not tolerate any discrimination or anything which smacks of the punitive to children of same-sex couples. I think all representatives of the Church’s many ministries can be kinder, gentler, more welcoming and less judgmental of those who find our praxis and preaching on marriage and family life to be at odds with their experiences…”

Bishop Lynch’s approach to marriage equality maintains his convictions while respectfully acknowledging that LGBT rights are civil law and that church leaders must respond accordingly as pastors.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Homes Should Open Their Doors to the World Meeting of Families

December 15, 2014

The World Meeting of Families, an international Catholic gathering focused on family life which will be held in Philadelphia in September 2015, has already caused some controversy concerning LGBT issues.

7f826-archbcharleschaputArchbishop Charles Chaput of the Philadelphia Archdiocese said that everyone would be welcome to the meeting, but he also announced that “neuralgic sexual issues that seem to dominate the American media” would not be on the agenda.  Many people interpreted this to mean that questions about same-gender marriage would be avoided.

Additionally, advance materials for the Meeting seem to indicate that where LGBT issues are noted, they are done so in basically negative language.

Two Philadelphia area commentators recently called on Chaput to be more open in his approach to LGBT issues at the upcoming meeting, at which Pope Francis will be making a visit.

In a short essay on Philly.com, Mark Segal, publisher of Philadelphia Gay News noted the different approaches that Chaput and Pope Francis seem to be taking toward LGBT issues. Remarking on the pope’s recent interview in which he supported families with LGBT members, Segal wrote:

“The pontiff’s comments came a day after he urged church officials to pay attention to the ‘signs of the times.’ This is groundbreaking, especially since he was speaking in regard to a meeting of American bishops, who, to say the least, have not been so kind to LGBT Catholics. And sadly enough, while other bishops see a church attempting to join the 21st century, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput now seems to be leading a campaign of opposition.

“While the pope noted it is important to welcome gay Catholics, he still is opposed to same-sex marriage. But he said his views on LGBT youth were in part formed from personal experiences.

“ ‘We come across this reality all the time in the confessional: a father and a mother whose son or daughter is in that situation. This happened to me several times in Buenos Aires…. We have to find a way to help that father or that mother to stand by their son or daughter,’ he said in an interview with Argentina’s La Nación.”

Segal offered a practical suggestion to help fix the discrepancy between Pope Francis’ view and Chaput who seems to oppose him:

“. . . [W]e need to help U.S. bishops learn more about our community. Chaput will be among the hosts of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next fall, which Pope Francis will attend. Chaput has stated that thousands of Catholic households should offer to house some of the visitors who will be coming from around the globe. With that in mind, I’d like to suggest that LGBT Catholic families meet that calling and call the Archdiocese to offer their homes. Let us help His Holiness with his mission.”

Stephen Seufert, the state director of Keystone Catholics, a new social-justice advocacy organization in Pennsylvania dedicated to promoting the common good, penned an essay in Philadelphia Gay News, in which he criticized Chaput’s approach to marriage, while arguing for the benefits that families headed by lesbian and gay couples offer society:

“Chaput, like many other traditionalist Catholics, seems to have a ‘Leave It to Beaver’ mentality of the family. He believes any marriage not between one man and one woman is evil and sinful. Trying to define marriage and the family in such limited terms makes the church seem obtuse to a diverse and complicated world. . . .

“Opponents of same-sex marriage argue that, because LGBT couples can’t procreate, they’re not equal to heterosexual couples. I completely reject that argument. LGBT people promote life by caring for and loving those around them, whether it be family, friends or coworkers. Too often, marriage-equality opponents forget about the life and dignity of an LGBT person.”

Segal’s proposal for LGBT families to open their doors to World Meeting of Families participants is a wonderful, grassroots idea that would promote understanding on a very personal and basic level. It would probably work best if parents of LGBT people would offer such hospitality since many participants might be reluctant, unfortunately, to stay in the home of a gay or lesbian couple.  And New Ways Ministry knows that the Catholic parents of LGBT people in the Philadelphia area are a strong, welcoming, and committed group!

The best way for people to learn about LGBT issues is through one-on-one conversations.  Even though the World Meeting of Families won’t be addressing LGBT issues positively, let’s hope and pray that there will be many opportunities for participants to witness the loving and live-giving qualities that LGBT families offer the world and the church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Irish Bishops and Laity Have Differing Views on Marriage Equality

December 9, 2014

The Republic of Ireland has become the latest of focus of Catholic LGBT political involvement. And as is becoming the pattern in many heavily Catholic nations, there is a huge divide between the way that the Catholic hierarchy addresses these issues and the way that the Catholic people in the pews do so.

Ireland is gearing up for a Spring 2015 referendum on whether to extend marriage laws to gay and lesbian couples.  The Irish Catholic Bishops Conference has entered the debate by releasing a pamphlet entitled “The Meaning of Marriage,” in which they defend the position that marriage should only be open to heterosexual couples. The Irish Times reported on the press conference “launch” of the pamphlet:

” ‘The view of marriage as being between man and a woman and for life, that’s not something which is particular to Catholics and Christians. There are people of all kinds of other religious beliefs, and of none, who believe in that,’ said Bishop Liam MacDaid of Clogher, who is chair of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference council for marriage.

“ ‘To put any other view of marriage on the same level as Christian marriage would be a disservice to society rather than a service,’ added Bishop MacDaid . . .

Since same-gender marriage has been a reality around the globe for well over a decade now, and since we have research on the benefits that marriage equality has had for those couples, their children, and society, it is a very weak argument to say that allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry will somehow devalue or harm heterosexual marriage and society.

The Irish Times also noted:

“According to the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, 67 per cent of Irish people support the notion of same-sex marriage being constitutionally enshrined, with just 20 per cent of respondents opposed to such a move.”

Brian Sheehan, director of the Gay and Lesbian Network, a leading Irish LGBT organization, countered the bishops’ assertions with statistical information about the state of marriage in Ireland, noting:

“ . . . ‘[O]ne third of children born in Ireland are born to single parents. They grow up in a variety of diverse family arrangements.’ Allowing gay and lesbian couples make such a commitment in civil marriage ‘would strengthen marriage.’ ”

Christian Today reported on a significant symbolic gesture which shows how far Catholic Irish leaders have come in their support of LGBT equality. Reporting on the bishops’ release of their document, the article stated:

“The Church’s launch came a day after Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny was pictured in one of Dublin’s main gay bars at an event held by his party’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) society. . . .

” ‘The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) in a gay bar is a first,’ renowned Irish drag queen Panti Bliss, owner of Pantibar, the bar Kenny visited, wrote on its Facebook page.

” ‘Only a few years ago a Taoiseach wouldn’t have dared, so it shows how times have changed.’ “

One week before the brochure on marriage was released, Bishop Kevin Doran of the Elphin Diocese said in a talk that his opposition to marriage equality was

“ ‘not about homosexuality or the gay lifestyle, it is about the meaning of marriage.’

“He said ‘societies rely on families built on strong marriages to produce what they need but cannot secure: healthy upright children who become conscientious citizens.’ “

Doran’s arguments were countered in a letter to the editor from Dave Donnellan, secretary of the Gay Catholic Voice Ireland, the nation’s LGBT Catholic organization.  Citing an Irish Medical Journal report that said that LGBT youth are 14 times more likely to commit suicide and 16 times more likely to be the victim of sexual assault, Donnellan called on Catholic bishops to have their priorities better placed:

“This opposition [to marriage equality] mistakenly suggests that the primary issue from a Catholic perspective is a legal one. It’s not. The primary issue here for the Catholic Church is not legal, it is pastoral.

“The question is, do we as a church care about LGBT people who are suffering greatly as the study mentioned above, and others like it suggest? Have we put in place any pastoral care plan to respond to the needs of these vulnerable young LGBT people?

“The fundamental question for the Catholic Church is: ‘Do we love our LGBT people?’ What the LGBT community needs from Bishop Doran and the other bishops in the run-up to the referendum is a witness to the love that God has for the LGBT community and not instructions on how to vote in a referendum.”

Donnellan’s emphasis seems to be in line with Pope Francis’ admonition that bishops should not be “obsessed” with issues like gay marriage.

Stay tuned for more on LGBT political issues in Ireland later in the week on this blog.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

National Catholic Reporter: “Irish bishops: Marriage between man, woman is matter of justice”

Advocate.com: “Irish Ad Looks to Inspire Youth to Say ‘Yes’ to Marriage Equality”


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