Priest Says Same-Sex Marriage Improves Society, As Catholic Nations Commence Weddings

October 28, 2015

Fr. Peter Daly

A Maryland Catholic priest said the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling which legalized marriage equality nationwide in June “may, in fact, make things better, not only for LGBT couples, but also for our society.”

Fr. Peter Daly wrote these words in the National Catholic Reporter, where he also endorsed civil marriage equality and suggested separating civil and sacramental marriages. He asked whether same-gender couples “really need the protections offered by civil marriage,” answering in the affirmative though admitting he has not always believed so.

On this point, Daly called the documentary Bridegroom a “mind changer.” Daly says all relationships “could only hope for a gentle, respectful, joyful, loving relationship like the one” the couple featured possesses. One partner died in a tragic accident, while the other was denied benefits and even access to the funeral, leading Fr. Daly to conclude:

“The movie is heart breaking. We can see the injustice of the situation and the need for a legal structure to protect people. If same-sex marriage could encourage relationships like Tom and Shane’s, it would be an unalloyed good for everyone in society, including our church. . .

“The whole society benefits from more stable and committed relationships. Everyone benefits when people have clearer legal rights and responsibilities. Same-sex marriage does not erode the meaning of sacramental marriage. In fact, it is a tip of the hat in respect for it because it seeks a parallel institution.”

[The film is available for viewing on YouTube.]

Fr. Daly’s column reveals a deep compassion for LGBT people, though he acknowledges that the Supreme Court decision may bring some bumps in the road.  He would have preferred that marriage equality had been enacted by legislative or electoral means.  He acknowledges that religious liberty questions may arise, but is confident that they can be resolved for the good of all.  He criticizes the idea that court clerks who disagree with the same-sex marriages should be allowed to withhold marriage licenses for lesbian and gay couples.

Fr. Daly also offered practical contributions to the Catholic Church’s emerging response to marriage equality. Calling a Catholic priest’s dual roles as minister and magistrate when signing marriage licenses “odd,” he wonders if “priests should stop signing state-issued marriage licenses.” He wrote further:

“On the practical level, how will parishes respond to same-sex marriage? . . .Pope Francis gave us example during his visit to the United States. He met with a gay couple. He warmly welcomed them to the Nunciature. He treated them with affection and respect.”

Daly noted that his parish would not be able to perform weddings for lesbian and gay couples or celebrate anniversaries, but he listed what he insists they will be doing:

“As long as I am pastor here we will welcome and register everyone who shares our Catholic faith, including same-sex couples. After all, we register divorced and remarried people. We will educate their children in our religious education programs, and we welcome them as sponsors at baptism and confirmation. We open our ministries to them. We will allow them to teach religious education so long as they are respectful of the church teaching. (That we require of everyone.) We will encourage them to participate fully in the life of the church, including the Eucharist. We will treat everyone with respect and dignity. We will allow them the right of their own conscience.”

Towards the end, Fr. Daly speculated about the church will “adjust its language and teaching” on homosexuality and said Catholics would be “embarrassed” by what has been said and done to LGBT people, including the use of the term “intrinsically disordered.”

While the embarrassment may be a true feeling, historically Catholic nations have refused to wait before advancing LGBT rights. News broke last week that Irish legislators approved the laws needed for marriage equality to be implemented and weddings may begin within two weeks, reported The Irish Examiner

In Chile, among Latin America’s most conservative nations, civil unions have begun according to The Guardian. Though short of full marriage rights, LGBT activists are hailing this as a victory in a country where there is only 25% popular support for marriage equality and divorce was legalized in 2004.

Marriage equality in Slovenia is threatened, however, after that nation’s Constitutional Court approved a popular referendum seeking to withdraw legislation passed last March guaranteeing equal marriage rights. The Catholic Church has backed the anti-equality referendum, reported NDTV.

All proving, once again, that Catholics do support marriage equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Trying to Interpret the Language of the Synod

October 13, 2015

Below is the next installment of Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will continue to send news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here.

Father Thomas Rosica, CSB

One of the things that I am learning from covering the synod here in Rome is that there are a lot more questions and perspectives on family than I would have ever imagined existing.    Similarly, and perhaps more importantly, there are a lot more pastoral strategies possible to address this diversity, and some can have an impact on LGBT issues, even if they are not directly intended to do so.

At the press briefing today,  Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, reported on the interventions and reports made by synod English speakers on Saturday afternoon.  Part of the challenge of getting information from the synod discussions is that any materials comes through one of of several language reporters, who summarize what was said, though without identifying who said it.  While not an ideal situations, it must be said that of the four language reporters (Italian, English, French, Spanish/Portugese), Father Rosica is always the most thorough and detailed in his reports, providing what I consider the best information.

The downside is that since we don’t receive the full texts of comments or even who said them, we are left to wonder if the remarks are intended to address a particular issue, leaving us to speculate.

Rosica reported today on an interesting pastoral observation and strategy presented by one of the synod fathers.  The unnamed speaker pointed out that there seems to be a “nothing or all” mentality in the synod, meaning that either the bishops should change nothing about the church’s approach to certain issues or it has to change everything about that approach.

The speaker indicated that neither is a real option, and suggested that the bishops look at a “great scope of pastoral possibility and creativity” available as responses to certain pastoral situations.

Of course, my ears perked up at this suggestion, immediately thinking that there are many creative pastoral possibilities that bishops can institute in regard to LGBT issues.

My speculation that the speaker may have been referring to LGBT issues was confirmed as more was said about this idea.  The speaker suggested that the pastoral approach of proclaiming a Church truth in public,while privately and pastorally bending and being merciful to individuals no longer holds.  He also added another insight: the difference between sin and sinner doesn’t work any more for sexuality.  As I understood this last part, you can’t separate “sinner”  from “sin,”  loving one, while rejecting the other.  Or , to say i another way: you can’t condemn sexual behavior without also condemning the person, or perhaps,  stated more positively, you can’t accept a person, without accepting their sexuality.

Whether or not the speaker was addressing LGBT issues is impossible to say for certain, however, even if he wasn’t, I don’t think it is much of a stretch to see how these concepts are naturally applicable to such issues.

Fr. Rosica also mentioned a number of other ideas presented that seem applicable to LGBT issues, regardless if they were intended as such:

  • For God,no human being is a stranger.
  • The sexual act and human sexuality represent only one part of family and marriage
  • The Church must be  an accompanying mother who reaches out to all

The biggest surprise for me was hearing that a bishop described the need for the Church to recognize that in the contemporary world there are new “family structures,” such as  single parent families, mixed faith families, families separated by migration, families which include caring for grandparents, families where grandparents are the primary caretakers, and–here’s the surprising part–families of same sex couples.  Rosica reported the bishop’s thoughts:

“Many families are simply left out of our pastoral strategies and we have to develop pastoral strategies for the many different situations that families find themselves in today.

“We have to reach out to those that do not fit our traditional categories. New families can no longer remain alienated from the church and the church cannot remain absent from these new situations.”

The diversity of perspectives here has made me realize that there may be a variety of approaches to more positive pastoral care for families with LGBT members.  Pope Francis has said that God is a “God of surprises.”  Perhaps a positive response on LGBT issues from this synod may surprise us all in the creative way it is formulated.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Bishops Down Under Offer Over-the-Top Rhetoric as Marriage Equality Approaches

July 28, 2015

Australia’s marriage equality campaign logo

Australia’s political leaders are slowly moving towards marriage equality, prompted by successful developments in Ireland and the United States. The political movement has prompted aggressive action from the nation’s Catholic bishops.

Brisbane’s Archbishop Mark Coleridge attacked marriage equality proponents in a piece for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, saying there is “violence” in alleged attempts to discredit and silence those who oppose equality.

Using the language of “same-sex attracted,” Coleridge argued that civil equality already existed, and the push for marriage rights is pure ideology. He called it “a dramatic form of the Western myth of progress which the facts of history have never confirmed,” reported The Tablet.

Sydney’s Archbishop Anthony Fisher used equally harsh language during a Marriage Mass, reported The Catholic Herald. His told those in attendance that LGBT advocates:

“…are determined to silence any alternative to the politically correct position in this matter; to bully us all into accepting the deconstruction and redefinition of a fundamental institution; and to relegate questions of what marriage is and is for as secondary to an homogenising ‘equality.’ “

The Archdiocese of Sydney also criticized those responsible for a full-page pro-marriage equality ad published in June, questioning whether corporations should be involved in the debate at all. In a letter sent to the ad’s more than 150 corporate supporters, the archdiocesan business manager Michael Digges claims they “are publicly supporting a strategic, political and well-funded campaign” to change Australian marriage law.

Elsewhere, Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart, who distributed an anti-marriage equality pamphlet by sending it home  with students in Australia’s Catholic schools, has admitted it has not been well received.

That is an understatement given the concerns expressed by many when it was first announced that the bishops were using schoolchildren as young as 6 or 7 for the anti-equality campaign. Rodney Croome, director of Australian Marriage Equality, condemned making these children “couriers of prejudice,” urging parents to report the material to the Office of Anti-Discrimination Commissioner. One letter to the archbishop claims a formal complaint was filed, reported The Australian, and the Office does not deny this.

Still, Porteous defended the “Don’t Mess with Marriage” pamphlet as a “positive contribution” and part of his duties as bishop in teaching the faith, reports SBS.

A former teacher in Melbourne also wrote recently about Archbishop Denis Hart’s 2007 refusal to implement Jesuit Social Services’ Not So Straight report, “aimed at helping teachers respond to the needs of gay teens in Catholic schools. Michael Kelly wrote in The Age:

“I wonder how many students in Catholic schools have spent anguished hours coping with abuse and bullying, how many have secretly hated themselves, how many have attempted suicide since Hart buried that report in 2007. . .The Jesuits’ programs would not have solved everything, but they would have shown a church, and a hierarchy, that cared more for the mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health of young people than for rigid doctrinal purity.”

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

The Australian bishops should follow the lead and example of one of their own brethren, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, retired Auxiliary from Sydney, who has spoken rationally and compassionately on the need for the hierarchy to reform Catholic sexual ethics in such a way that allows for the equality of lesbian and gay relationships.

Politically, Australian legislators will introduce a cross-party bill equalizing marriage rights in August. This has a fairly good chance of passage, though it is uncertain. Either way the bishops need to shift course towards a more pastoral and reconciliatory approach.

Australia’s bishops should start putting the best interests of young people, and all Australians, before their campaign against LGBT legal rights. The heavy-handed and hyperbolic strategies of previous papacies must be put to rest, and the only overreactions now acceptable are unconditioned displays of love to those the church has harmed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Tending to Christ’s Blood: The U.S. Church’s Post-Marriage Equality Agenda

July 5, 2015

Chapel of the Reliquary, Basilica of the Holy Blood, Bruges, Belgium

I’m traveling in Europe for a few weeks this summer.  A few days ago, I visited the Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges, Belgium, where a small vial is said to contain Christ’s blood.  For centuries, pilgrims have traveled here for prayer and veneration. Legend says Joseph of Arimathea preserved the blood in rock crystal while washing Jesus’ body, and it remained liquid until 1325. Whether the legend is true or not, passing by this vial caused me to pray deeply. The following is a reflection based on my prayer at that altar of Christ’s blood.

Since I’ve been abroad as Americans celebrate nationwide marriage equality, I’ve been learning what I can mostly from headlines (and my daily Bondings 2.0 update!). Without negating the importance of the Supreme Court decision, another reality came to mind in prayer — the tremendous amount of LGBT blood–which is Christ’s blood–is still being poured out in our world today.

In 2015, a record number of trans* women are being murdered, the latest being Mercedes Williamson of Alabama. Many LGBT youth still abuse substances, inflict self-harm, and commit suicide because they are unable to find affirming voices and loving families in which to come out and live authentically. Church workers are losing their jobs at unprecedented rates because of LGBT issues. Internationally, more than 75 countries still criminalize homosexuality and eight allow a death sentence. Just last week Turkish Pride marchers were attacked by police, merely the latest incident where wearing a rainbow attracts violence. I could go on.

Relic of the Holy Blood

What is the Catholic response to all of this injustice, particularly now that civil marriage is settled in the U.S.? The truest answer is complex and nuanced, but here’s one attempt: to end the shedding of Christ’s blood, poured out from LGBT communities.

For more than a decade, America’s bishops focused an inordinate amount of time, money, and energy on opposing civil marriage equality. Opposing LGBT justice is, sadly, the hallmark of the bishops’ collective voice. For far too long the U.S. bishops simply echoed negative messages which came from Rome. I have seen several writers and a Catholic publication or two note how hard it is to accept the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, and how they are struggling to follow the bishops’ articulation of God’s revelation about sexuality, and their message to respect LGBT people at the same time. But now the matter is settled. It is time to move on.

In moving on, there is far more room for Catholics divided over issues of sexuality and gender to find common ground, to reach out and build bridges. Certainly, sacramental marriage and the recognition of same-gender relationships in ecclesial settings still remains important and divisive. If you’re following the Synod proceedings focused on family life, this is eminently clear, and the news is not all bad.

Still, no one should oppose loving youths who, while journeying to find their truest selves, often suffer deep pain and face rejection. No one should support criminalizing homosexuality, even if they consider same-sex acts morally wrong, and certainly the church has a clear voice against the death penalty. No one should think discriminating against a person on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is consistent with Christ’s inclusive witness. And no one, anywhere, should justify the murder or rape of a trans* person as consistent with God’s will or the church’s teaching. No one.

Opposing these injustices is not only acceptable for Catholics, it is a mandate of the Gospel to do so.  Moreover, opposing these injustices is necessary to rectify our church’s long history of endorsing and fomenting violence against marginalized communities. I am not the first to call for a more inclusive LGBT agenda; many voices have done so for decades. What I am proposing is a shift for American Catholics. Let’s move on from marriage and come together around matters of justice ,wherever we fall on what constitutes marriage.

I am proposing that with a loud, confident voice, the Church, as one Body, condemns anti-LGBT atrocities. We must actively resist them at parish, diocesan, national, and global levels, conscious of the intersectional concerns like race and class playing out in our communities and in our churches.

The Catholic response to Obergefell v. Hodges can be a simple one: celebrate if you’d like (I certainly am and will!), but regardless start walking the path of reconciliation so those God loves most will know the church’s tender love and saving care in new and newer ways. In this way, we can tend to Christ by ending the shedding of His blood in the lives and sufferings of our LGBT siblings.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Global Network of Rainbow Catholics Provides Alternative to Vatican Document

June 26, 2015

A coalition-in-formation of organizations which promote equality in Catholic LGBT issues has responded to this week’s Vatican release of the Instrumentum Laboris, the working document of the October 2015 synod on marriage and family.

The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) issued a press statement, on the same day as the Vatican unveiled the Instrumentum, which provided an alternative Catholic perspective on lesbian and gay family issues, as well as the important topic of criminalizaiton of lesbian and gay people in nations around the globe.

The GNRC statement was critical of the Vatican’s suggested discussion of lesbian and gay issues at the synod, saying:

“Although ‘suitable attention to the pastoral accompaniment of families in which live persons with homosexual tendencies, and families of these same persons’ is recommended, Paragraphs 130-132 of the Working Document hardly reflect the rich discussions which have taken place, internationally and at all levels in the Church, on the welcome, respect, and value which should be afforded to lesbian and gay people in the Catholic community.

“The inclusion of the unfounded statement that international organisations are pressurising poorer countries to introduce same-sex marriage as a condition of receiving financial aid Para. 132) is scandalously dishonest. Far better for the Church to show its commitment to social justice through the condemnation of global criminalisation of LGBT people, including torture and the death penalty.”

The GNRC also proposed several concrete steps that the synod can take to provide more appropriate pastoral care for lesbian and gay people and families.  One step was that the synod should call for:

“a structured discernment process be introduced, to involve homosexual people, including those living in long-term, stable relationships as well as those who are single or celibate, their children and parents, experienced pastoral ministers, and theologians, as well as relevant dicasteries of the Holy See. Such a process, reflecting upon examples of positive pastoral experience and ongoing theological, anthropological and scientific study,  should be conducted at both global and local levels of the Church for a period of three to five years.”

The coalition also suggested that the synod use language which calls for further study and examination of the issues of sexual orientation and gender identity:


“The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge at all levels of the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraphs 2357-2358, 2395). It has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid constitutes a precious support in the life of same-sex partners. Arising from the experience of positive pastoral ministry, this Synod encourages the whole Church to renew its theological reflections on human sexuality and gender identity, working towards the right integration of ortho-praxis and ortho-doxy.”

The statement also suggested that the synod speak out strongly against the criminalization of lesbian and gay people:

“At a global level, people with variant sexual orientation are unjustly criminalised, tortured, subjected to death penalties, and those offering pastoral and practical care in such circumstances are also often penalised. This Synod of Bishops unequivocally condemns such injustices perpetrated on people and firmly opposes such patterns of criminalisation. It urges governments and civil society to respect the human rights of each person regardless of their sexual orientation.”

They also addressed the specific topic of baptism for children of lesbian and gay couples:

“When people living in same-sex unions request a child’s baptism, the child must be received with the same care, tenderness and concern which is given to other children. Furthermore, the Church responds to the needs of children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.”

Underlying all the GNRC’s concerns was a rationale for such actions based on Catholic documents and principles:

“Some families include homosexual members who, with their parents, families and children, have a right to informed pastoral care (The Code of Canon Law: Canons 208-231). As such, they ought to be received with respect and sensitivity. Every sign of discrimination in their regard should be avoided. The language used by the Church in describing its pastoral ministry in this area of human concern should reflect its principles of the precious dignity of the person and its commitment to social justice so that the gifts and qualities of homosexual people may be welcomed, valued, and respected  (Paragraphs 10 & 16, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, CDF, 1986).

The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics descibes itself as

“an international network of organizations of/with LGBT Catholics which met for the first time during the Family Synod 2014 in Rome and has since worked together to initiate a global network of LGBTQI Catholics, their parents and families.”

The founding groups include: European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, Associació Cristiana de Gais i Lesbianes de Catalunya (ACGIL) (Catalonia), Comitato promotore dell’associazione Cammini di Speranza – associazione nazionale cristiani lgbt (Italy), Dette Resources Foundation (Zambia), DignityUSA (USA), Drachma (Drachma LGBTI and Drachma Parents Group) (Malta), Ichthys christian@s lgtbh de Sevilla (Spain), LGBT Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council (UK), New Ways Ministry (USA), Nuova Proposta (Italy), Ökumenische Arbeitsgruppe Homosexuelle und Kirche (Germany), Wiara i Tęcza (Poland).  [Many of these organizational links provided by Queering the Church.]

This global network will be officially launched in Rome on October 1-4, the opening weekend of the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family.  The founding assembly will be entitled “LGBT Voices to the Synod,” and it will include a public conference “Ways of Love – Snapshots of Catholic Encounter with LGBT People and their Families,”presenting examples of positive LGBT pastoral activities from all over the world.   New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, will be a speaker at this event.

The GNRC’s alternative for the synod was included in news stories around the globe this past week.  You can find links to some of those in the list under my signature.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles

ABC News: “Vatican Sets Stage for Family Debate With Working Document” “LGBT Catholics Find Little Encouragement in Family Synod Document” Outreach to gay couples not on agenda for Vatican meeting

New York Times: Vatican Lays Groundwork for Discussions on Family

Queering the Church: “Family Synod Working Document Disappoints Global Rainbow Catholics”

Daily Mail:Outreach to gay couples not on agenda for Vatican meeting

Christian Today: Synod on the Family will not be dominated by homosexuality, says Pope Francis

Mamba Online: LGBT Catholics disappointed by new church document on family

Quest: Family Synod Working Document Disappoints Global Rainbow Catholics

Famwork: Vatican Ready For Family Debate And Discussing Other Issues

[List of articles courtesy of Martin Pendergast]


Case of German Lesbian Fired from a Catholic School Poses Moral Questions

April 25, 2015

The disturbing trend of Catholic institutions firing lesbian and gay church workers because they choose to legally marry their partners is spread across the U.S.    Even more disturbing, though, is that we have now seen examples of this discriminatory trend popping up in other countries, as well.  Last year we reported on a gay volunteer being dismissed from a Catholic relief organization in the U.K., and a lesbian teacher being fired from a Catholic school in Italy because rumors had spread about her orientation.

The Caritas kindergarten in Holzkirchen, Bavaria, Germany

This past week in Germany, it became public that a lesbian kindergarten teacher at a Catholic institution in Holzkirchen, a small Bavarian town, was made to sign a severance agreement after she informed her employer that she was making plans to legally marry her female partner. reported the story, noting that because of a confidentiality agreement between the teacher and school, the teacher’s name was not made public.   There are similar factors to cases in the U.S.  Like most cases here, the article reported that the crucial issue is a contract morality clause:

“The Catholic charity, Caritas, which runs the school, refers to Article Four of the ‘fundamental order of ecclesiastical duties in an ecclesiastical setting, with which everyone who works for a religious agency is familiar. This document states that all employees are expected to ‘recognize and follow the principles of the Catholic faith and ethical teaching.’ This is considered particularly relevant in the cases of educational and executive personnel.”

And like most cases here, the article reported that “The parents are also at a loss to understand the reasons for her having to leave.”

But the German situation is slightly different, too, from most U.S. cases.  In Germany, all kindergartens, even those sponsored by religious groups, receive public funding, so the church-state issue is more complex.   Another unusual twist in this story is that Caritas, the employer, offered the fired teacher “a post that did not entail any educational or executive duties but she refused the offer.”  It raises the interesting suspicion that they just did not want her in a position that would influence children, and that the moral gravity of her situation is actually somewhat relative, and not absolute.

Because the fired teacher is not speaking publicly, some local politicians have come to her defense:

“Ulrike Gote, a Green Party’s spokeswoman in the state of Bavaria, accuses the Catholic Church of ‘hypocrisy.”

” ‘The Church should actually be delighted that someone wants to marry their partner,’ Gote says. ‘These are the kinds of double standards that we have had to deal with for a very long time.’

“The mayor of Holzkirchen, Olaf von Loewis of the Christian Social Union, who is a practicing Catholic, also has difficulty accepting the stance his Church has taken towards homosexual relationships.

” ‘I am very familiar with the rules and regulations of the Church as an employer,’ Loewis says. ‘And I deem them to be wrong.’ “

As I read these similarly sad and tragic stories over and over again,  two questions always come to my mind:

1) Why is homosexuality, and in particular, committing to a legal marriage, the main reason that people are being dismissed from jobs in these morality clause cases?  There have been pregnancy-outside-of-marriage stories, but these, thank God, have been few.  The cardinal sin these days for church employers seems to be gay and lesbian people committing themselves in love to their spouses.  The fact that this issue has been singled out over all others should be proof enough that this is not about morality, but politics.

2) Though principals and church administrators often use the line that the morality clauses have to be enforced to set examples for children, do they ever think of the example that they themselves set in firing someone from a job they love, that they have been performing well, that they receive praise from those they serve, and that is their livelihood?  What lesson do children learn from such actions?

Church leaders need to start being self-reflective about their actions and policies.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Editor’s note:  There were many articles in German about this case on the web, but was the only one in English that I found.



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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