Friday, November 13, 2015

Former Irish President on Catholic Teaching About Homosexuality: It's "Wrong," a "Major Conduit for Homophobia," and Needs to Be Repudiated

Yesterday, Irish Catholic published an interview of former Irish president Mary McAleese done by Martin O'Brien at her apartment in Rome Dublin, where she lives when she is not acquiring a licentiate in Canon Law.* Here's a selection of her statements: 

"I am ashamed, frankly, of my Church's failure to be a champion of gay rights and of women's rights. I am ashamed of my Church's involvement historically in anti-Semitism". 
But what would being "a champion of gay rights" look like for the Church? 
"That would be very simple. It [the Church] wouldn't necessarily have to be a champion of gay marriage. I'm quite happy for the Church to stay away from civil marriage and let the State provide for that – that is not the issue." 
It would mean "not adhering to views from the Old Testament about homosexuality, which have long since been discredited by medical science" and being "actively engaged in today's world with all the information that it has [about homosexuality.] 
"It would mean looking at the language that the Church uses to see whether that language is capable of hurt, and of conducing to homophobia, which it most certainly does". 
"I see my Church as a major conduit for homophobia which is toxic, a form of hatred that has nothing to do with Christ and is unchristian." 
She would "like to see the Church take responsibility for the extent to which its words and its language conduces to homophobia" citing such words as "evil" in relation to homosexual acts and "disordered". These are not "ancient" words, she says, but were written by Pope Benedict himself: "It is not enough to say we love the sinner but not the sin."

McAleese also draws a parallel between the abusive treatment of LGBT people by Catholic leaders, and the long history of "atrocious" anti-Semitic teaching within the Catholic church — which the church eventually has had to repudiate as it saw the violence such teaching elicited. If the church could change its mind about such longheld teachings that it eventually realized were flatly wrong, then it can do the same today with regard to its homophobic teachings:

"The Church has to be able to say that at times, in God’s name, we got some things badly wrong and bad things happened. The Church is not good at saying we managed to get things wrong and doing something about it." 
She defends and elaborates on her recent statement that Church teaching on homosexuality is "wrong". 
"I believe the Church’s teaching on homosexuality to be wrong. Period. I am not going to fudge my language just because somebody doesn't like the language I am going to use. I am as entitled to stand up and state it to be wrong just as someone else is entitled to stand up and say that I am wrong. That is fine."

I think it may be difficult for those living outside the U.S. to imagine how such words may strike those of us who are LGBT and living in the U.S. They come like dew on a parched land. It may be hard for people living in other developed parts of the world — for LGBT people and people who care about human rights living in other developed nations — to imagine what it's like for us in the U.S., as three candidates for the position of U.S. president representing one of our major political parties attend a "religious" rally at which there's open talk about rounding up and executing the gay citizens of the country.

As Michelangelo Signorile points out, as this has taken place, the media — Rachel Maddow being the notable exception — have been conspicuously silent, leading Signorile to conclude (and I think he's right about this) that we haven't come as far down the road to gay rights in the U.S. as we like to imagine. As Signorile says (and, again, I think he's right), if similar hate speech had been directed against Jewish or African-American citizens at a "religious" rally attended by three candidates of one of our two major parties (one of those men is a Catholic), the media would be all over the story. 

In situations such as this, we who are LGBT look for, well, support if not outrage from our religious communities and religious leaders. Catholic LGBT citizens of the U.S. and those who care about them will not be hearing words of support or outrage about "religious" speech targeting LGBT folks for execution during this presidential campaign. 

And that will lead some Catholics, I predict, to look to other Christian communities for fellowship and spiritual support — for solidarity — now. What choice do we have, when our religious leaders remain silent about hate speech directly targeting us and endorsed by people seeking the highest office in our land? And when the best and brightest of the American Catholic community stand by in silence as this takes place — in the same kind of silence exhibited by the best and brightest pastoral leaders of the church at a recent synod in which we who are LGBT were spoken of as demonic, and compared to Nazi fascists intent on destroying Christian civilization?

A side note: same-sex marriages will begin in Ireland next Monday.

See also Aine McMahon at Irish Times and Michael Kelly at National Catholic Reporter.

* I'm very grateful to Chris Morley for pointing out that I completely misread two lines in the article, specifying where this interview took place.

The photo of Mary McAleese is from her Wikipedia biography page, and is a photo in the collection of the chancellery of the president of Poland. It has been uploaded to Wikipedia for sharing under GNU free documentation license.

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