Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Former Irish President Mary McAleese Calls on Catholic Church to Face "Herd of Elephants" in Living Room--Issue of Homosexuality and Pastoral Care of Gay People

There's considerable discussion at various news sites right now of a lecture that former Irish President Mary McAleese gave to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in December. McAleese was invited by the Royal Society to present its MacCormick European Lecture 2013. The Royal Society has helpfully uploaded part of the lecture to YouTube, and you'll find the YouTube clip at the head of this posting.

Commentary about and reports on McAleese's lecture may be found at The Tablet (Helen Pye), the Newstalk website (Jack Quann), The Journal (Dublin), and The Herald Scotland (Edinburgh)inter alia. As a number of these sources note, in her lecture, Mary McAleese says that for decades now the question of homosexuality and the church's approach to those who are gay have been "not so much the elephant in the room but a herd of elephants."

She maintains that the previous pope, Benedict, compounded the problem of finding a realistic, pastorally sensitive approach to gay people within the Catholic tradition by his fateful application of the term "disorder" to those who are gay:

Things written by Benedict, for example, were completely contradictory to modern science and to modern understanding, and to the understanding of most Catholics nowadays in relation to homosexuality. Nowadays, it is not something that is perceived as something that is intrinsically disordered. Homosexual conduct is not seen as evil.

And she stated bluntly,

I don't like my Church's attitude to gay people. I don't like '"ove the sinner, hate the sin." If you are the so-called sinner, who likes to be called that? We also know that within the priesthood a very large number of priests are gay.

McAleese also called on disgraced Scottish cardinal Keith O'Brien, who resigned after it became known that he had engaged in inappropriate sexual activity with men, to speak publicly about his struggle with sexuality. She notes that this could do a world of good, especially since O'Brien was known prior to his resignation as one of the most vociferously outspoken Catholic prelates in the British Isles when the question of gay rights was under consideration.

As Jack Quann reports for Newstalk, Father Tony Flannery of the Association of Irish Priests has stated that he welcomes McAleese's attempt to provoke public discussion of this particular herd of elephants in the Catholic living room. Flannery echoes McAleese's critique of the damage done by Pope Emeritus Benedict's application of the term "disordered" to gay human beings.

And a not-unrelated piece of news: the Ekklesia UK website has published a letter sent by the LGBT Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council to Ms. Elizabeth Davies, Marriage and Family Life Project Officer at the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, in December 2013. This document, which is a contribution to the process for which Pope Francis has called in preparation for the upcoming Synod on the Family, in which lay Catholics are invited to present their views on issues ranging from abortion to contraception to same-sex marriage to the Vatican.

The letter sent to Elizabeth Davies notes that LGBT Catholics in the UK "feel largely invisible and unrecognised at best, or at worst . . . excluded," when there are dedicated pastoral ministries set up by the church to all kinds of groups living on the margins of church and society, but none for LGBT Catholics. And there's this:

The Church teaching on LGBT Catholics with the use of terms such as "objectively disordered" together with a widespread lack of pastoral care has made many LGBT Catholics feel deeply unwelcome in the Catholic church in which they were brought up and leads in many cases to feelings of deep distress.

As the letter also notes, the only way to address these deep concerns in any effective way is by open dialogue. It strikes me as 2014 begins, however, that it's precisely the call for open dialogue about these issues that is the sticking point for a certain group of Catholics who have made the vilification and exclusion of gay folks a badge of Catholic identity, and who will apparently do anything in their power to shut this conversation down. To do anything in their power in the name of Jesus, it goes without saying . . . .

(I'm grateful to Dennis Coday in his "Morning Briefing" column at NCR for several of the links I've included above.)

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