Earlier this week, we posted about the marriage equality debate happening now in Ireland, and the role of Catholic bishops and laity on both sides of the issue. Today we will look at some other Catholic LGBT issues in both the Republic of Ireland and the six counties which comprise Northern Ireland. These issues include marriage benefits, adoption, religious liberty, and gay priests.
In the heavily Catholic Republic of Ireland, where the marriage equality debate is occurring, Bishop Kevin Doran of the diocese of Elphin, a strong advocate against marriage equality has also spoken in opposition to lesbian and gay couples adopting children. In a talk in the city of Roscommon, Doran spoke about the importance of procreation in marriage and the idea of complementarity of the the sexes being important for child-rearing.
But Doran did make some concessions. Gay Star News reported:
“Although slamming gay marriage and adoption, Doran did say that the state should ensure gay couples in committed relationships should have inheritance and visiting rights in the event of illness or death. He also said that the church, ‘condemns without reservation words or actions which are intended to injure, ridicule or undermine homosexual people.’ “
Catholic opposition to adoption by gay and lesbian couples was also in the spotlight in the more Protestant Northern Ireland, where the Catholic bishops have chosen to sever ties with an adoption agency which has agreed to let such couples adopt. Gay Star News provided details:
“The agency in question is The Family Care Society NI. The agency was originally founded by the Church and has offices in Belfast.
“Adoption laws were changed in Northern Ireland in 2012 to allow same-sex couples to adopt. . . .
“In a statement. . ., the Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland said, ‘It is unreasonable for legislators to oblige faith-based organizations to act against their fundamental and reasonable religious beliefs in the provision of services that contribute to the common good.
” ‘As a result the Family Care Society is now legally obliged to receive and process applications in accordance with the new and wider interpretation of adoption law established by the High Court decision.
” ‘Since the provision of adoption services in Northern Ireland now also involves acting against the Church’s teaching and ethos, we too have no option but to end the long established relationship between the Church and The Family Care Society NI.’ “
It is curious that when discussing adoption and Catholic teaching, these bishops only focus on the sexual relationship of the couple, and not the importance of a child being raised in a loving household.
In a related story, Paul Givan, a politician with the heavily Protestant Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, has called for “reasonable accommodation” for religious conscience as part of his Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill which he is proposing. The bill was in response to a case in which a Christian baker refused to make a cake of the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie, with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” and including the logo of Queerspace, an LGBTQ organization in Belfast.
The Irish nation has also had an inside view into the lives of some of its gay priests through the publication of a sociological study of priesthood by former seminarian Dr. John Weafer.
Entitled Thirty-Three Good Men: Celibacy, Obedience and Identity, the book examines the lives of a sampling of priests in the context of a variety of their life struggles. The parts about gay priests have been receiving the most press attention. The Huffington Post report on the book discussed one gay priest, known as Fr. L, who went on to have a sexual relationship with another priest:
“Fr L went on to discover a ‘clerical gay scene in Ireland,’ saying he believed there were ‘quite a lot of gay guys in the priesthood’ and during one visit to a gay bar in Dublin recognized at least nine priests in the venue.
“Weafer said he did not believe the church hierarchy would be surprised to read these revelations.
” ‘There is a support group for gay priests in Ireland and one respondent said a number of bishops had been invited and met with them in an informal setting,’ Weafer told The Huffington Post over the phone.”
In a story about the book in The Belfast Telegraph, the author noted the difficult situation gay priests live in:
“He believes that there are ‘quite a lot of gay guys in the priesthood’ and on one occasion when he went into a gay bar in Dublin, he recognised at least nine priests in the bar. . . .
” ‘As long as priests don’t go public and don’t flaunt those actions that don’t correspond with being a celibate priest’ they turn a blind eye, he claimed. . . .
“According to Dr Weafer: ‘If a priest was to say in the morning “I am gay,” he would be fired. Priests have learned to keep their heads down.’ “
Given the marriage equality debate and these other controversies which have emerged, Ireland, north and south, seems poised for some lively national dialogues about LGBT people and religion. One news story noted that at least 20,000 students in Ireland have registered to vote to participate in the marriage equality referendum in the spring. Irish celebrities such as actor Colin Farrell have also become involved in the discussion, making public statements in support of marriage equality.
It would be wonderful if the bishops would relax their defensive posture somewhat and listen to the stories of LGBT people, even their own gay priests. They would learn so much about life, love, and faith.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
The Independent: “Bishop supports inheritance rights for gay couples”