An Irish legislator has affirmed a place for openly gay priests in the Catholic Church, comments made as discussion continues about an unhealthy sexual atmosphere at the country’s national seminary.
St. Patrick’s College Maynooth is in the spotlight after Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin decided to withdraw the archdiocese’s seminarians from the school. As Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday, he cited as his reasons an alleged “gay culture” and questioned whether the seminary was a “good place for students.”
This archbishop’s decision has elicited many responses, including that of Irish Senator Jerry Buttimer who, according to the Evening Echo, said he was unsurprised that gay men would be in formation for the priesthood
Buttimer, an openly gay Fine Gael legislator from Cork and a faithful Catholic, said church leaders should welcome this reality rather than regard it as a problem. He said the church has failed to respect people of all sexual identities, and Archbishop Martin’s decision “exposed the hypocrisy of the Church around its teachings on sexuality, celibacy and attitude towards gay people.” This case highlights for the senator “the need for the Irish hierarchy to embrace LGBT people of faith and make them part of our church,” adding:
” ‘Many of these [LGBT] people are already making a huge contribution in parishes across Cork. The Church is nothing without its people, all of its people. Many of us pray for a Church that is inclusive, welcoming, accepting, open and transparent. We are fortunate that in many parishes across Cork and around the country a vibrancy does exists and liturgies are participative, led by good men. However, unfortunately, we could do a lot better.’ “
Buttimer studied at Maynooth for five years, and spoke highly of his time there which left a “lasting impression” upon him, saying he never regretted studying there. But he continued:
” ‘I disagreed with them at times about issues surrounding formation and teachings of the Church, but I still believe today that they were, in the main, interested in developing and educating young men to be good priests. As a person of faith, I pray and yearn that my Church and its leaders would move to be more progressive, open and transparent around the teaching on sexuality.’ “
“There is absolutely no reason why a gay man should not be a priest, but if a particular profession is attracting a far higher percentage than is present in the general population, then questions need to be asked about the nature of the profession. . .what type of priest is needed in today’s world, and what type of spiritual and theological formation should they be given?
“I believe that the present malaise has much deeper roots. The solution would have to involve a radical revision of our understanding of ministry and the requirements necessary to become a priest. So, rather than just tinkering around with Maynooth, the Catholic Church needs to initiate a process of discussion at all levels to discern what type of ministry is best suited for the Church of the future.”
Flannery said beyond affirming gay men in the priesthood, the church must critically examine the issues of women in ministry, clericalism, and Roman interventionism.
Fr. Brendan Hoban, himself a member of ACP, said Martin’s decision amounted to “moving deck chairs on the Titanic” because the larger question behind the Maynooth happenings is the crisis of priestly vocations. He told The Irish Times:
” ‘[In seminary] you are always going to have a mixture of gay and heterosexual candidates, that has always been the case, and there will be – from time to time, incidents that people would prefer didn’t happen. But they do happen, human nature being what it is.’ “
Hoban said despite allegations, “there doesn’t seem to be anything substantially proven.” ACP’s statement defended Maynooth, and claimed criticisms were coming from disgruntled former students, traditionalist Catholics, and “right-wing commentators who are unhappy with the focus on the theology of the Second Vatican Council and suspicious of modern psychological and other insights.”
Several commentators have also said that homosexuality is, perhaps unfortunately, a feint to hide the real and much larger problems at Maynooth and beyond. Irish Times columnist Una Mullally said hypocrisy was the real scandal in this incident, writing:
“The immature, archaic and coded language clergy members and others have used to describe the Maynooth story – ‘gay subculture’ ‘strange goings on’ ‘quarrelsome’ ‘not the healthiest place’ – belongs in the past, and compounds homosexuality as something to joke about or be scandalised by. Across social media, the temptation for crass jokes and wink-wink-nudge-nudge comments was too much for many. Unfortunately, all this does is re-enforce an attitude towards homosexuality that is crude and childish. . .
“The church still views homosexuality as a ‘problem’, inside and out of its organisation. But the real scandal at Maynooth isn’t about gay priests. Of course there are gay priests. Tonnes of them. The real scandal is the church’s addiction to secrecy, arrogance, and its hierarchy of hypocrisy.”
Colum Kenny, also writing in the Irish Times, said the Maynooth controversy has nothing to do with sex or theology at all. Ireland’s hierarchy has again proven itself not to be credible, Kenny said, and so the Irish church must use this opportunity to renew itself:
“It is a question of the spirit, a challenge to be converted to a new order of witness and theology – one that can help Irish people of Catholic background who have rejected outdated dogma and practice as empty forms to live spiritually in the modern world.”
Allegations of sexual relationships, harassment, and mishandling at Ireland’s national seminary will assuredly keep provoking conversations. Archbishop Martin’s decision to withdraw his seminarians remains controversial. This incident is immensely painful for an Irish church already in crisis and surely so for the seminarians and staff of Maynooth.
The responses to this case show the necessity and the increasing willingness of many Catholics to have extremely hard conversations about ministry, sexuality, ecclesial power, and the intersection of these issues. If done well, this moment of pain and scandal could lead to a time of renewal and flourishing.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry