The former president of Ireland, a Catholic theologian, and LGBT advocates have all expressed worries that LGBT people might be shut out of the World Meeting of Families (WMF) this summer.
Dr. Mary McAleese spoke after news broke that a photo of a same-gender couple and a reference to pastoral support for irregular unions had been removed from a WMF promotional booklet. Bondings 2.0 covered those changes two days ago, including New Ways Ministry’s response to them.
McAleese acknowledged that the WMF had been exclusive of LGBT families in the past, noting the “traumatising hostility” some LGBT families experienced at the 2015 Meeting in Philadelphia. But, The Tablet reported:
“Dr McAleese said Ireland had a unique opportunity as host of the World Meeting of Families 2018 to make it ‘a fully inclusive and welcoming event for all God’s children and in particular those whom the Church has in the past contributed to marginalising and excluding’.
“She added that the “inclusive, respectful and reconciling vision for the Irish event so well-articulated by Bishop Brendan Leahy is exactly what the Irish Catholic Church needs and is hopefully capable of showcasing on the historic visit of Pope Francis, author of the event’s core theme, the joy of love.'”
McAleese, a Catholic who is the parent of a gay son, has been a vocal advocate of marriage equality. In 2015, she said that Church teaching on homosexuality was wrong and that the Church’s language about lesbian and gay people is conducive for homophobia.
The welcome McAleese seeks at WMF 2018 will not happen until actions like the removal of LGBT families from the promotional booklet end, said Irish theologian and writer Angela Hanley:
“‘How can LGBT families feel welcome when the very images of their existence are expunged from the literature as if they somehow contaminate it. If you cannot be visible, can you be counted?. . .Sadly, this action is only one more example of how a Church that claims to be “pro-life” is only “pro” a certain type of life that fits a particular set of parameters.'”
Hanley said the decision to remove the photos and text lacked courage against right-wing critics and was “yet another chance lost.”
Maria Molly who chairs the the AMACH! LGBT Galway group in Ireland said the exclusion of many types of families considered irregular “only serves to further alienate many in their church” and was “a negative message and big loss” for the Church.
Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director of DignityUSA, said in a statement:
“It was exciting to see images that reflected our families in the early materials. Having them deliberately deleted and replaced with photos deemed more ‘acceptable’ is really hurtful. It feels like the welcome mat has been rolled up and put away—at least for us. It’s hard to imagine Jesus being this unwelcoming.”
The removal of LGBT families from the promotional booklet is troubling. Organizers should at a minimum disclose their reasons for the changes, and if not reverse them, they need to add explicit references or images of welcome to LGBT people. Despite their claims that all are welcome, their actions so far do not seem to match this sentiment. The concerns McAleese and others raise are real. But the focus now should be not only be on what has gone wrong, but the potential for what can be: a World Meeting of Families where all are truly and gladly welcomed.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 2, 2018