The Times reported:
“The government is threatening to withdraw millions of euros of public funding unless the counselling services agree to change their longstanding policy of excluding same-sex couples from their services on religious grounds. It means that groups such as Accord [the Irish bishops’ counseling service] could be facing closure having already had their funding cut by more than 40 per cent three years ago.
“At the moment, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs is paying at least €1.6 million (euro) to religious counselling groups that have policies of refusing homosexual couples for marriage or relationship counselling. The agencies are funded by Tusla [the government child care agency], which is the responsibility of Katherine Zappone, the minister for children.”
Since 2013, Accord has been telling gay and lesbian couples to seek counseling elsewhere. In a statement, Tusla explained why it was now requiring that organizations which receive government funds must serve all:
“Tusla recognises the need to have all counselling service providers in the community and voluntary sector operating from the same service level agreement, and the importance of public funded services operating services which are accessible to everyone. This is why Tusla advocated for the inclusion of this requirement in the 2018 service level agreement, to ensure that service providers who receive public money to deliver services abide by Ireland’s equality legislation.”
Fintan Warfield, a senator, expressed support for the new policy and criticism of religious groups which refuse service to gay and lesbian people, saying:
“It is wrong for public monies to be channelled at organisations who fail to serve all sections of our society. Why would the state identify an organisation and task them with resolving relationship difficulties when that organisation fails to embrace the diverse realities of family life in Ireland, including LGBT relationships? Such public funding of religious counselling services should be stopped.”
I agree that religious groups which do not want to provide services to all those who have been legally deemed to qualify for them. It would be unjust and dishonest for them to accept such money if they are not going to honor the principles of those providing it. It’s also simply another sign that Catholic leaders want to continue to pretend that marriage equality does not exist. But I think the Catholic agency should offer services to lesbian and gay couples for another reason: it’s the right thing to do.
It is not an infringement on the hierarchy’s views about marriage to provide counseling to people in need. Counseling will help people to better love one another and support one another. It will help families become stronger and can help them stay together, or possibly help them decide that, for the good of those involved, must dissolve. Counseling does not require approval of everything about a client’s life, so there should be no conflict for even the most orthodox Catholic counselor or agency to assist lesbian and gay couples.
I am confident that plenty of the heterosexual couples who seek service from Accord are not living up to the church’s teaching in all areas, including with regard to sexuality, yet they are not being denied service. What kind of church will we become if we start providing works of mercy only to those that we deem worthy to receive them?
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 5, 2018
The Catholic Herald: “Irish government threatens Catholic marriage agency over gay couples”