Church reformers in Ireland recently met in advance of the World Meeting of Families (WMF) to discuss marriage and family issues. At the meeting, a prominent gay Catholic called for full sacramental marriage equality.
Catholics of diverse family backgrounds joined together for the conference, entitled “Future Families: Challenges for Faith and Society.” The meeting was sponsored by the Association of Catholics in Ireland (ACI), a lay reform organization. The purpose was to “examine the realities of family life, particularly for those who feel abandoned by or alienated from the Church because of their circumstances.” A report from the conference is being sent to Pope Francis and WMF organizers.
Ursula Halligan, a gay Catholic who formerly covered politics for Ireland’s TV3, addressed the conference. She called for the institutional Church to allow same-gender sacramental marriages, explaining to The Independent:
“As a gay person, I don’t want pastoral care from the Church. Pastoral care only brings comfort to the Church. . .I reject the Church’s teaching that gay people are ‘objectively disordered’ and that our love is ‘intrinsically evil’. . .
“‘As a woman and a gay person, I’m not putting up with it any longer. I’m not sitting at the back of the bus any more. The institutional Church has to change on this. . .[Church teaching on homosexuality is] deeply insulting and offensive, not only to the dignity of every gay person, but it is deeply insulting to God whose image and likeness we are made in.’
“‘I believe my love is as good as anyone else’s love and as a Catholic I’m looking for full sacramental marriage for same-sex couples.'”
Halligan also commented specifically on the World Meeting of Families, saying it was “disturbing and alarming” that LGBT-related images, text, and video footage have been removed from promotional materials. She asked, “What preparations are under way to ensure at least one of these families [of five who will give witness at WMF] will be a family headed by a same-sex couple?”
Denis O’Brien, vice-president of the National Youth Council of Ireland, cautioned the “Future Families” audience about the impact problematic church teachings are having among younger Catholics. The Irish Times quoted him as saying:
“‘Young people these days…tend not to follow rules that they don’t see as valid or sensible. . .For the current youth generation, much of the church’s teaching in areas related to sexuality and reproduction is irrelevant and barely rouses their curiosity. . .Depending on your perspective it could be said that this generation, and perhaps the current generation of young parents, has either escaped the control of the church in this area or has been lost to it.’ . . .
“‘Shutting down discussion, seeking to promote rules that do not seem to make sense and focusing on whether or not something is sinful will drive young people away.'”
Additionally, Irene Graham, the mother of a gay son, asked:
“‘When will the church say that our sexuality is part of who we are?. . .We want to know when we are going to normalise sexuality – when no one would be looking [at a person] and saying, oh he is gay, or she is gay?'”
Halligan is strong and unequivocal in her demand for full sacramental equality. These words likely find resonance in many Catholics, especially those young ones about whom O’Brien spoke. Tolerance for extremely slow change and piecemeal inclusion is waning in younger generations who feel little obligation to remain engaged in an institutional Church that fails to respect LGBT people and to recognize the love they share as good.
Another path is possible, however, and ACI has provided a model. The World Meeting of Families provides an opportunity for similar honest reflection on the realities of family life today and the problematic ways by which they are addressed by church leaders. But if it is going to be truly honest and open reflection, the conversation needs to move beyond simple inclusion. Prophetic calls like Ursula Halligan’s need to be allowed to be voiced and seriously engaged as she points the way forward for the Church that is to come.
For Bondings 2.0’s ongoing coverage of the 2018 World Meeting of Families, click here or click the “World Meeting of Families” category on the right hand side of this page.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 23, 2018