Ireland’s World Meeting of Families Continues to Spark LGBTQ Debate

The Vatican’s World Meeting of Families which will be held in Dublin, Ireland, in August continues to make headlines in regards to LGBTQ issues especially with Pope Francis scheduled to visit for the end of the event.

Justin McAleese

In a recent op-ed in The Irish Times, Justin McAleese, son of former president of Ireland Mary McAleese,  argues that the WMF will not be a welcoming place for LGBTQI families.   He begins by writing about his life as a married gay man living in a majority Catholic country, and how church policies don’t always match life in the field. As is in many aspects of church life, religious Sisters have been the ones to extend open arms to those at the margins. McAleese writes:

“I got married last year and our final stop on honeymoon was to a group of nuns that I’ve known for years. They didn’t mention church doctrine or conversion therapy – they just saw us as a newly married family. Over a lot of tea and buns, all they wanted to hear about was the ceremony, the dinner and dancing and to see as many photos as possible. It was Pope Francis’s exhortation Amoris Laetitia in action.”

But McAleese goes onto write that he does not feel comfortable with the current plans for the WMF:

“However, my wedding photographs have no place at the Dublin World Meeting of Families (WMoF2018). In the last three months, the organisers of the WMoF2018 have shown a staggering zero-tolerance policy towards the LGBTI+ community.”

The World Meeting of Families has previously removed any mention of LGBTQ families from its materials. Despite assurances from some bishops that all will be welcome at the WMF, Ireland’s Primate, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, recently reiterated hierarchical opposition to marriage equality. The Times of London reported his comments:

“In a speech about the church’s strategy on connecting with the public ahead of the Pope’s visit, the archbishop said that the Catholic view of marriage was one of a ‘faithful, loving relationship’ between ‘a man and a woman. There is no getting away, however, from the fact that communicating the family in this way can appear increasingly counter-cultural in many parts of the world, including Ireland.’”

Archbishop Martin extolled the values of “many types of families”, but insisted on the heterosexual model exclusively:

“It begins with our conviction that, among the many types of family that are out there, the Catholic Church’s vision of the uniqueness of a faithful and exclusive union between a married man and a woman and their children is not simply for the privacy of our homes and churches. The gospel of the family is meant for mission.”

Last month, Martin made some positive comments about heterosexually-headed families, and he also acknowledged that the Church has a difficult time to find a language to relate to LGBT people.

Leo Varadakar

The Times also reported that Ireland’s openly gay prime minister, Leo Varadkar, has spoken out for inclusion of LBTQ families at the August event:

“Leo Varadkar has said that same-sex couples should not be excluded at the World Meeting of Families, a Catholic event taking place this summer.

“ ‘We will make it known in our meetings with the organisers that in line with our commitment to personal liberty and equality before the law, the government’s view is that families in all their forms should be celebrated,’ the taoiseach said.”

Another positive development is that Pope Francis is set to meet with Varadkar when he comes to Dublin for the WMF, marking the first time a pope will be meeting with an openly gay government head.

While some have praised the move as historic, others have noted that it is traditional for the Pope to meet with the sitting Prime Minister while on a visit. Pope Francis has previously met with other LGBTQ people, including  a former student and his husband.

Ireland continues to grapple with how to be a nation that is both inherently Catholic and supportive of LGBTQ rights. While some in power might not approve, lay people on the ground and Sisters and local clergy are open and supportive of LGBTQ folks and their ability to marry. Unlike those in leaderships who are removed from ordinary situations,  these are people who understand the needs of parishioners and their families. In Ireland and elsewhere, the church would do well to listen to these voices.

Kaitlin Brown, New Ways Ministry, May 19, 2018


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  1. […] in June 30th’s Pride parade in Ireland’s capital. She will be in attendance with her son, Justin McAleese, and his husband. The Irish Independent reported on the former president’s […]

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