An Irish Catholic Church reform organization has launched a global petition asking top Church leaders in that country to help change the way Catholic teaching refers to LGBTQI people.
We Are Church Ireland announced the petition last week. It already has gained nearly 1,800 signatures. The petition opposed the use of terms like “intrinsically evil” and “objectively disordered” in church teaching, and appealed to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin and papal nuncio Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo to facilitate such change. The petition read, in part:
“Pope Francis has said about gay people, ‘Who am I to judge?’ But the Catholic Catechism still refers to LGBTQI as ‘objectively disordered.’ Would Jesus use these words? Pope Francis is to visit Ireland 25-26 August 2018 and we are calling on him to change church LGBTQI language.”
[You can read the entire petition and sign it by clicking here.]
Brendan Butler, a spokesperson for We Are Church Ireland, described Church leaders’ language about LGBTQI people as “un-Christian” and “not alone scandalous but blasphemous.” He told the National Catholic Reporter:
“‘It [the Church] needs leadership from the top while we’re pushing from the bottom. . .Pope Francis has asked people to bring the ideas to him, so that is what we are trying to do. I know he is under pressure, but at the end of the day he has to leave his mark on the church and he has to show leadership too and give direction by saying that this kind of language should no longer be used in connection with any gay person.'”
Prominent Irish voices have joined We Are Church Ireland’s call for reform. Pádraig Ó Tuama, a gay Catholic who leads the Corrymeela community of reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, and Ursula Halligan, a lesbian Catholic and political journalist, joined Irish Senator David Norris in releasing a joint statement about their support for the petition:
“We feel it is imperative for us to boldly speak out against Catholic Church officials’ continued insistence on calling the LGBTQI community [objectively disordered[. . .The Catholic Church’s formal language to describe our LGBTQI sisters and brothers makes the institutional Church complicit in the marginalisation of LGBTQI people. Under the guise of religion and faith, the Church models intolerance, breeds prejudices, and attempts to justify discrimination. We call on the Church to formally change its language about the countless LGBTQI people whose lives benefit the church and who are impacted by such diminishing language.”
Ó Tuama said in addition, “As a gay Catholic, I do not recognise myself in the language used about me in the church’s documents or teachings. . .The church would be more faithful to its witness to use language that builds bridges rather than diminishes dignity.”
Halligan said she “felt physically sick” when first reading the Catechism on homosexuality. She added:
“‘I felt diminished and wounded as a person. Deep in my heart I knew God didn’t see me like that and it made me wonder why the Catholic Church did? . . . Abuse isn’t just a physical thing. Words, used negatively, can be equally abusive. If school yard bullies used the language of the Catholic Church, they’d be disciplined, sent home or away on a rehabilitation program.'”
Such civil penalties would also be true for secular institutions using church language. Halligan criticized church leaders, saying “the hierarchical church needs to wash its mouth out before speaking about LGBTQI people,” but also called for Pope Francis to convene a meeting of LGBTQI Catholics from around the world:
“‘I am confident that out of such dialogue the seeds of a new theology on human sexuality will emerge; one based on flesh and blood human persons and not on the theoretical abstractions of a tiny elite in the church.'”
Finally, the petition cited two church leaders, Mumbai’s Cardinal Oswald Gracias and Manila’s Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, who have called on the Church to shift its language to be less judgmental and condemnatory.
The petition comes two months before the 2018 World Meeting of Families is set to begin in Dublin. LGBT-related controversies have repeatedly caused questions to be raised about whether the event will be truly inclusive, and prompted calls for inclusion from many Irish voices, including Ursula Halligan. The recent decision to invite Fr. James Martin, SJ, to do a workshop on LGBT-welcoming parishes is a positive sign. To read a full account of the controversies about 2018 World Meeting of Families, click here.
The petition appears at an interesting moment for the Church, as voices worldwide become louder for more just language and because of Pope Francis’ words to a gay Catholic, “God made you like this.” There is an irreconcilable dissonance between believing a person is both “intrinsically disordered” and created by God as LGBT. It is due time for linguistic justice from church leaders, and the World Meeting of Families provides a key moment for such reconciliation to occur. The question that remains unanswered is are the archbishops listening?
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 15, 2018