We Are Church Ireland has claimed organizers of the upcoming World Meeting of Families are discriminating against the group because of its reform-minded views, including those about LGBT equality.
We Are Church Ireland (WAC) said in a statement that it had yet to receive any reply about its application to exhibit at World Meeting of Families 2018 (WMF), which is scheduled for August 21st-25th in Dublin. The group explained in a press statement:
“WAC Ireland is disappointed by the discriminatory manner by which it has been treated by the World Meeting of Families in being refused an exhibition stand at the R.D.S. We believe it is because WAC Ireland stands for the full equality of Women and LGBTQI people and greater democracy and transparency in our Church. . .
“The lack of the most basic courtesy in dealing with our application, made in good faith, shows a serious lack of respect to WAC Ireland and is a total contradiction to the advertised ‘all are welcome’ inclusivity of the WMoF, which continues with its stealth tactics used already against gay people by erasing pictures of LGBTQI couples from its official brochure earlier this year and deleting one inclusive minute from the video of Bishop David O’Connell.”
After submitting the application and deposit to exhibit last February, WAC said it then contacted WMF organizers every two weeks to check on the application’s status and were repeatedly told it was “on hold.” The group also claimed certified letters sent to the WMF Secretary General, Fr. Tim Bartlett, and Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin were ignored. WAC spokesperson Brendan Butler commented:
“This refusal by the WMoF to engage with We Are Church Ireland and in effect to reject our application shows a closed and exclusive mentality which contradicts Pope Francis’s constant calls for dialogue in the Catholic Church.”
Ursula Halligan, a lesbian Catholic involved with WAC who previously advocated changes in church teaching’s language about homosexuality and sought full sacramental equality for LGBT people, told TheJournal.ie:
“‘We’re really disappointed because we were looking forward to taking part in the World Meeting of Families and to welcoming Pope Francis to Ireland. And we took Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at his word when he said all are welcome, he was even on Marian Finucane’s show yesterday saying the very same thing, but clearly this isn’t the case.'”
WMF spokesperson Brenda Drumm responded by saying WAC was simply “one of a number of organisations who are on a holding list,” many of whom failed to meet the criteria for exhibitors. The Irish Times reported that these criteria ask exhibitors to be “Church-approved organisations” who are “supporting family and marriage on behalf of the Irish Bishops’ Conference.” As of June 5th, WMF organizers were advertising that exhibitor spaces were still available.
For months, LGBT advocates have raised concerns about whether WMF 2018 would be truly inclusive of all families as organizers claim it will be. An invitation to Fr. James Martin, SJ, to do a workshop on LGBT-welcoming parishes was seen as a positive sign, especially after there had been news about the removal from WMF preparatory materials of text and images associated with LGBT people, as well as the censoring in a video of an Irish bishop who acknowledged LGBT families’ existence. WMF never provided explanations for these LGBT-negative acts.
Concerns have led to a chorus of Irish voices appealing for WMF to be an event that welcomes LGBT families. These voices include church reformer Fr. Tony Flannery, the former Irish president, Mary McAleese, her son Justin McAleese, who is gay, the nation’s current prime minister who is gay, Leo Varadkar (and with whom Pope Francis will meet during his visit to Ireland this August), the Irish Republic’s Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland, the lay-led Association of Catholics in Ireland, along with previous statements by WAC Ireland.
In less than one month, thousands of Catholics will gather to kick off WMF 2018. The event is a prime opportunity to realize concretely the calls for LGBT inclusion which a growing number of church leaders are making. But likewise, if LGBT families are excluded, the event could confirm suspicions that very little besides rhetoric has actually changed in the Church since the last World Meeting of Families in 2015. Welcoming We Are Church Ireland to exhibit would be a simple way to help ensure the voices of LGBT-affirming Catholics have their space, too.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 25, 2018