A marriage counseling program run by Ireland’s bishops will now provide services to same-gender couples.
The service, known as Accord Catholic Marriage Care Service CLG, had previously not welcomed same-gender couples, given it is supported by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. But changes in how the Irish government funds counseling programs has prompted Accord to make its policies LGBT-inclusive.
Earlier this year, the Irish government said public funding would no longer be provided to agencies whose services are not “free from discrimination and accessible to everyone.” This mandate prompted questions of how Accord would respond, given it receives a significant amount of public funding. The Times reported:
“Tusla, the [government] child and family agency, is making €408,000 available for the organisation’s marriage counselling courses in Dublin and a further €1,184,500 for its services nationwide.
“Accord regularly receives the most public funding awarded to any single counselling service in any one year. Accord had previously claimed that it was not contravening equality and discrimination laws. The Irish Catholic Bishops declined to comment on the change.”
But a Tusla spokesperson explained that Accord agreed to “provide counselling services regardless of sexual orientation” and will be monitored for compliance. If Accord is found by the government to have discriminated, the counseling service could lose funding or its license.
This policy changes means Accord can now help same-gender couples to navigate the complexities of relationships in the same way it has for mixed-gender ones. Such a path is a win for not only civil rights, but for the vibrancy of marriage and family life. Building these up is a most Catholic end.
It is also a welcome move that the Irish bishops did not mount opposition to the government’s new non-discrimination mandate. In the U.S., as more public funding has come with protections for LGBT people, some Catholic agencies have chosen to close programs rather than provide services to same-gender couples. More than most church leaders, Ireland’s bishops seem to recognize how little credibility and authority they have in the public square, even among Catholics. Ideally, they would endorse supports for LGBT families, but for now silence itself is a victory.
Accord’s decision to provide services for LGBT clients is the right decision. Hopefully, more Catholic organizations that provide counseling and other social services globally will look to Accord’s policy as the path forward in a world where marriage equality is increasingly reality.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 30, 2018