In five days, some 37,000 people will gather to begin the 2018 World Meeting of Families (WMF), and it seems that LGBT issues surrounding the event are still making news.
Fr. James Martin Faces Backlash for LGBT Workshop
Fr. James Martin, S.J., said he received “oceans of hate and threats” based in part on his workshop at WMF that will focus on LGBT issues in the family. The Jesuit priest said he was “not bothered” by protests because “these protestors are not only on the wrong side of history, they’re on the wrong side of the Gospel.” He commented on WMF itself, reported The Independent:
“Fr Martin said that his invitation to speak at Papal’s event is a ‘clear indication’ of support to LGBT Catholics from the Vatican: ‘I’m very grateful to the Vatican for inviting me, and even more grateful that they are reaching out to LGBT people in this way.
“‘It’s a clear signal from the Vatican to Catholics worldwide that LGBT Catholics are as much a part of the church as the Pope, as their local bishop or their parish priest. LGBT people are part of our families and they’re part of our church.'”
Martin authored Building a Bridge on LGBT issues in the Church, which was endorsed by several ranking Church leaders and pastoral ministers.
LGBT Reformers Will Not Protest Papal Visit, But Will Welcome Pope with Umbrella Messages
Despite being denied space at WMF, activists with We Are Church Ireland have confirmed it will not be protesting Pope Francis’ visit at the end of the Meeting. Brendan Butler, a spokesperson for the organization, explained to The Journal that being rejected was “a sort of dilemma for us” because members had hoped to interact with attendees from around the world:
“‘Here was an opportunity of being inside the RDS [Royal Dublin Society, the venue for the WMF] and getting all our ideas across, so we didn’t pursue anything outside of that. Some of our members are going to the Mass, more are not, most just feel very indifferent to it at this point. . .We feel that we should stay within the organisation and reform it from within, because we have a right to do that. It’s like any organisation, you can either walk away from it or if you feel it’s valuable most people stay in.'”
We Are Church Ireland has been denied exhibitor space at WMF because, organizers explained, the organization is not officially recognized by the institutional Church.
The group will be hosting a welcome to Pope Francis on Dublin’s Halfpenny Bridge at 9.30am on Saturday 25th of August 2018. They will stand in support of women’s ordination and LGBT equality by displaying 25 purple umbrellas with “Women Priests” printed on them and 25 rainbow umbrellas.
Rejection of Catholic LGBT Organization Confirmed; Mystery About Why Others Were Invited
As Bondings 2.0 reported two weeks ago, the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics announced that the WMF never responded to the group’s application for an exhibit space at the event. Last week, however, a week after the announcement, the GNRC received an email from the event organizers denying their application. The Guardian reported:
“The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, which represents 60 organisations, has been told that ‘logistical considerations’ and uncertainty regarding the amount of space available mean that it has not been allocated a booth in the gathering’s exhibition hall. . . .
“Ruby Almeida, a co-chair of the GNRC, said she was saddened and frustrated by the decision. ‘I think it’s the usual thing that goes on – the church publicly says it’s welcoming [to LGBT people and organisations] but pressure is brought to bear on the organisers. We wanted to be able to go and say this is who we are, let’s have a conversation.’. . .
“According to the GNRC, Paul McCann, the exhibition coordinator for WMF, said the application had been unsuccessful because of ‘uncertainties over the amount of space we will have available for exhibitions because of other logistical considerations.’ “
However, We Are Church Ireland, a Catholic reform organization, issued a press statement saying that an anonymous whistleblower who works for the WMF orgranization, sent them a copy of an email sent out by McCann “towards the end of July to selected groups and prison chaplains offering them free exhibition stands at the RDS from 22-25th August.” Both GNRC and We Are Church Ireland had applied for their booths before the application deadline in April. The We Are Church Ireland press release stated:
“This whistleblower felt, as many people did, that we were treated with great disrespect by WMoF and felt obliged in conscience to publicly expose how the WMoF were offering free exhibition stands while at the same time deliberately ignoring our paid application for such an exhibition stand.
” ‘The double standards being used by the WMoF are now exposed by this latest revelation. Its theme that “All are welcome” is a contradiction and is just a public relations slogan” stated Brendan Butler.
Irish Politicians Critical of Pope Francis on LGBT Rights
Ireland’s taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said he was “really glad” Pope Francis would be visiting the country while promising to raise critical issues. Varadkar, who is gay and partnered, said he would tell that pope that “our view as a society and as a government that families come in all sorts of different forms and that includes families led by same-sex parents.” The Irish Times also reported that the taoiseach expressed his support for survivors of clergy sexual abuse and women’s ordination.
Katherine Zappone, Ireland’s Minister for Children and Youth Affairs who is also a married lesbian, expressed hopes she would meet Francis during his visit. The pope claimed earlier this year only heterosexual couples could form a family. Zappone rejected this idea, saying WMF could instead be a moment for inclusion, according to The Irish Times:
“The minister, who has a degree in theology, conceded that Pope Francis had a partial ‘new vision’ for the church. ‘I must say that he is not as strong as challenging the doctrine of the church, let’s say in relation to homosexuality or other matters,’ Ms Zappone said. ‘[The papal visit] is an opportunity for him to join us as we claim that LGBT people have families and that we are family. We want to stand proud in support of the ways in which our families can contribute to Irish society and the greater common good.'”
Preparations leading up to WMF 2018 have been marred by LGBT-related controversies despite organizers’ claims that the event is inclusive. In addition to prohibitions against We Are Church Ireland, exhibiting space was denied to the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics. There have been disputes among musical artists over same-gender marriage support. Text and images associated with LGBT people were removed from WMF preparatory materials. A bishop was censored in a video for acknowledging LGBT families’ existence.
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, Leo Varadkar, Katherine Zappone, the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland, the lay-led Association of Catholics in Ireland, along with previous statements by We Are Church Ireland.
With just five days left, there is perhaps little preparatory or public relations work to counter these negative happenings. But there is still time for action to show Catholic leaders really do want LGBT people and their families welcomed in the Church. For instance, a same-gender couple could be featured on the Humans of the World Meeting of Families Facebook page, prominent and openly LGBT people could be tapped as liturgical ministers, and Pope Francis could offer positive words about or even a meeting with LGBT families at some point during his visit. Such symbolic actions would be powerful counters to the record of exclusion now marking WMF. It will be very much a lost opportunity should organizers not take such further steps.
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, August 16, 2018