Greetings from Ireland and the World Meeting of Families! The fair city of Dublin is abuzz not only about the World Meeting of Families (WMF) and LGBT issues, but the sexual abuse crisis which came to the world’s attention again in the last few weeks with the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury’s report and the news about abuse by then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Two U.S. cardinals, Donald Wuerl and Sean O’Malley, have backed down from speaking at the WMF because of reports of abuse in dioceses which they had or have leadership.
LGBT issues however are still in the spotlight here. On Monday, on the eve of the opening of the WMF, the Wijngaards Institute, a Catholic think tank based in London, launched their new research project, an interdisciplinary study of the church’s teaching on LGBT issues. If the Wijngaards’ most recent past project, a study of contraception, is any barometer, the study on LGBT issues may become a powerful tool to help promote change in church teaching on gender and sexuality.
The launch of the project received great media attention here in Dublin because the star speaker was Mary McAleese, the former president of Ireland, mother of a gay son, and doctoral candidate in canon law. McAleese has been outspoken in her criticism of church teaching, and her words on Monday night rang with the power, wisdom, and authority of seasoned leadership, maternal love, a deep Catholic faith, and insightful academic wisdom.
Speaking of the Wijngaards’ new research project, McAleese said:
“I am hoping the project will advance an intelligent and scholarly debate about the warped, damaging, unchristian, unscientific, fake gender ideology which currently underpins Catholic teaching on LGBTI issues.”
She also commented that the church’s teaching “does conduce to homophobia.”
Dr Luca Badini Confaloniere, the director of research at Wijngaards, said that the church’s arguments on LGBT issues are “much less impressive and much weaker” than some might think He added that “anyone who has the experience f being in a relationship knows their argument is weak.” The study will examine these teachings from relevant experts from a variety of disciplines including theology, scripture study, bioethics, evolutionary biology, sociology, and psychology.
Of particular significance is that the study will also be soliciting input from average LGBT Catholics to share their experiences. Researchers will distribute surveys and conduct selected interviews. (New Ways Ministry will provide information about the surveys when it becomes available.)
Also speaking at the press conference was Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, who told about the experience of her own marriage to a woman and their adoption of two daughters. The Duddy-Burke family will be at the WMF, and Marianne explained that she felt it was important for rainbow families to be there “because when we are present at church events, we are ‘us,’ not ‘them,’ and our church is ‘us,’ not ‘them.’ ”
Jamie Manson of the National Catholic Reporter spoke at the press conference and also at a panel event later that evening sponsored by Wijngaards which examined a variety of controversial church issues, including LGBT topic. At that latter event, Manson spoke about Pope Francis’ call for mercy for peoople, commenting that if she had the opportunity to speak with the pope, she would tell him: “It’s you who need LGBT persons’ mercy” because of the church’s involvement in “ending our livelihoods, breaking up our families, not speaking up when we are beaten.” The LGBT community needs justice from the church, not mercy, she added.
McAleese stressed the importance of challenging church teaching because the reach of the church, with its enormous global influence and educational systems, is so great on even those who are not Catholic. She was particularly concerned that the Church reach young people “healthily and wholesomely, and not subject them to information that will damage them.” She noted the “significantly higher” rates of self-harm, suicide, and depression among LGBT youth. ” Referring to the new research project, she said that “questions need to be asked if the tragic consequences of church teaching is to be reversed.”
McAleese will soon defend her doctoral dissertation at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, where she researched the topic of children and canon law.
In answer to a question about gay priests being blamed for the clergy sex abuse crisis, McAleese said that she thought such an explanation was “an appalling betrayal of children to to look for easy, trite answers that simply flatter the Church’s teaching.”
Ireland’s Journal newspaper captured her further comments son this topic:
“A phenomenon that I have found very commonly are what I call the ‘fake hetero homophobes’ within the clergy, who live double lives as gay men and women, but who [wear a veil] that is really stridently homophobic.
“And I find them terrifying. Many of them are young priests who are going to be the very pastors who I as a mother might have taken my son to, for example, for help.
“And when I think of the damage that they can cause, they themselves are very damaged human beings.”
She added that the Catholic Church is currently at a “tipping point” on LGBT issues, and that this moment of opportunity that church leaders currently have to do some good or not “will determine if the church collapses.”
Crux reported further comments from McAleese comparing LGBT issues to the way that Catholic officials have handled the clergy sex abuse crisis:
“The time has come to hold clergy and the Church’s hierarchy accountable, she added, considering the many cases where they exercised their power to harm children and vulnerable adults. According to the former president, the sexual abuse crisis is one side of the issue but it’s also time for the Church to address the psychological damage of many in the LGBT community.
” ‘We now need to address the mental and emotional torture of children, which we may have overlooked, in the same way we need to address the sexual abuse in the Church,’ she said.
“Francis’s famous ‘Who am I to judge?’ quote’s reference to homosexuality symbolized promise for change, McAleese said. ‘The problem is that his Church judges, and its teaching is judgmental,’ she added.
” ‘We who have lived with the hurt and pain [of the LGBT community] for too long know its source and know that it has not been Christ.’ “
And she added her hope for eventual change:
” ‘In very recent weeks the pope who said he would not touch doctrine indeed reversed centuries of Church teaching on capital punishment,’ she said, referring to Francis’s decision earlier this month to state the inadmissibility of the death penalty.
“That is an encouragement for those of us who also want him to change Church doctrines on other areas,”’she said. ‘The pope in changing the law on capital punishment exercised for the first time his full primatial power on the Catholic Church. I would like to see him do that a bit more.’ ” [Editor’s note: See Bondings 2.0’s opinion on the death penalty change which makes the same point about changing doctrine.]
If Monday’s Wijngaards events are any foreshadowing of the WMF, it is going to be a very exciting week here in Dublin!
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 22, 2018
National Catholic Reporter: “Ahead of World Meeting of Families, event amplifies excluded voices”