On Wednesday, the World Meeting of Families got underway in full swing, with a full program of workshops and presentations. An opening prayer service was held here on the WMF site on Tuesday night, at which Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin presided. On that evening, prayer services were being held simultaneously all over Ireland to mark the opening of the WMF.
In his homily, Archbishop Martin made no references to any of the controversies swirling around this meeting and the entire church right now. The closest he came was his assertion:
“There are those who would look at the World Meeting as some sort of ideological gathering to celebrate a type of family which probably does not exist. Whatever of the past, here in Dublin the World Meeting is something much more profound: it is to reflect the opening words of our reading: ‘You are God’s chosen race; he loves you.’ “
At a press conference at midday on Wednesday, Archbishop Martin was joined by several other WMF officials, including Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the head of the Vatican’s Dicastery of Laity, Family, and Life, which oversaw the WMF planning since this is a Vatican event, with the Archdiocese of Dublin serving as the local host. After they made a few opening remarks, I was able to ask a question of both prelates. I said:
“There have been many missteps in the planning of this event that have alienated LGBT people. And despite adding two program sessions on LGBT pastoral ministry, many LGBT people still feel alienated and unwelcome. What plans do you have for reconciliation with the LGBT community here in Ireland, and Cardinal Farrell, what plans do you have for reconciliation with LGBT people around the world?”
Archbishop Martin answered that the Archdiocese of Dublin has “systems of pastoral care and work with LGBT families. I’ve met some of them here today.” More generally, he added that “We don’t want to create distinctions. We want everybody to feel welcome.” He referenced one of the WMF sessions on LGBT pastoral ministry, a presentation by representatives of LGBT+Catholics Westminister, which is the diocesan outreach in London, England, focused on a parish which offers a special welcome to LGBT+ people. “We have a similar situation here in Dublin for many, many years,” Martin said. “There is dialogue.” (Martin presumably was referencing the “All Are Welcome” monthly Mass for LGBT people and allies at the Avila Center in Dublin.)
Cardinal Farrell responded by saying that it would be impossible to come up with a plan for the whole world, given the diversity of cultures, peoples, and histories. He outlined a general plan:
“It is extremely important that all Catholics understand that we are all created in the likeness and image of God. If a person has a same-sex attraction, they too are children of God, they have to be welcomed into our churches, received, and treated with respect and with dignity with all people. The fundamental message of the Gospel is the same for everybody, for all of God’s creation. That is basically the message that we wish to convey.
“We need to build bridges, we need to communicate, we need God to help us understand that we need to speak to each other, accept each other, as children of God, as creatures of God.”
Farrell’s words clearly echo Fr. James Martin’s book, Building a Bridge, not only in his metaphor, but in the need for dialogue on LGBT issues across the divide, and that the essential church teaching about LGBT people is their common human dignity. Farrell differs from Martin, however, in his reference to people “with same-sex attraction.” A major point of Martin’s book is that LGBT people should be called by the labels with which they identify, and that many lesbian and gay people find “person with same -sex attraction” an offensive term.
A different Archbishop Martin also was in the spotlight today–actually, the main spotlight. Archbishop Eamon Martin, the archbishop of Armagh and the Primate of Ireland, offered the keynote address to the WMF today. He was a last minute replacement for Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C., who backed out of the assignment last week because his administration when he was Bishop of Pittsburgh was referenced in the Pennsylvania grand jury’s report on sexual abuse.
Archbishop Eamon Martin made no direct reference to LGBT issues in his address, but it is highly probable that same-gender marriage, which Ireland legalized in 2015 by popular referendum was on his mind when he said:
“We believe that the Church’s proclamation of the family – founded on a circle of faithful loving between a man and a woman which is open to the gift of children who are the fruit of that love – is Good News for society and the world. There is no getting away, however, from the fact that communicating the family in this way can appear increasingly counter-cultural in many parts of the world, including Ireland. This has been accelerated to a large extent by the departure in public discourse from the philosophical and anthropological underpinning of marriage and the family in natural law, and by the erosion of social supports for traditional marriage in the form of constitutional guarantee and positive legislation. In presenting God’s plan for marriage and the family which includes God’s plan for the transmission of life itself, the Church sometimes be accused of being exclusive or lacking in compassion.”
Or, later in his speech, when he stated:
“We must work together with all people of goodwill to encourage the State to support the family, and especially the uniqueness of the faithful and exclusive union between a married man and a woman as a cherished space for the bearing and upbringing of children.”
And I imagine transgender and gender-fluid, non-binary people were on his mind when he said:
“Into this complicated ‘topsy turvy’ world we have the joy and challenge of communicating a clear and positive vision of family and marriage: the Good News that human life is sacred, that each human being comes from God, who created us, male and female. . . “
I think Archbishop Eamon may have thought that by not mentioning LGBT people or marriage equality that he was avoiding controversy. However, his message is so clear, even stated indirectly, that he clearly did not stay above the fray.
More importantly, he would have done well to read the voluminous amount of psychological and sociological research that shows that families headed by same-gender couples are as loving, generative, and strong as those headed by heterosexual couples. It is amazing that the Primate of a nation which so overwhelmingly supports marriage equality would not avail himself of this information. Pretending that marriage equality is harmful will not make it go away.
Archbishop Martin offered a reconciliatory note in his conclusion when he said:
“We must also be cautious about thinking that people who disagree with us on the issue of the Family are necessarily hostile.”
That’s very true, but not assuming hostility is certainly not enough. True, honest, and equal dialogue must also happen if our church wants to truly understand the way families live and love today.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 23, 2018