Pope Francis arrived in Dublin on Saturday, and almost immediately LGBT issues were raised as part of the discussion.
In his speech greeting the pope, Ireland’s Taoiseach [Prime Minister] Leo Varadkar, who is a partnered gay man, offered the Pope a new image of a new Ireland, which includes marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples. In light of this, and other changes in the nation’s political life, he called for a new relationship between state and church, the latter of which had dominated Catholic politics for decades. Here’s the relevant portion of his speech:
‘The Ireland of the 21st century is a very different place today than it was in the past. Ireland is increasingly diverse.
‘One in six of us were not born here, and there are more and more people who adhere to other faiths, or who are comfortable in declaring that they subscribe to no organised religion.
‘We have voted in our parliament and by referendum to modernise our laws – understanding that marriages do not always work, that women should make their own decisions, and that families come in many forms including those headed by a grandparent, lone parent or same-sex parents or parents who are divorced.
‘Holy Father, I believe that the time has now come for us to build a new relationship between church and state in Ireland – a new covenant for the 21st Century. It is my hope that your visit marks the opening of a new chapter in the relationship between Ireland and the Catholic Church.
‘Building on our intertwined history, and learning from our shared mistakes, it can be one in which religion is no longer at the centre of our society, but in which it still has an important place.”
He also brought up the clergy sex abuse crisis, which has dominated Irish news for at least this entire past week, noting the church’s failure to be compassionate, including to “those on the margins,” perhaps a reference to LGBT people:
“At times in the past we have failed. There are ‘dark aspects’ of the Catholic Church’s history, as one of our bishops recently said. We think of the words of the Psalm which tells us that ‘children are a heritage from the Lord’ and we remember the way the failures of both Church and State and wider society created a bitter and broken heritage for so many, leaving a legacy of pain and suffering.
“It is a history of sorrow and shame.
“In place of Christian charity, forgiveness and compassion, far too often there was judgement, severity and cruelty, in particular, towards women and children and those on the margins.”
Pope Francis also had a private meeting with Ireland’s President Michael Higgins, after which the president’s office issued a summary of the president’s portion of the conversation. In addition to noting that issues of poverty, environment, health, education, and nutrition were brought up by the president, the statement also noted:
“President Higgins spoke to His Holiness of how the achievement of an equality of rights defined a Republic, and of how acts of exclusion, including those based on gender and sexual orientation, had caused, and were still causing, great suffering.”
Pope Francis did not reference same-gender marriage in his address at the ceremony where Varadkar greeted him. He spoke at length about marriage, but he did not use the familiar ecclesiastical language of “one man and one woman” as the model for marriage. The only thing mentioned as a threat to marriage was “the difficulties faced by our families in today’s rapidly evolving society, or to be troubled by the effects that breakdown in marriage and family life will ncessearily entail for the future of our communities at every level.” Yet, even though three months have passed since the Irish people legalized abortion, he did refer specifically to “the most defenceless members of our human family, including the unborn, deprived of the very right to life.” So, he is clearly not against bringing up specific topics.
Later in the afternoon, when he visited St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral and listened to the stories of six heterosexual couples, he described the heterosexual model of marriage, but did not prescribe it, as he has in the past:
“Of all the kinds of human fruitfulness, marriage is unique. It is about a love that gi ves rise to new life. It involves mutual responsibility for the transmission of God’s gift of life, and it provides a stab le environment in which that new life can grow and flourish. . . When a Christian man and a woman enter into the bond of marriage, the Lord’s grace enables them freely to promise one another an exclusive and enduring love.”
Clearly, there is no indication in these comments that he would support same-sex marriage, and clearly he believes in the heterosexual model as the only approved one. But what I find surprising is that he chose not to critique same-gender marriage or refer to it as a threat. I raise this point because I wonder if these omissions were perhaps motivated by an awareness that they would not be appreciated in Ireland, a Catholic nation so overwhelmingly supportive of LGBT people.
Perhaps these omissions are evidence that the Vatican paid attention to the message delivered a few months ago by Katherine Zappone, Ireland’s Minister of Children and Youth Affairs, when she said of the World Meeting of Families: ““There should be a welcome for all. And never again should public statements or remarks which seek to isolate certain families be tolerated. . .[Ireland is] where people want marriage equality, where adoption by LGBTI people is government policy, and where all families are fully respected.”
Pope Francis’ meetings with Ireland’s two top governmental leaders may be more significant, though, not because of what the pontiff said or didn’t say, but because it was an example that this nation’s officials are confident in addressing LGBT issues with the highest official of the Catholic Church, and they did so without apology or fear.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 26, 2018