Two priests involved with the Irish Church made disparaging comments about LGBTQ people recently, but thankfully in both cases, religious superiors intervened to stem the harm. Still, the comments show that a portion of the Catholic clergy still need much education about LGBTQ issues
First, Capuchin Fr. Tom Forde compared lesbian and gay people to zombies during a mid-June homily. The Irish Times reported that the priest spoke about people who are “physically alive but spiritually dead, morally rotten or at least infected.” The report continued:
“This could be seen in their ‘self-destructive, irrational behaviour’, [Forde] said. ‘It is visible in the abuse of drugs and alcohol, in adultery, fornication and homosexuality (and there are other unnameable behaviours). As well as in acceptance of abortion and contraception and in the move to legalise euthanasia.
“‘In the zombie genre once you’re bitten you’re infected and there’s no hope.The only way to deal with the monsters is to stab or shoot them in the brain, for otherwise they are merciless, relentless and unstoppable. Zombies, thank God, do not actually exist, but, I would suggest, spiritual zombiehood does.'”
Second, Fr. Dominic Valanmahal of the Eastern Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, a Catholic church in union with Rome based in Kerala, India, suggested that homosexuality is a cause of autism and hyperactivity in children. The Irish Times reported on the priest who has given regular retreats to the Syro-Malabar community in Ireland:
“‘Why does this generation have autism and hyperactivity? That is to say, mentally retarded children are in abundance,’ Fr Valanmahal asked in a sermon.
“‘Adultery, masturbation, homosexuality, porn, if you are addicted to these, I say to you in the name of God. . .when you get married and have children, there is a high possibility of bearing these type of children,’ he said.
“‘They lead an animal-like life. They copulate like animals. They bear children like animals. Therefore those children also, will be like animals,’ he said.”
Bishops intervened in both cases. Bishop Dermot Farrell of Ossory, the diocese where Forde ministers, expressed sadness that “inappropriate language and sentiments” were made, especially as liturgy was “used to convey any sentiment so at variance with our understanding of God.” Farrell said that the Gospel means welcoming everyone “no matter their faith, or race, or sexual orientation.”
Meanwhile, the Capuchins at the friary released their own apology, saying it was never Forde’s intention to cause harm and adding:
“The Capuchin order wishes to state that all are welcome in our churches, irrespective of sexual orientation. Unfortunate comments were made about homosexuality last Saturday, which gay people would have found hurtful, and we deeply regret this. . .We support Pope Francis in his comments on gay people and we will continue to be guided by him and by our own mission statement, which states that ‘we affirm that our fraternities will be places of prayer, hospitality and outreach to all’.”
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin appealed to the Syro-Malabar community in his archdiocese to disinvite Valanmahal from giving a planned October retreat. Members of that community in Ireland have launched a petition asking the Minister of Justice to ban the priest from entering Ireland. The petition, available here, reads in part:
“[Valanmahal] verbally abused autistic kids and compared their parents to wild animals having no intelligence but just living for sex, alcohol and reproduction. He blamed their parents by calling them sinful people who do not belong to Christian Society and extended this accusation to the youth. He did not stop there, but continued the abuse by citing gays and lesbians unnatural and cursed people and that they should be excluded from the society. Our society is worried about these type of so called ‘preaching’ by this person.”
In Canada, CBC reported that the Diocese of Calgary cancelled a scheduled retreat led by Valanmahal and said it was reviewing how priests are vetted for programs to prevent similar incidents in the future.
These remarks by Frs. Forde and Valanmahal show that even as inclusion grows, from parish ministries to the papacy, much work still has to be done to get even the most minimal forms of decency from some clergy. It needs to be considered whether priests who so wildly disparage LGBTQ people, people with autism, and other marginalized groups are fit for ministry.
But beyond these two priests, Church leaders need to look at why Forde and Valanmahal feel empowered to spread such harmful rhetoric for they are certainly not alone among clergy causing such harm. An honest analysis will recognize that comparing lesbian and gay people to infected zombies and suggesting homosexuality is a cause of autism have their roots in Church teachings and practices which are themselves dehumanizing, using terms such as “intrinsically disordered.” Interventions by Church leaders and the ensuing apologies are necessary first steps, but responses to such homophobia must not stop there.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 27, 2019