DUBLIN – Although recent revelations about clerical sexual abuse have dominated much of the buzz around the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, including Pope Francis’s visit this weekend, LGBT advocates and activists are insisting they won’t be ignored.
Ireland, once known for its fervent Catholicism, legalized same-sex marriage in 2015 and continues to generate a slew of high-profile promoters of the LGBT cause, including former Irish President Mary McAlesee, whose son is gay. Also, the country’s values on the family have shifted significantly. Many LGBT activists are demanding that the Church become more inclusive and open to people with same-sex attractions.
According to new Irish Government research, one-third of families in the country are comprised of single parents, same-sex parents and cohabitating couples as opposed to the traditional family model.
Since the summit of families in Dublin, originally designed to promote Francis’s document on the family Amoris Laetitia, has been overtaken by the shadow of serious charges of sexual abuse and cover-up, it would appear that it’s not the time to shine for the LGBT constituency.
Yet both inside and outside the global gathering of families, the topic is still very present.
Jesuit Father James Martin, editor of America Magazine and long-time advocate for greater inclusivity in the Church of the LGBT Catholic community, spoke at the meeting Aug. 23 invoking a spirit of openness and listening.
Uninvited and yet just outside the walls, rainbow flags protested the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, which is “hurtful and damaging” toward the LGBT community, and called on Francis to address the issue during his visit this weekend and promising “to not be silenced.”
Meanwhile, just blocks away, a conservative counter-event featured several speakers concerned about a creeping “homosexual agenda” within Catholicism.
“LGBT Catholics feel like lepers”
In countless ways, LGBT Catholics have been ostracized, ignored and bullied by and within the Church, often “treated like dirt,” Martin said during his panel at the summit of families titled, “Showing Welcome and Respect in out Parishes to LGBT People and their Families.”
“Is it any surprise that LGBT Catholics feel like lepers in our Church?” he asked the packed hall.
Martin has been involved in outreach to LGBT Catholics and is the author of the book Building a Bridge, promoting a wider acceptance of LGBT people in the Church at every level.
While the Jesuit recognized that there are many “stories of grace” in terms of LGBT acceptance, he still said it can be Russian roulette entering a Church, and experiences vary from place to place with sometimes life-threatening consequences.
The first step, he said, is to acknowledge that LGBT individuals and their families are Catholics and baptized.
“They are as much a part of the Church as Pope Francis, the local bishop or the pastor,” he said. “It’s not a question of making them Catholic.”
A common misconception, he added, is to believe that their sexual orientation or gender identity is their choice or somehow the fault of the parents. Attitudes that alienate LGBT people, Martin said, lead to damaging consequences, including higher suicide rates and homelessness.
Parishes should also not forget to offer services and outreach for the parents of LGBT people, who sometimes feel shame and are excluded. A greater inclusivity toward this marginalized group, he said, can offer many rewards for the Church.
“They bring gifts to the Church,” Martin said. “Because they have been so marginalized, many LGBT people often feel a natural compassion for those on the margins.”
“Their compassion is a gift,” he said. “They are often forgiving of pastors and priests who have treated them like dirt. Their forgiveness is a gift. They persevere as Catholics in the face of years of rejection.”
The priest underlined other steps that could make a parish more welcoming to LGBT Catholics:
- Be mindful of the bias underlining the behavior toward LGBT people.
- Acknowledge them in homilies and never humiliate them from the pulpit.
- Apologize to them.
- Don’t reduce LGBT people to their sexual lives.
- Include them in ministries and retreats.
- Acknowledge the individual gifts that they bring.
- Invite the parish to welcome them and their families.
- Sponsor events or develop outreach programs.
- As is the case for all those facing persecution and marginalization, Martin invited Catholics to speak up for the LGBT community.
“God loves them, and so should we,” he said. “And I don’t mean a stingy, grudging, judgmental, conditional, half-hearted love. I mean real love.”
“We are a Family”
Waiving rainbow flags and singing the popular song “We are Family” by Sister Sledge, a small group of protesters outside the main entrance of the World Meeting of Families were not impressed by the event’s lack of inclusion of LGBT families.
“Father James Martin’s talk sounds great, I know he’s a well-intentioned man, but it’s a fig leaf, it doesn’t really tackle the discrimination that the Catholic Church uses against gay people,” said Soline Hubert, a spiritual guide and one of the organizers of the protest, in an interview with Crux partner Nuestra Voz.
She said that the manifestation was not organized by a specific group, though members of the Catholic reform organization We Are Church in Ireland were involved. The choir members were LGBT people who sing in parishes around the city.
— Nuestra Voz (@NuestraVozDOB) August 23, 2018
“We believe that regardless of anyone’s beliefs or religion, the LGBTI voice cannot remain silent when a group in society – be it Church or State – refuses to respect and recognize the dignity and equality of LGBTI people,” said Ursula Halligan, member of We Are Church, speaking to local media.
Some members of the LGBT community were not allowed to have stalls at the event, and publicity for the gathering showing images of a same-sex couple were quickly eliminated once it was clear that the pope was coming to town. These episodes increased the resentment expressed at the protest Aug. 23.
“The sad truth is there is a clear message they are not welcome at the World Meeting of Families,” said Tiernan Brady, founder of the Equal Future 2018, in an interview with the Irish Independent Aug. 22.
Though this year’s World Meeting of Families might not be the event that gets the ball rolling in LGBT issues in the Catholic Church, Brady is looking ahead to the global summit of bishops in October addressing youth and discernment.
“We want to highlight the damage that is being done to children and young people as they grow up thinking that to be LGBT would be wrong, a disappointment or just bad luck,” he said.
“That’s not what Catholic people feel and it’s about time the upper management caught on with this,” he added.