A parish priest in Co Limerick has called for the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Catholic Church.
Fr Roy Donovan, parish priest of Caheronlish in Co Limerick, also objects to the introduction of a male-only permanent diaconate in his Cashel Archdiocese before completion of a report by the papal commission on women deacons.
Fr Roy Donovan, parish priest of Caheronlish in Co Limerick
On women priests , Fr Donovan said he believed “a woman could celebrate the Eucharist even better than a man being more familiar with the shedding of blood. A woman saying ‘this is my body, this is my blood’ can give more meaning to the Eucharist than any male celibate.”
He also knew women “who feel it in their bones and souls that they have a call to the priesthood”.
Fr Donovan was responding to the setting up of a working group by Archbishop of Cashel Kieran O’Reilly to look at introducing the male-only permanent diaconate in the diocese.
Fr Donovan was “upset” and “taken aback” by this decision of the Archbishop’s as Pope Francis had set up a commission to look at the introduction of women deacons last year which would report “in a year or two.” He was, therefore, “uncomfortable” about Archbishop O’Reilly’s decision.
Ultimately, he felt such matters were for the local church community to decide. His fear was that parishes were “going the way of the gardaí and post offices.” Local communities “should have the last say and permanent deacons were not the answer,” he said. Nor was parish clustering, he said.
What was happening now where bishops were concerned was “a kicking of the can down the road. They are not facing reality”.
Fr Donovan was particularly surprised at Archbishop O’Reilly’s decision concerning the permanent diaconate in Cashel folowing his experiences of attempting to introduce it in his previous diocese, Killaloe.
In September 2014, two months before it was announced he had been appointed Archbishop of Cashel, then Bishop O’Reilly announced he was delaying introduction of the permanent diaconate there following strong protests by women mainly.
Just a month beforehand, in a pastoral letter circulated throughout parishes in Killaloe, he had invited men to apply for posts as permanent deacons there.
On 22 July each year, the Christian community venerates a saint who is the single best argument for why women should be priests: Mary of Magdala, more commonly called Mary Magdalene and traditionally known as the “Apostle to the Apostles.”
Given what we know about her, it’s a scandal that some Christian communities—most notably the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention—still consider women unworthy of ordination.
The Roman Church’s refusal to ordain women is succinctly stated in its official Catechism:
The Lord Jesus chose men to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry…For this reason the ordination of women is not possible. #1577
The Southern Baptist Convention bases its refusal on several passages in the Pauline letters to Titus and Timothy that seem to disallow women from serving as pastors. (Never mind that biblical scholars agree that the letters were almost certainly not written by Paul himself.) Predictably, perhaps, the Convention adds that pastoral ministry would interfere with women’s single-minded dedication to their God-appointed “family roles.”
Such objections to the ordination of women strike rational people, including millions of Christians, as absurd. But Dominican priest Wojciech Giertych, who served as theologian of the papal household for Pope Benedict XVI, adds risibility to absurdity when he argues that women simply don’t have the mechanical know-how of men, and so would be helpless when it comes to guy-stuff like church repairs.
I don’t know how handy she was with a hammer or screwdriver, but the scriptural accounts of Mary Magdalene certainly confound these arguments against women priests and pastors. Her prominence in the New Testament is indisputable.
She’s presented as one of the earliest disciples of Jesus, joining his band of followers after being cleansed of “seven demons” (Mark and Luke). Although she actually isn’t the New Testament “sinner” who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears or anointed them with precious oil she’s often thought to be—this is an identification invented by Gregory the Great in the 6th century—she’s still mentioned more often in the Gospels, no fewer than 12 times, than nearly all the male apostles.
The gospels of Mark, Matthew, and John recognize her as one of the women who followed Jesus to Golgotha, when all the male apostles except John had fled in terror. All four gospels also announce that she was either the very first person (Mark and John) or one of the first (Matthew and Luke), her companions also being women, to whom the Risen Christ appeared, and that she was the messenger who carried the good news to the male apostles.
These texts suggest that even at this early stage in the Church’s history, animosity toward women in leadership positions was present. But the more important point here is that both canonical and non-canonical texts affirm Mary as the witness-bearer for the risen Christ. There simply is no debate in the ancient texts about her centrality.
We have nothing but legend to fall back on for the rest of Mary’s life. She isn’t mentioned in either the Acts of the Apostles or any of the New Testament epistles. Some stories say she retired to Ephesus with Mary, Jesus’ mother, after the Resurrection. Others say that she undertook missionary work, even appearing before the Roman emperor Tiberias and astounding him with a miracle.
But these legends, charming as they are, aren’t necessary for establishing her bona fides. Scripture does that. Mary Magdalene, like so many women, was one of Jesus’ earliest followers; she remained loyal to him, at great risk to herself, when the male apostles fled in doubt and terror; the Risen Christ appeared first to her; and she carried the good news to the male apostles, who refused to believe her testimony. Even John Paul II, who declared the topic of women’s ordination settled and done (a position unfortunately affirmed by Pope Francis), acknowledged that this rightly made her the Apostle to the Apostles.
So if men are qualified to ordained ministry because of the male apostles, wouldn’t Mary’s primacy over them qualify women?
The story was originally reported on June 28 by the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano. According to their anonymously-sourced report, when Vatican police were called to the apartment of Monsignor Luigi Capozzi, a secretary to an adviser to Pope Francis, they allegedly discovered hard drugs and a gay orgy in progress; Capozzi was said to have been swept off to a detox center outside Rome and faces misdemeanor drug charges.
The report is thinly-sourced, and thus far, Vatican officials have refused to confirm its validity. The Daily Beast was able to confirm that Capozzi no longer works at his old position, and an anonymous senior Vatican official confirmed to The Catholic Register that “multiple sources” have told them the story is true.
Less-than-stellar sourcing aside, the story spread like wildfire across social media, and many in the gay community were quick to shame and jeer Capozzi for his hypocrisy. My own Facebook feed was filled with friends ruthlessly mocking him, saying he deserved what he had coming. These are my same gay friends who are unabashedly proud and open about their wild sex lives, friends who have been to plenty of drug-fueled orgies themselves. But I didn’t have the same reaction, because the news reminded me of a lovely man I knew. He was nowhere near the corridors of the Church’s senior officials, and his case was markedly different from that of this secretary, but his story constantly reminds me that we shouldn’t be so quick to judge the sex lives of others—provided it involves consenting adults—no matter the person’s profession.
I went to a Catholic school, even though my family wasn’t Catholic or even Christian. It was run by a very conservative order, one that was incredibly strict and would later become notorious for child sex abuse. There was a parish nearby, unconnected to the school, and that lovely man was the priest there. I didn’t know him at all at the time; he would only occasionally come to school to lead mass, and my Catholic classmates would be sent to his parish periodically for confession.
It was only later in life that I would meet him and hear his story. He had blunt words to say about the men who ran my school: they were assholes and they were creepy. But it was how he came to lead that parish, and what happened next, that captivated me.
Father John* had joined a seminary when he was a teenager. He knew he was different from the other boys because he wasn’t interested in girls. But he had a sheltered upbringing, and given the era he grew up in, he interpreted his disinterest as a calling to join the priesthood, like many young men who felt similarly. Once he had completed his studies, he eventually traveled to Rome, became a full-fledged priest, and returned to Canada to lead a parish.
By that point he was an adult, no longer confined to a seminary, living in a society in the midst of a sexual revolution. He began to realize what made him different: he was gay. But he was too scared to leave the Church.
Pay within the priesthood can vary dramatically—the head of a gigantic American megachurch, for example, can make hundreds of thousands of dollars—but salaries, on average, tend to be small, just enough to cover expenses. Father John had no money of his own. He had no pension, because the Church would house and feed him when he got old. His only education was in theology. He told me he felt stuck. Plus, he enjoyed what he did. Pastoral care is quite like being a social worker, listening to people’s struggles and helping them find a way out. Ironically, he spent his life helping others with their problems without anyone to help him through his own. He never cast criticism on gays from the pulpit and preached only love. He wasn’t a hypocrite.
Secretly, he had sex with men. He’d meet them in the usual spots—parks, peepshows, and the like. He thought he could maintain these two lives separately, as many of us do, balancing a professional career with a sometimes debaucherous private side.
Then, one day, those two lives collided. He became very ill and went to the hospital. He was told he had AIDS. He knew this was a secret he couldn’t keep; the Church paid for his medical insurance, and it would be impossible to work while managing his illness. So he went to his bishop and told him his diagnosis. He wasn’t alone. Many priests acquired HIV and AIDS throughout the 80s and 90s.
The main job of a bishop is to provide pastoral care to his priests, but Father John’s sexuality precluded him from such goodwill. The bishop, John said, was going to do to him what he did to the others—he and his dirty little secret would be sent to a monastery to die alone, hidden from public view. For too long, the Church could simply shuffle pedophiles around and nobody would ever know (or at least they thought). But a priest who handed out communion with Karposi Sarcoma lesions? You can’t hide that from a parish.
Well, Father John was having none of it—he wasn’t going to disappear like the others. He had built up a network of other gay priests over time, and he contacted one, an Anglican who arranged a meeting with his bishop. The bishop told him not to worry. The Anglican Church recognizes Catholic priests, and he would gladly allow him to become a priest in an Anglican parish, doing what he did before as long as he was well, and whenever he got too sick, he’d be looked after.
I only got to know Father John after he’d made that switch. I met him through various religious activities of my own; at first, he was just another Anglican priest to me. It wasn’t until I randomly mentioned where I went to school one day that he revealed the parish where he once worked and we made the connection. He was always a bit sick—he had managed to survive AIDS, but his HIV treatment was never quite enough to make him well again. But, more importantly, his life was secure. He got the chance to continue to say mass, to visit the sick in their homes, to help people find their way, only now, he was able to do so as an openly gay man. He was in my life for a number of years until I moved away and lost touch. The last time I saw him, he was walking down the street, wearing his collar, on his way to give communion to an elderly lady who couldn’t leave her bed. He looked frail and struggled to remember things, but he still had a smile on his face.
Father John was luckier than most other gay Catholic priests. He was fortunate enough to have another denomination in his area that accepted gays, and accepted him. He had the courage to refuse the disgraceful end his first Bishop had in mind for him. He had an easy out.
Others aren’t so lucky, trapped by a choice made in their youth, as scared of the secular world as they are of the institution to which they’re beholden. One only imagines the cycle of despair that could arise. Instead of mocking gays in the Church, whether they’re having sex with other gay men or not, think of this guy instead. Struggling through life, as best he knew how.
Two years ago Cardinal Vincent Nichols asked me to be his liaison and chaplain to the Farm Street LGBT group in central London. That same week I was invited to be chaplain to the London chapter of Courage, an international support group. My work includes one-to-one spiritual guidance, helping with reflection days and accompanying both groups as an official representative of the Church.
Ministry to homosexual Catholics (transgenderism would need a separate article) takes place in two main contexts. First, groups like the Farm Street group set up by gay people themselves or their relatives, where everyone knows they are welcome, whatever their situation, and issues can be openly discussed. Such groups often later seek the support of their local bishop and priests.
Secondly, bishops or priests can set up groups themselves, and even obtain Vatican recognition, provided they are explicit in their adherence to Church teaching. Courage is such a group, set up by Fr John Harvey in America with the support of bishops there, and now present in several countries. Members describe themselves not as gay but as “experiencing same-sex attraction” and aim at lifelong sexual abstinence – but not at changing their sexual orientation.
Pastoral care of homosexual people is essentially the same as all ministry: seeking to communicate the unconditional love of Christ and his Church, and to accompany people on their journey towards holiness. But in practice this particular ministry encounters powerful feelings of pain and anger which can cause difficulties.
LGBT people often feel hurt by the Church, either because of the way its teaching comes across, or through concrete experiences of rejection, or both. Those from non-Western cultures are sometimes even in danger of their lives, while some other Catholics seem threatened by the very existence of gay people and react angrily towards attempts to accommodate them within the Church.
There is also a wide range of attitudes, experiences and behaviour among gay Catholics themselves. Some long for a permanent relationship, while others admit that relationships are not important for them, and they simply want sex. With the availability of gay websites and apps, and well-known pick-up spots, most gay people in our society can easily have sex whenever they want.
We sometimes meet men who had a lot of casual sex but came to realise it did not make them happy. They may then seek help in leading a chaste life. Courage provides them with a supportive group, modelled on twelve-step programmes, in which personal sharing enables exploration of the relationship between sexual desires and other aspects of life, and so helps mitigate the compulsive element which can easily affect sexual behaviour. Others are looking for a long-term relationship, but may go through several sexual partners in the search, sometimes remaining good friends with them after the sexual relationship has ended.
But one thing is common to virtually all LGBT Catholics today: they will not take the Church’s teaching on trust, but must learn from experience. Even those who hold a very traditional attitude have likely arrived at it through many experiences.
This being so, ministers to gay Catholics need two main resources: a moral theology that can face the critical scrutiny of life experience; and a well-grounded spirituality of discernment. These can help LGBT Catholics look honestly at their behaviour, see where it is leading them and discover alternatives where indicated.
The moral theology I have found most helpful in this ministry is that of the Belgian Dominican Servais Pinckaers, who shows that from biblical times to St Thomas Aquinas, Catholic moral theology was essentially based on the search for true happiness, on earth and in heaven, and on the cultivation of virtues leading to it – a happiness deeper than mere pleasure, and consisting above all in communion with God and his holy people.
A theology based on observing rules was a later distortion, and led by reaction in the 1960s to an equally unhelpful liberalism.
In Pinckaers’ perspective, moral theology does not just define what one is allowed to do, or the minimum one must do, but joins hands with spirituality in promoting the search for holiness through loving God and neighbour to the uttermost. Ignatian discernment of spirits is the obvious spiritual partner for such a theology.
Thus the most important gift the minister can offer LGBT people, after unconditional love and welcome, is encouragement to a deep spiritual life of friendship with Christ, based on the traditional practices of Mass, Confession, Adoration, Lectio Divina and the rosary. Without this, discernment loses itself in subjective states of mind; with it we begin to see which path leads to heaven and which to hell, and to marry personal experience with the wisdom of the Church.
Tobin, who hails from Detroit, is Irish American on both sides and “is among a small but growing group of bishops changing how the American church relates to its gay members,” the Times says. “They are seeking to be more inclusive and signaling to subordinate priests that they should do the same.”
But in New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, 67, appears to be resisting any reconsideration in tone or doctrine over gays. This week he signaled he would take a different approach by publicly endorsing Daniel Mattson’s controversial new book, “Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay, How I Reclaimed My Sexual Identity and Found Peace.”
Mattson, a writer and public speaker, admits he is only attracted to the same sex but he refuses to call himself gay. In his new book he writes he only made “peace” with his same-sex attractions and his religious faith by embracing a life of chastity.
Paraphrasing Elisabeth Elliot, Mattson writes: “When a man or woman, a boy or girl, accepts the way of loneliness for Christ’s sake, there are cosmic ramifications. That person, in a secret transaction with God, actually does something for the life of the world. This seems almost inconceivable, yet it is true, for it is one part of the mystery of suffering which has been revealed to us.”
For “the life of the world”, Mattson has decided to remain chaste and embrace loneliness “in a transaction” with God. Although he admittedly still “suffers” from same sex attractions, his self-imposed chastity makes it impossible for him to express that part of himself, ever.
Dolan was effusive in his praise for Mattson’s sobering decision this week. “Mattson… shares with us how he has come to understand and accept God’s loving plan for his life, as well as the beauty and richness of the Church’s teaching on chastity…”
For Dolan and Mattson the “beauty and richness” of an LGBT orientation is only to be found in its total abnegation.
Given how apparently hard line he is on the matter, it’s no wonder Dolan was up with the larks to appear on CBS’s “This Morning” four years ago in a visit that clearly intended to reassure conservative Catholics it was business as usual regarding gay people, despite Francis’ surprising change in tone.
Now, four years later, if you’re LGBT and Catholic, the kind of welcome you receive in any Catholic church depends on which Catholic church you’re sitting in.
“The church must say it’s sorry for not having comported itself well many times, many times,” Francis said in his now famous interview four years ago.
“I believe that the church not only must say it’s sorry… to this person that is gay that it has offended,” said the pope. “But it must say it’s sorry to the poor, also, to mistreated women, to children forced to work.”
“When I say the church: Christians,” Francis later clarified. “The church is holy. We are the sinners.”
For Cardinal Tobin the very Irish act of offering welcome, which is extended to one and all, is a deep expression of his private faith in public action.
“The word I use is welcome,” Tobin told the Times. “These are people that have not felt welcome in other places. My prayer for them is that they do. Today in the Catholic Church, we read a passage that says you have to be able to give a reason for your hope. And I’m praying that this pilgrimage for them, and really for the whole church, is a reason for hope.”
Conservative clergy members have suggested that alongside Tobin’s welcome to gay Catholics he should have offered them a stern challenge to consider their ways, but the Cardinal demurred.
“That sounds a little backhanded to me,” he said. “It was appropriate to welcome people to come and pray and call them who they were. And later on, we can talk.”
After the Mass, he received “a fair amount of visceral hate mail from fellow Catholics,” Tobin says. One parishioner even went so far as to organize a letter-writing campaign calling on other bishops to “correct” him.
“And there’s a lot to correct in me, without a doubt,” Cardinal Tobin told the Times. “But not for welcoming people. No.”
For over two and a half decades gays were a line in the sand issue for the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee – and an unasked for complication to Dolan’s own ministry.
Having finally squared that circle, it’s remarkable to see the LGBT issue has lost none of it’s ability to divide Irish Americans and the Church from each other, even when the Irish Americans in question are high-ranking members of the Church themselves.