Eight priests have taken their own lives in the past 10 to 15 years in Ireland, a meeting of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) in Cavan has been told.
At another such meeting in Co Limerick, there was a call for the setting up of a national confidential priests’ helpline
Minutes of the latter meeting in Caherconlish quote one attendee as saying: “Our morale is affected because we are on a sinking ship. When will the ‘counter-reformation’ take place? We’re like an All-Ireland team without a goalie. We need a national confidential priests’ helpline. We’re slow to look for help.”
Reports from both meetings appear on the ACP website.
Among reasons given at the Cavan town meeting for the crisis in the Irish Catholic priesthood were living alone, retirement, health issues, sexual abuse accusations, as well as “workload; being gay; clustering; priests rights; bullying; etc.”
There were also very poor welfare supports when a priest gets ill. “We are reluctant to talk and say we are tired, struggling, lonely or depressed. This can be very disheartening,” the meeting was told.
As disheartening was that so much work by priests was “for people who have so little contact with the church from First Communions to funerals”, the meeting heard. Priests’ confidence “has been eroded when we see so many people going through the motions of faith”.
The Limerick meeting of priests from the Archdiocese of Cashel as well as Killaloe and Limerick dioceses was told there were “too many Masses in near-empty churches. The church has survived in other parts of the world without all the Masses.”
It was claimed priests were “in denial about vocations – not facing reality – we are part of a dying system,” and that “we need to unmask and say ‘I need help.’ There is a great sense of ‘being alone’.”
It was said the Bon Secours Sisters, who managed the controversial Tuam Mother and Baby Home, “did a disservice by not clarifying exactly what happened. They need to do so immediately. It makes our job impossible, especially as we face a storm on abortion next year.”
There was also criticism of how bishops dealt with media at both meetings.
The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Ill., is calling on priests there to deny Holy Communion and even funeral rites to people in same-sex unions unless they show “some signs of repentance” for their relationships before death.
The decree by Bishop Thomas Paprocki also said that people “living publicly” in same-sex marriages may not receive the sacrament of confirmation or be admitted to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a process by which many converts become Catholic, preparing them for baptism and confirmation.
At the same time, Paprocki said that children living with a Catholic parent or parents in a same-sex marriage may be baptized. But when it comes to same-sex unions, priests cannot bless couples, church property cannot be used for ceremonies and diocesan employees are forbidden from participating, the decree said.
The bishop’s decree has not yet been made public by the diocese, but was sent to clergy and diocesan staff in an email last week. That email, in turn, was shared with other clergy around the country, as well as Catholic LGBT organizations, which posted the document and condemned it as unduly harsh, particularly in light of Pope Francis’s more compassionate posture.
“Although some other bishops and dioceses have instituted similar policies in part, this document is mean-spirited and hurtful in the extreme,” Christopher Pett, incoming president of DignityUSA, said in a news release by the organization that rallies the church for full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics.
Although same-sex marriages have been legal across the United States since the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, the decree reiterates church teaching that marriage is a “covenant between one man and one woman.” The church’s official catechism states that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”
Four years ago, after gay marriage was legally recognized in Illinois, Paprocki “performed an exorcism in response to the law, suggesting politicians were ‘morally complicit’ in assisting the sins of same-sex couples,” the Chicago Tribune reported.
The 64-year-old bishop, trained as a lawyer as well as priest, has served the Springfield diocese since 2010. He was previously a priest and auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and is known for his passion for running and penchant for playing hockey.
In a statement provided to The Post, the bishop said of the decree: “These norms are necessary in light of changes in the law and in our culture regarding these issues.” The decree states:
Jesus Christ himself affirmed the privileged place of marriage in human and Christian society by raising it to the dignity of a sacrament. Consequently, the church not only has the authority, but the serious obligation to affirm its authentic teaching on marriage to preserve and foster the sacred value of the married state.
Last year, the pope released a 256-page document, “The Joy of Love,” which affirmed the church’s traditional views on marriage, as The Post reported. At the same time, the pope said unconventional unions are not without their “constructive elements.” He called on the church’s clergy to be pastoral and not to use doctrine as a weapon.
Other clergy have also embraced a more welcoming approach. Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, the archbishop of Newark, recently welcomed dozens of gay and lesbian Catholics to worship. “I am Joseph your brother,” Tobin told the group, according to a New York Times report. “I am your brother, as a disciple of Jesus. I am your brother, as a sinner who finds mercy with the Lord.”
The Rev. James Martin’s latest book — “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the L.G.B.T. Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity” — also calls for a gentler approach. Of the Paprocki decree, the noted Jesuit author, said in a pointed Facebook post:
If bishops ban members of same-sex marriages from receiving a Catholic funeral, they also have to be consistent. They must also ban divorced and remarried Catholics who have not received annulments, women who has or man who fathers a child out of wedlock, members of straight couples who are living together before marriage, and anyone using birth control. For those are all against church teaching as well. Moreover, they must ban anyone who does not care for the poor, or care for the environment, and anyone who supports torture, for those are church teachings too. More basically, they must ban people who are not loving, not forgiving and not merciful, for these represent the teachings of Jesus, the most fundamental of all church teachings. To focus only on LGBT people, without a similar focus on the moral and sexual behavior of straight people is, in the words of the Catechism, a “sign of unjust discrimination.”
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.
When I entered the Catholic Church in 1998, I had never met another gay person who accepted and intended to live out the Catholic sexual ethic in which sex is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. I had never even heard of such a person. I didn’t care, since I was full of blithe 19-year-old overconfidence (“Seems like nobody’s done this before, but surely it will be a cinch for moi!”), but life without models and guidance proved lonely and confusing.
I would love more books to add to this tiny shelf, especially a book in which LGBT people seeking to live within church teaching are considered part of both the global church and the LGBT community. Gay people who accept celibacy out of obedience to our churches face challenges common to all Christian disciples. We also face the all-too-common LGBT experiences of violence, discrimination and isolation. And we have the unique experience of trying to serve and love in churches that often seem embarrassed by our existence and silent about our futures. I’d love a book about the gifts LGBT people can bring to our churches, and the compassionate and creative guidance we need from those churches.
Martin defines the church as “the institutional church — that is, the Vatican, the hierarchy, church officials, and the clergy.” He aims to persuade these priests and bishops to listen better to gay people and our families, and to persuade gay people to be more polite and thoughtful in our criticisms of mitered folk.
Martin was startled by many Catholic leaders’ response to the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last year. Hearing church leaders deplore violence but refuse to acknowledge that the people targeted were gay, Martin called for a bridge between the two groups.
Martin calls on church leaders “to proclaim God’s love for a people who are often made to feel, whether by their families, neighbors, or religious leaders, as though they were damaged goods, unworthy of ministry, and even subhuman.” And he calls on LGBT people to give the Catholic hierarchy “simple human respect … in keeping with our Christian call,” instead of mockery.
Martin never hints that gay people exist who seek to live in obedience to the Catholic Church. Fair enough — not every book has to be for everybody, and people in my situation are a tiny minority. But we may be able to offer insights into areas this book carefully avoids.
For example, why is this conversation so hard in the first place? “Building a Bridge” doesn’t raise the question of why LGBT people and the Catholic Church so often seem like two separate, hostile camps. The Catholic sexual ethic is this book’s embarrassing secret. It’s never mentioned, and so the difficulties the teaching itself poses for gay Catholics in our culture are never addressed.
I’m deeply sympathetic to the attempt to have a conversation about gay people and the church that never mentions sex or chastity; too often even the most “respectful” statements from the Catholic Church hierarchy have a strong flavor of “Jesus loves you, but here’s how you’ve got to behave.” But I’m not sure it’s wise to write as if all the church is asking is for gay people simply to be nicer.
The church is not just a bunch of dudes in special clothes. If we picked our religion based on whose leaders were most personally trustworthy, nobody would be Catholic. But the Catholic Church is the bride of Christ — our mother, as terrible as an army with banners (Song of Songs 6:10) — and she asks a much higher “bridge toll” of everyone than this book admits.
The church asks more of her leaders than mere respect and sensitivity (although God knows that would be a good start). She asks of them repentance and amends for the ways in which they’ve made so many churches hostile to gay members, treating us as problems to be fixed or silenced.
And the church asks gay people to do our best to forgive. She asks us to have the courage to live out forgotten forms of Christian love, including same-sex love: devoted friendship, celibate partnership, intentional community and more.
In a culture where everything from pop songs to health insurance urges us to structure our lives around romance and marriage, gay Christians have a chance — or a duty — to show that you can make a life of devotion, joy and mutual sacrifice within celibacy. And straight Christians have a chance not only to live the models we’ve shown them, following the paths we’ve blazed, but to support us when our callings to nonmarital love leave us economically or emotionally vulnerable.
Scripture shows us the covenant friendship of David and Jonathan, the devoted kinship of Ruth and Naomi. Jesus, the God who is love, loved more deeply than any human being. Jesus’ celibacy helped us see what it means to dedicate your life to God and the people of God.
Martin writes eloquently of the gifts LGBT Christians can bring our churches. But aside from a vague reference to “social justice issues,” he doesn’t suggest that our church can guide and teach us. Martin has written well on celibacy for priests and others who have taken religious vows, as in his 2002 New York Times op-ed, “Choosing Celibacy.” I wish in his new book he had explored celibate witness more deeply, or reflected on scriptural models by which gay people could understand our longings for same-sex love and intimacy. If we are all the church together, LGBT laypeople who seek to live in obedience to the church have a place as well as those who dissent.
After the Pulse shooting, Washington area houses of worship held an interfaith vigil. The participants were of every sexual orientation and many beliefs; celibate gay people stood alongside those in same-sex marriages to mourn and pray. Sometimes it can be harder to come together in ordinary times than in the wake of crisis. But our challenge is to be honest about our beliefs — even the ones we find most challenging — while welcoming and cherishing those who disagree.
Still, Martin offers LGBT Catholics who accept our church’s teachings something we need desperately, in his use of Psalm 139, exploring how God knows us completely and loves us unshakably. No matter what we do or where we go, God is there with us. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made”: formed, from the very first moments of our lives, by God’s love.