Retired Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said there is “a huge amount of resistance among the Catholic education establishment” to pluralism in schools’ patronage. He does not believe there will be women priests in the Catholic Church in his lifetime and described as “bad theology” the banning of condoms in the fight against Aids. The clerical child sexual abuse scandals had “badly damaged the church,” he said and, in particular, “the faith of young people”.
Now living in Dublin’s Stoneybatter, Archbishop Martin (78) has also admitted finding retirement in 2020 “very difficult at the beginning because I retired right in the middle of Covid.” He remembered “one day in the Phoenix Park, I was out in an open-necked shirt and there was a man sitting on a bench. He looked up and said: ‘Are you enjoying your retirement?’ And I said: ‘Yeah.’ And he said: ‘Did they take the collar off you? Did you have to give it back?’ They recognise the face. Somebody stopped me and said: ‘I know your face. Were you ever in Fair City?’ Dubliners are great for that.”
When he was born, the family “lived in a tenement, there was nothing else available, then we went out to Ballyfermot”. Once when he was archbishop a delegation of Christian Brothers complained about criticisms he made of Artane industrial school. They “were sent to me to tell me that I didn’t know what I was talking about and one of them came up with this punchline. He said: ‘You know, many of these children came from appalling backgrounds, from places like Ballyfermot.’ He hadn’t done his homework.”
In discussing child abuse he became emotional. On arrival in Dublin as Coadjutor Archbishop in 2003, he “wasn’t prepared for it. Do you know who understood the harm paedophilia did? Ordinary, working-class Dublin women. They saw the mess that their child got into, they saw in some cases how their child took their own life, and they went to bishops and they weren’t listened to.”
On education, he said: “We do need to have pluralism of patronage in schools to respect individuals, to respect teachers also. We should also be fighting to ensure that we can maintain schools which are strongly Catholic.”
He added: “There’s a huge amount of resistance among the Catholic education establishment to this. I think I was probably out of tune with the other bishops on this and still would be, mainly because I’ve lived in countries where they have a different system.”
He did not see “in any way that women priests will be something that we will see in my lifetime. I’d be very worried about consultations which lead to frustrated expectations which don’t take place. People’s faith is damaged by a church which doesn’t respect women’s dignity.”
Asked whether Pope John Paul II’s ban on condoms during the Aids crisis was bad judgment, he said: “I think that it was bad theology. It’s this idea of an extraordinary narrow dogmatic understanding of bringing principles and not looking at the broad circumstances in which the situation is taking place and the struggles that people have to face. It was one of the problems with the church in Ireland, we learned the rules before we learned who Jesus Christ was.”
As to what, on arrival at the pearly gates, he would say to God, he said: “The only phrase I have is, when you’ve got that weighing scales there, take the 80,000 files I gave and that might bring me the right way.” It was a reference to the number of documents he handed the Murphy commission when it was investigating how the archdiocese had dealt with allegations of clerical child sexual abuse.
Archbishop Martin was speaking to broadcaster Joe Duffy in the 100th episode of The Meaning of Life programme, which will be broadcast on RTÉ One television at 10.30pm on Sunday night.
When Pope Francis spoke of “a very strong, organized, reactionary attitude” that opposes him within the Roman Catholic Church in the United States and, in comments that became public this week, warned against letting “ideologies replace faith,” some American Catholics recognized their church immediately.
“He is 100 percent right,” said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and commentator who is considered an ally of Francis. The opposition to Francis within the American church now, he said, “far outstrips the fierceness of the opposition to Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict,” the two previous popes.
When Father Martin visits Rome these days, he said, the first question many people there ask him is, “What is going on in the U.S.?”
It’s essentially the same question that prompted the pope’s sharply critical remarks, which were made impromptu last month and published this week by the Vatican-approved Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica.
In a private meeting with Portuguese Catholics in Lisbon, a priest told Francis that on a recent sabbatical to the United States, he had observed that many Catholics, and even bishops, were openly hostile to the pope’s leadership.
“You have seen that in the United States, the situation is not easy: There is a very strong reactionary attitude,” the pope replied. “It is organized and shapes the way people belong, even emotionally.”
There are conservative Catholics all over the world who emphasize the church’s teaching on sexual morality and obedience, and who prefer traditional forms of worship. But they are especially prominent and influential in the United States, where Francis faces a church hierarchy that is uniquely hostile to his papacy, led by several outspoken bishops and fueled by a well-funded ecosystem of right-wing Catholic websites, radio shows, podcasts and conferences that have shaped the landscape of American Catholicism and politics more broadly.
“The pope has only spent six days in the U.S. in the last 10 years, so it’s difficult to understand how he really understands Catholics in the U.S.,” said C. Preston Noell III, public liaison for the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, a right-wing Catholic organization that describes itself as “on the front lines of the Culture War.”
“All we’re trying to do is defend the traditional teachings of the church,” Mr. Noell added, singling out opposition to same-sex marriage and artificial contraception.
Francis’ latest, unusually sharp comments about the American church landed at a delicate moment, about a month before a major gathering in Rome that has drawn escalating anxiety and outrage among some American clergy members and commentators. The gathering, an assembly of the Synod of Bishops, will be the first at which women and lay people will be allowed to vote, and it is expected to prompt wide-ranging debate on the church’s teachings and its future.
The Vatican recently announced that on the opening day of the synod, Francis will release a second part of his encyclical Laudato Si, a forceful call to reframe care for the environment as a moral and spiritual imperative. Some conservatives see the encyclical as an attack on capitalism.
After three decades of leadership by popes who generally affirmed American conservative priorities, “Francis has been a complete shock to the system,” said John McGreevy, a historian at the University of Notre Dame. “It just has been tough for a big chunk of the American church, who thought these questions were settled and now seem unsettled.”
The first pope from the global south, Francis has emphasized making the church he leads a more expansive and inclusive one, in contrast to the smaller and more ideologically homogeneous church that some conservatives would prefer. Devotees of the Tridentine Mass, a traditional form of worship said in Latin, fiercely resent that Francis has narrowed their latitude to celebrate the rite, which was largely phased out in the 1960s.
Francis has shown a penchant for seemingly off-the-cuff remarks that poke at conservative priorities. His reply to a question in 2013 about gay priests — “Who am I to judge?” — is perhaps the most memorable single moment so far in his papacy, widely quoted by his supporters and critics alike.
He has worked to cement his legacy by replenishing the College of Cardinals, who will choose the next pope, with men of voting age who share his priorities. By now, he has appointed a strong majority of the group.
Among conservatives in the United States, the pope’s latest comments felt personal. A headline on the conservative website First Things asked, “Why Does the Pope Dislike Me?”
Part of what makes the American opposition to Francis’s agenda unique is that a drumbeat of direct defiance is coming not just from commentators, but also from high-ranking clergy members.
A coterie of outspoken clerics have recently fanned speculation that the synod might undermine core Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist, salvation and sexual ethics. In a public letter in August, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, warned that many “basic truths” of Catholic teaching would be challenged at the synod, and that the church could split irrevocably in its wake.
Cardinal Raymond Burke, an American former archbishop and leading voice among conservative Catholics, wrote in the foreword of a book published last month that the synod’s collaborative process was inflicting “evident and grave harm” on the church.
An English translation of the book, “The Synodal Process Is a Pandora’s Box,” was published by Mr. Noell’s organization, which recently mailed copies to all the cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons and religious brothers in the United States — about 41,000 in all.
Like other conservative Christians, some Catholics in the United States see themselves as embattled, surrounded by a culture that is hostile to Catholic doctrine and practices.
Catholics make up about 20 percent of adults in the United States, but Mass attendance has been declining for decades, and dropped sharply during the pandemic.
As a whole, Catholics in the United States are a politically diverse group, but those who still attend Mass more frequently also tend to be more conservative. And young men entering the priesthood in the United States are increasingly conservative, surveys have consistently found.
Father Martin said that in many places, Catholics who support the pope’s vision “don’t feel comfortable in their parishes, because the way that Francis’s vision of the church is ignored or downplayed discourages them,” and added, “The opposition to Francis is so loud that it dominates the conversation.”
Kevin Ahern, a professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, said that many of his students, both Catholic and not, arrive in his classroom totally unfamiliar with Catholic social justice teachings, a historically robust strain of Catholicism that has played a role in labor movements and debates over immigration and the death penalty.
Students who have been exposed to the Church only through its most prominent voices in the wider culture, he said, “are surprised to learn that the Catholic Church doesn’t map onto Republican talking points.”
Francis himself appeared undisturbed by the reaction to his latest comments by his critics in the United States. “Yes, they got mad,” he told reporters on Thursday as he flew to Mongolia for a formal visit. “But move on, move on.”
In the Aug. 21 letter, Archbishop Heiner Koch assures the Berlin archdiocese’s priests, deacons, and lay pastoral workers that he will not take disciplinary action against them if they bless couples “who cannot or do not want to marry sacramentally.”
In the almost 2,000-word letter, he offers a detailed explanation for his decision, which he says he has taken in view of strong disagreements within the archdiocese, which serves around 373,000 Catholics.
What does Archbishop Koch say, exactly? What’s the context? And what will happen next? The Pillar takes a look.
What’s the context?
It’s probably best to start with the context, since that is where Koch’s letter begins. He notes that since Germany’s “synodal way” formally concluded in March, Catholics in the Berlin archdiocese have been discussing how to implement its resolutions.
Among the documents endorsed by participants in that initiative — which brought together the country’s bishops and select lay people for three years to discuss hot-button issues — was one entitled “Blessing ceremonies for couples who love each other.”
The four-page text called on Germany’s bishops “to officially allow blessing ceremonies in their dioceses for couples who love each other and want to commit themselves, but to whom sacramental marriage is not accessible or who do not want to enter into it.”
The document underlined that “this also applies to same-sex couples on the basis of a re-evaluation of homosexuality as a normal variant of human sexuality.”
The resolution contradicted a 2021 Vatican declaration, approved by Pope Francis, that “the Church does not have, and cannot have, the power to bless unions of persons of the same sex.”
Alongside the synodal way, there are two other contextual factors worth mentioning.
First, Berlin is often listed as one of Europe’s most welcoming cities for people who identify as LGBT. The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, described as the world’s first LGBT rights organization, was founded in the city in 1897. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in the annual Berlin Pride parade in July. In 2022, Koch appealed for forgiveness for homophobia in the Church, a gesture that nodded toward Berlin’s position as a global LGBT center.
Second, German Catholic media are currently giving ample coverage to a situation in the Archdiocese of Cologne — another city with a strong LGBT presence — in which a pastor claims he was reprimanded after he held a blessing service for “all couples who love one another” at his parish in March — Archdiocesan authorities dispute his account.
The German dioceses of Münster, Aachen, and Essen — located within the ecclesiastical province of Cologne — reportedly responded to the case by declaring that they would not impose sanctions on priests conducting similar services. So the question of disciplinary action is topical in the German Church.
What does Archbishop Koch say?
Koch notes in the letter that he is committed to implementing the synodal way’s resolutions in the archdiocese, as long as they do not “go against the intentions and instructions of the Holy Father.”
He says that not long after the initiative’s final assembly, debates broke out in the Berlin archdiocese over the resolution on same-sex blessings.
“The proposal to introduce blessing services for couples who love each other and who cannot or do not want to marry sacramentally in our diocese has triggered controversy and discussions, some of which were conducted with great severity and strong emotions,” he writes.
Koch, who has served as Archbishop of Berlin since 2015, says that while the discussions were marked by “great love” for the Church, “not infrequently the conviction emerged that only one’s own point of view was suitable to protect the Church from dire consequences.”
Koch then lists the reasons why some Catholics in the archdiocese oppose the blessing services, followed by the reasons that others support them.
He notes that opponents believe that same-sex unions are not ordered to God’s plan as inscribed in creation and fully revealed by Christ’s Incarnation and therefore cannot be blessed. He cites the Vatican’s 2021 declaration in a footnote.
The archbishop then says that supporters’ “well-thought-out” arguments include the conviction that the Church is always developing in the knowledge of God, and that it should recognize through blessings the good elements in committed partnerships, such as love and fidelity.
He notes that Amoris says that same-sex unions “may not simply be equated with marriage,” and he suggests that Amoris also gives local churches “a great deal of latitude in dealing with people in so-called ‘irregular’ situations.”
Koch argues that Francis’ oft-cited statement about the Eucharist in his 2013 apostolic exhortationEvangelii gaudium — that it is “not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” — also applies to other sacraments, including marriage, “and yet even more so to a sacramental such as blessing.”
“Every blessing promises God’s grace and help to us people who are and remain weak. Blessing therefore does not have the meaning of ‘legitimizing, endorsing, approving,’” he writes.
“As the blessed, we all remain guilty people who need God’s uplifting grace for our life’s journey. This basic statement connects all people, even those who ask for blessings for their relationships that have not been or cannot be formed sacramentally.”
The archbishop then sets out six points which can be summarized as follows:
Given the sharp disagreements over blessing services, each priest, deacon, and full-time pastoral worker should “make a carefully considered decision for themselves.”
As long as there is no ruling apart from the Vatican’s statement in 2021 (which the letter mistakenly dates at this point to 2022), the archbishop will not himself preside at such blessing services.
He notes that the German bishops’ conference is seeking to “intensify talks” on the topic with the pope and officials such as the incoming Vatican doctrinal prefect Cardinal-elect Víctor Manuel Fernández, who has “shown himself open to consideration of a blessing if it is designed in such a way that it does not create confusion regarding the essential difference with the marriage of man and woman.”
Koch confirms that “as long as the status quo exists,” he will not take disciplinary action against those who preside at blessing services in the archdiocese.
The archbishop says he expects others to respect the decision of each priest, deacon, and pastoral worker for or against blessing services.
The issue of blessing services should not be used “for political or media purposes.” Neither supporters nor opponents should present themselves as being superior “in the congregation, in church committees, in the press, etc.”
Where there are differences at a parish level, within a pastoral team or a Church institution, Koch expects leaders to seek a solution by following his guidelines. Where they cannot reach an agreement, they should approach him for help.
Koch ends the letter by saying that what he has outlined is “a pastoral path, not an administrative or legal one,” inspired by the statements of Amoris laetitia.
“As there are reasons for and against blessing couples who love each other but do not want to or are unable to marry sacramentally, I would like to encourage you to weigh this question in a nuanced way and to decide responsibly,” he writes, adding that he hopes the archdiocese will “succeed in preserving unity in diversity.”
Given the Archdiocese of Berlin’s prominent position in the German Church, and the worldwide media attention given to German Catholicism during the synodal way, Koch’s letter is likely to be studied by Catholics around the world, including at the Vatican.
Viewed from another angle, the letter shows the deep divisions within the German Church. When four diocesan bishops refused to fund a committee intended to implement the synodal way’s resolutions, it was clear that the initiative had split the country’s episcopate. Koch’s letter underlines that there are also profound — and perhaps irresolvable — differences within dioceses, not just between them.
Looked at from a wider angle, the letter suggests that the Vatican is sending mixed (or perhaps not easily intelligible) signals about same-sex blessings. Through phrases such as “as long as the status quo exists” and references to Vatican talks, Koch appears to imply that the topic is in flux.
The Vatican made no public comment when the Belgian bishops issued a text allowing for a ritual blessing of same-sex couples in September 2022. Following the synodal way, the German Church is expected to publish a manual including blessings for same-sex couples. The pastoral care of Catholics who identify as LGBT is likely to feature prominently in discussions at October’s synod on synodality in Rome.
These factors may have been on Koch’s mind as he drew up his guidance, which doesn’t seek to resolve any of the current controversies but rather pleads for a “live and let live” attitude within his archdiocese.
The question is whether his appeal will be heeded — or, perhaps more likely, dismissed as insufficient by all sides. Regardless, the reaction will surely be watched closely in Rome as it grapples with “preserving unity in diversity” on a global scale.
Pope Francis has blasted the “backwardness” of some conservatives in the U.S. Catholic Church, saying they have replaced faith with ideology and that a correct understanding of Catholic doctrine allows for change over time.
Francis’ comments were an acknowledgment of the divisions in the U.S. Catholic Church, which has been split between progressives and conservatives who long found support in the doctrinaire papacies of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, particularly on issues of abortion and same-sex marriage.
Many conservatives have blasted Francis’ emphasis instead on social justice issues such as the environment and the poor, while also branding as heretical his opening to letting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics receive the sacraments.
Francis made the comments in a private meeting with Portuguese members of his Jesuit religious order while visiting Lisbon on Aug. 5; the Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica, which is vetted by the Vatican secretariat of state, published a transcript of the encounter Monday.
During the meeting, a Portuguese Jesuit told Francis that he had suffered during a recent sabbatical year in the United States because he came across many Catholics, including some U.S. bishops, who criticized Francis’ 10-year papacy as well as today’s Jesuits.
The 86-year-old Argentine acknowledged his point, saying there was “a very strong, organized, reactionary attitude” in the U.S. church, which he called “backward.” He warned that such an attitude leads to a climate of closure, which was erroneous.
“Doing this, you lose the true tradition and you turn to ideologies to have support. In other words, ideologies replace faith,” he said.
“The vision of the doctrine of the church as a monolith is wrong,” he added. “When you go backward, you make something closed off, disconnected from the roots of the church,” which then has devastating effects on morality.
“I want to remind these people that backwardness is useless, and they must understand that there’s a correct evolution in the understanding of questions of faith and morals,” that allows for doctrine to progress and consolidate over time.
Francis has previously acknowledged the criticism directed at him from some U.S. conservatives, once quipping that it was an “honor” to be attacked by Americans.
The Denver Catholic Archdiocese along with two of its parishes is suing the state alleging their First Amendment rights are violated because their desire to exclude LGBTQ parents, staff and kids from Archdiocesan preschools keeps them from participating in Colorado’s new universal preschool program.
The program is intended to provide every child 15 hours per week of state-funded preschool in the year before they are eligible for kindergarten. To be eligible, though, schools must meet the state’s non-discrimination requirements.
The Denver Archdiocese, St. Mary Catholic Parish in Littleton and St. Bernadette Catholic Parish in Lakewood filed suit against Lisa Roy, executive director of the Colorado Department of Early Childhood, and Dawn Odean, director of Colorado’s Universal Preschool Program, on Wednesday.
The Denver Archdiocese and the Colorado Department of Early Childhood could not immediately be reached for comment.
“The Department is purporting to require all preschool providers to accept any applicant without regard to a student or family’s religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity, and to prohibit schools from “discriminat[ing] against any person” on the same bases,” the lawsuit said. “These requirements directly conflict with St. Mary’s, St. Bernadette’s, and the Archdiocese’s religious beliefs and their religious obligations as entities that carry out the Catholic Church’s mission of Catholic education in northern Colorado.”
The Denver Archdiocese said in the suit they do not believe adhering to their religious beliefs against accepting LGBTQ people qualifies as discrimination. The Denver Post published written guidance last year issued by the Denver Archdiocese to its Catholic schools on the handling of LGBTQ issues, including telling administrators not to enroll or re-enroll transgender or gender non-conforming students and explaining that gay parents should be treated differently than heterosexual couples.
The lawsuit said St. Mary’s and St. Bernadette’s each require their preschool staff sign annual Archdiocese-approved employment contracts affirming that staff abide by traditional Catholic teachings on life, sexuality and marriage. They require parents who send their kids to their preschools “to understand and accept the community’s worldview and convictions regarding Catholic moral issues like life, marriage, and human sexuality,” the lawsuit said.
The Denver Archdiocese argues in the lawsuit that the state has “cornered the market” for preschool services by providing universal funding and any preschool providers who don’t participate will be “severely disadvantaged” and forced to charge “significantly” higher fees, disadvantaging low-income families whose children attend Archdiocesan schools.
“Colorado did not have to create a universal preschool funding program, but in doing so it cannot implement that program in a way that excludes certain religious groups and providers based on their sincerely held religious beliefs,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit said enrolling children with gay parents into an Archdiocesan school “is likely to lead to intractable conflicts” because a “Catholic school cannot treat a same-sex couple as a family equivalent to the natural family without compromising its mission and Catholic identity.”
The lawsuit is seeking a jury trial and for the state to reverse its decision and allow the Denver Archdiocese to participate in the universal preschool program while giving them the ability to exclude LGBTQ students, staff and parents from their schools.