Justin McAleese: Facts of life and gay relationships still stump the Church
Published 08/08/2015 | 02:00
During the marriage equality referendum, the Primate of All-Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, wondered: If it is successful, "what will we be expected to teach children in school about marriage or about homosexual acts?" I wrote to him at the time, asking him to outline the Church's current teaching on homosexuals and homosexual acts.
He first referred me to a 16-page document from the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference called Guidelines on Relationships and Sexuality Education. This document, he said, is "intended to outline the principles to inform all aspects of such teaching in Catholic schools".
This document makes no mention of gays, lesbians or homosexuality. It is a document on heterosexuality only. So I replied, asking him for the gay guidelines, to which he responded: "I do not know of any separate set of principles which deals with gay and lesbian orientation."
The archbishop went on to recommend that I "consult the work of author and speaker Christopher West" to get an understanding of Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body, and pointed out that "the teaching on matters of sexuality and marriage is well known and is given in various Church documents", but didn't point me to any one particular document.
I took his advice and consulted Mr West.
The archbishop was good enough to include the website address - christopherwest.com - in his letter, presumably to make sure I found that exact site.
The first article I read on the site was entitled 'Bono, Ireland and the Eclipse of the Sexual Difference, Part II'.
In it, Mr West makes the following observation on gay relationships: "Two people of the same sex can certainly love one another - I'm all for it! But please tell me, why does that have to involve their genitals?
"There are clearly a great many relationships of love in which the stimulation of genitals has no place in the expression of that love - indeed, to stimulate them would contradict utterly the nature and meaning of love.
"Think of a parent-child relationship; or a brother-sister relationship; or an aunt and her niece. What place does sex have here?"
I convinced myself that the archbishop didn't intend me to read that article, so I read another.
This one was called 'Authentic Love and Ejaculation', and Mr West gave us this insight: "For example, my son's classmate insisted that there was nothing wrong with two men loving each other. That is 100pc correct.
"In fact, there is everything right with two men loving each other. The question is, what does it mean for two men to love each other, and what does that have to do with engaging in sex?
"So, their friendly debate turned to the meaning of love and, after some conversation, they both agreed that a good working definition of love was 'sacrificing yourself for the good of others'.
He went on to describe in explicit terms how his son then asked his friend to demonstrate how sex with another man "showed self-sacrifice for the good of others".
Did the Primate of All Ireland really send me to this website? Is this where he gets his information on human sexuality?
I then started on my search for those "Church documents" detailing the "well known" teaching on "matters of sexuality and marriage".
I found a 2003 document written by Pope Benedict when he was head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in which he stated the following: "Homosexuality is a troubling moral and social phenomenon.
"Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law. The homosexual inclination is, however, objectively disordered.
"Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimisation of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalisation of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil.
"The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions".
These aren't pleasant statements for a gay person to read. The question needs to be asked, no matter how well disposed our Church leaders think they are to homosexuals, whether these words and language justify and/or encourage homophobia in others?
In the aftermath of the referendum, the Archbishop said "among the many lessons that we as Church can learn from the referendum debate is to re-commit ourselves to the pastoral care of anyone in society who experiences victimisation and stigmatisation".
How can he even seriously consider pastoral care when his own guidelines don't even acknowledge the existence of homosexuals?
How can he and his colleagues ignore and stand over ignoring the research which shows gay children are five times more likely to be medicated for depression and three times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers?
This collective 'bury our heads in the sand' approach is not acceptable from an institution which controls 90pc of the primary schools in Ireland. Schools in which there are approximately 50,000 young gay men and women in today.
The archbishop's promise of "re-commitment to pastoral care" is meaningless without him and his bishops first addressing the words and language used in respect of homosexuals within the Church.
A good place to start would be for him and his fellow bishops to tell us, in advance of their participation in the Synod in October, whether they agree or disagree (yes or no answers will suffice) with Pope Benedict's 2003 statements - this will give us a good indication of where they stand and whether their commitment to the pastoral care of the gay community is credible and respectful.