Saturday 20 July 2019

Sarah Caden: The bishop and God's little glitches

Gay or disabled may be at odds with God's plan, says the Bishop of Elphin but, asks Sarah Caden, who made him God?

Bishop Kevin Doran
Bishop Kevin Doran

Sarah Caden

Whether you believe in God or not, it was hard to recognise the God the Bishop of Elphin brought on to the radio last Monday. In the context of the marriage equality referendum, and pressed by Chris Donoghue to explain whether he believes that gay people are born gay or become gay, the bishop said that "a very different kind of God to the kind of God that Christianity believes in" would make a person gay from birth. Or for that matter, see them born with spina bifida or Down syndrome.

To be fair, the bishop also told Donoghue that he "can't see into the mind of God", but for someone without that ability, he was straying into pretty dangerous territory.

Specifically, Donoghue was trying to pin down whether it is the Church's position that people are born gay or whether their sexuality is, in the words of Bishop Aguilar in Spain, "a mental disorder".

"You see the reason I was asking about what is the Church's belief on where being gay comes from," said Donoghue, "is because if some people are born and they are straight and others are born and they are gay, then that's as God intended."

"That would be to suggest that if some people who are born with Down syndrome or spina bifida, that that was what God intended," replied Bishop Kevin Doran.

What in God's name, literally, is this man saying?

Is his a God that thinks in terms of glitches on the conveyor belt of creation? Does his God make mistakes sometimes and is this what gay and disabled people are? And is this the deal under which we all get lumped in together in the bad-toy box? It's hard to know which cohort, gay or disabled, should be more offended, really.

When the bishop appeared on Newstalk last week to discuss the marriage equality referendum, anyone who is gay themselves, or who loves someone who is gay, was braced to be offended. And you could argue that we're all a bit hasty to take the hump and get offended these days.

From a personal point of view, as the mother of a child with Down syndrome, what the bishop had to say was jaw-dropping stuff. I heard it. I Googled it afterwards. I read and re-read what he had to say. Did he mean that God wouldn't intend a child to be born with the extra chromosome? Was he really suggesting that this went against the creation plan? I'm not a believer, but the last time I checked, the believers were pretty certain that God cherished all his creations. I hadn't heard that he considered some of his creations to be duds.

When your child is born with a disability, or for that matter, acquires one - I wonder how the bishop explains that? - people say a lot of stuff to you by way of consolation.

You hear a lot about how the extra burden is only sent to those who can carry it, you hear how they are special, blessed, a gift from God.

None of it works for me, really. I don't have faith, I don't think we're special: I just think we all do our best, and love our kids, disability or no disability. There are a lot of people, though, for whom the reassurance that there is a divine love for their child or that they are angels, is a huge consolation and comfort.

These aren't just people who go to Lourdes or who are intensely devout, but ordinary people, comforted by the reassurance that there's nothing 'wrong' with their kid.

The problem with the bishop's comments though is that they may lead some to surmise that God seems to have a growing list of undesirables.

Last Tuesday, the day after Bishop Doran appeared on Newstalk, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, at the Catholic Bishops' spring meeting in Maynooth, declined to discuss the specifics of what his fellow bishop had said. What he did say, however, was that "certain types of language are inappropriate."

As a man who has never failed to prove his compassion, no doubt Bishop Martin had regrets about what had been said. Further, though, he'll know that his Church can't afford to go around alienating and losing its followers any further than it has already. And he knows, surely, that every outing like Bishop Doran's is work done for the 'Yes' vote.

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