Step back from homophobia.

By Richard O’ Leary.

Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin insisted that the Roman Catholic bishops’ opposition to same-sex marriage is “not about homosexuality or the gay lifestyle” last November and fired the opening shot in their campaign for a No vote in the marriage equality referendum. Last March, in an interview on Newstalk, he went to say “the jury’s out” on whether people are born gay and that being gay is not what God intended. He compared sexual orientation to a disability (Down’s syndrome). How can a bishop be so ill-informed?

Twenty years ago I was invited by the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation to present a sociological report on the Protestant minority and Catholic-Protestant marriage. Later the Roman Catholic Bishop of Killaloe, Willie Walsh, wrote in the Furrow of the “wounds” caused by his fellow bishops by their opposition to mixed marriage. He wrote “I feel that many of us would want to apologise and ask forgiveness from our non-Roman brethren for that pain and hurt…It has been a long journey from that sadness and isolation to the joyfulness of today’s inter-church marriages”.

The Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Dr Paul Colton, apologised last year for the hurt Christian churches have caused lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people. He later stated on BBC Radio Ulster that “I certainly support civil same-sex marriage”. Bishop Michael Burrows of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory also declared for Yes at a recent event for Faith in Marriage Equality (FiME). Bishops have got it wrong before and they were humble enough to admit it.

Growing up in Cork in the early 1980s I attended St Fin Barre’s secondary school. The principal, Dr John Buckley, is now the Roman Catholic Bishop of Cork. Jerry Buttimer, now a TD for Cork and an out gay man, was in the year behind me. Every day in the classroom, I was ‘wounded’ when I overheard the put-downs of “homo”, “fag”, and “queer”. On my way to school, I remember passing someone in the street on the way to work who called out “fairy”. I was threatened and changed my route.

I well recall visiting school-friends at the seminary in Maynooth in 1982. I was struck at how like our Catholic school it was, being single sex, without women teachers, and with the added struggle of sexual abstinence. That is the world that Irish Roman Catholic bishops were socialised into. Should we be surprised that they teach as they do about same sex marriage?

The Roman Catholic bishops recently upped the ante in their No campaign with a threat to withdraw from the signing of the civil marriage register at all weddings in a Catholic church. The bishops did not resort to this supposed ‘nuclear option’ twenty years ago after the legalisation of civil divorce. I know that the Association of Catholic Priests does not agree with them. I know that in County Donegal, some parishioners walked out after the priest in the pulpit preached for a No vote.

A face glared down from an aggressive poster calling for a No Vote as I recently walked down Shandon Street. Homophobic messaging is sweeping across the country. This is part of the emotional price to be paid by being gay or lesbian and engaging with the referendum campaign. This time I did not change my route. The negative messages are contradicted by my own personal experience of 25 years of a loving, faithful, same-sex relationship.

There will be a price to be paid by the institution of the Roman Catholic Church.  It will emerge as a smaller, more anti-gay denomination. Ironically, it may be the Catholic dissent, and the two Church of Ireland Bishops, who may one day enable the Roman Catholic Church to retrieve something positive when in the future it apologises for the wounds it inflicted on the gay and lesbian minority and its opposition to same-sex marriage. •