Why I was so disappointed by Mary McAleese’s comments on gay priests

Opinion: The church teaches that sexuality is ordered towards a certain goal

Gay marriage at Boston City Hall: Julie (left) and Hillary Goodridge, with (back to camera) registrar Judith McCarthy. Photograph: AP

Gay marriage at Boston City Hall: Julie (left) and Hillary Goodridge, with (back to camera) registrar Judith McCarthy. Photograph: AP


Homophobia has never gone away. It’s everywhere, not just in places such as India, where a law against gay sex exists which carries prison sentences of up to 10 years.

What about actor Alec Baldwin, an Obama and gay marriage supporter, who when provoked refers to people as “toxic little queens” and other more vile and graphic homophobic terms?

His MSNBC show, Up Late With Alec Baldwin, was cancelled when his claims that he had no idea the expressions were homophobic began to wear thin. (Mind you, his ratings were also slipping.)

I’ve witnessed something similar myself in pubs in Dublin. People who would happily vote for gay marriage have said crude, snide and offensive things about and to gay and lesbian people I know.

For people who are genuinely homophobic, gay people are the “Other”. For a certain type of liberal, anyone who supports traditional marriage is the Other. In both cases, people fail to understand or relate to the Other as people.

That’s why I was so disappointed in Mary McAleese’s comments as reported in the Glasgow Herald. McAleese is an erudite, intelligent woman and a committed Catholic. It is hard to believe that she really thinks the church’s teaching on sexuality, and in particular, on gay sex, stems from the fact that there are allegedly so many gay churchmen frantically trying to repress their sexuality. As someone with a qualification in canon law, she must know the church teaches that sexuality is ordered towards a certain goal, that of loving and mutual support that binds men and women together so they can best care for their children.

She might profoundly disagree with that teaching, as is her right, but why does she believe the alleged fact that so many priests are gay constitutes a “herd of elephants” in the room? I am not aware of any research that indicates real numbers, but even if 95 per cent of priests were gay, does that mean they are all repressed, stifling their sexuality, and self-hating homophobes as a result?

I know gay priests who manage to like themselves as much as anyone likes themselves, who radiate a hard-won and quiet contentment and who also accept and live out the church’s teaching on gay sex.

And what of her reported remark that no one likes to be considered a sinner, as though this were only directed at gay people? When asked in a recent interview who Jorge Bergoglio is, Pope Francis paused, and then said, “I am a sinner.”

In the Christian understanding of what it is to be human, we are all sinners, we all make unbelievable messes, and we are all unbelievably loved.

The language used about gay sexual acts, such as the phrase “intrinsic disorder”, is deeply unhelpful. I instinctively recoil from it but I also don’t believe it carries the hatred attributed to it. For example, the catechism also refers to lying and calumny as intrinsically disordered.

I suspect that stuffing yourself silly for the 12 days of Christmas is also considered intrinsically disordered, and sex outside marriage is definitely considered intrinsically disordered, but the church is never accused of hating liars, greedy people or heterosexuals. But to declare the church homophobic is routine.

It is also assumed that every gay person supports gay marriage, which is far from true either among Christians or secular gay people. There is an active discussion among gay Christians. They refer to themselves as Side A, gay Christians who disagree with the church’s teaching, and Side B, those who agree.

Some of the gay people who agree with the church’s teaching do not do so uncritically. For a flavour of Side B, go to www.spiritualfriendship.org. They may accept that sexual acts are best confined to male-female marriage, but they think the church has mountains to climb before it can credibly claim to care for gays and lesbians.

They point out that if the only vocations you hear about are priesthood and marriage, it is not particularly helpful to people who are struggling, but really want to live celibately. They often feel ignored, or feared. However, they also present some really moving accounts of gay people who have received support from their parishes and friends.

Wesley Hill, who is gay and celibate, in an article in First Things describes being asked to be a godparent by two married couples, who then incorporated him into their families in the way a close and much-loved uncle might be. http://bit.ly/1djmmp7

I don’t know how gay Christians who do not support gay marriage have the courage to appear on the media. Most of the names they get called couldn’t be printed here, but just check out Twitter any time a gay person who supports traditional marriage is on. Descriptions such as “self-loathing gay religious fundamentalist” are typical of the attacks.

Ironically, in that particular case the epithet was directed at a gay who has also been beaten up on the street for being gay. Sincere disagreement on the nature of marriage is not the problem. Homophobia and intolerance are. Let’s unite to eliminate them.

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