What Irish Catholics Believe

This is getting monotonous, but it must be stated again. What Catholics believe and practice on matters of sexual ethics, as a matter of empirical fact, is simply not what the (nominally) celibate bishops in their ivory towers would like us to believe, or falsely proclaim as “Catholic” belief, when it is in fact no more than Vatican doctrine.

The latest evidence, in a long line of similar research, comes from Ireland. This makes it all the more notable, given that country’s long reputation until recently as a “priest-ridden country”, where the dictates of the clergy meant that even contraception was forbidden by law, and people would journey across the island to Belfast just to buy condoms.

(In the discussion below, I do not distinguish between “Irish” and “Catholic”, purely for ease of reading. The full report does make the distinction, but in practice the results are just about identical for Catholics and the country as a whole – not surprising, given the Irish demographics.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Son of a Priest, Son of a Bishop: Another Cost of Compulsory Celibacy

It is estimated that 1,000 people in Britain and Ireland are the children of Catholic priests

Three common Irish surnames translate as ‘son of the priest’, ‘son of the Bishop’ and ‘son of the Abbot’.

-Bishop Pat Buckley, quoted in the Guardian

When we try to assess the value or harm of the rule on compulsory celibacy, we usually think in terms of the priests themselves, or possibly on the parishes they serve. Does  a celibate life leave them better equipped to devote their lives to their parishioners, without distractions of their own family – or does it leave them simply incapable of understanding sexual and emotional complexities way outside their own experience?

Sometimes, recognizing human weakness, we acknowledge that universal celibacy is a myth, and then consider also the impact on the lives of their partners (male or female) who find themselves forced to live in a clerical closet not of their own choosing. Even less often, do we consider the impact on the lives of those unfortunate sons and daughters of priests, who find themselves growing up either without a father at all, or with a father known to them – who refuses to acknowledge them publicly (which is worse, I wonder?)

Read the rest of this entry »

Progress to Marriage Equality (1): Ireland.

In Ireland, the Dáil (the parliamentary lower house) has passed the long-expected Civil Partnership Bill, without requiring a vote, and to applause from the public gallery. It is expected that it will pass in the  Seanad within a fortnight or so, and is most likely to be signed in the autumn, to come into effect in the new year.  The legislation is modelled on the existing British law, which gives couples virtually the same standing in law as married couples, except for the name. In Ireland, the law explicitly does not include adoption rights. There is also provision for a divorce equivalent, on exactly the same terms as existing divorce law.

This will leave Italy and Malta as the only countries in Western Europe with no provision for any form of legal recognition for same sex-partnerships. Resistance in Italy has come on the back of strenuous opposition but the Catholic bishops, but as the Irish example has shown, Church resistance elsewhere has come to nothing. How much longer can Italy hold out?

This will be the state of partnership recognition in Europe after the Irish law takes effect

(Dark blue – full equality; Light blue – civil unions; Red – constitutional restriction to opposite sex couples only; Yellow – under review)

 

Related articles


Steady Advance of Gay Marriage – and Christian Divorce!

In Ireland, Marriage Equality have launched a publicity campaign, “We Are Family” for gay marriage to the June month of of Pride. This is timely. Although the Irish government made a clear commitment last year to provide for strong civil partnerships on the British model (not quite full marriage), the timetable seems to be constantly stretching. the Civil Partnership was originally published in June 2oo9, with a promise it would be operational by the end of the year. Enactment is no longer expected any time sooner than October 2o1o.

Checking the progress of marriage equality in Ireland led me also to check on the other countries which have had big announcements, in some cases followed by silence.

Marriage in Europe, June 2010 (Wikipedia)

Portugal

This is the highest profile story, and the battle has already been won. The bill has been ratified, and will take effect as soon as next week.

After Portugal and Slovenia, the most likely contenders to be next in line are the three Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Iceland and Finland.  (Sweden and Norway already have full equality. In Sweden, that includes church weddings.)

Slovenia

Last year, a ruling by the Constitutional Court forced action on equality on the government, who announced moves to full equality. The Equality bill which ensued was duly passed by the country’s lower house of parliament on March 2 this year. Since then, I have been unable to find any reports of progress in the upper house. As the bill was mandated by court decision, I assume it must eventually become law – but who can say when?

Denmark

This was the first country anywhere to accept gay civil unions, more than 20 years ago. Right from the start, these were popularly thought of as “gay marriage”, and are by now so familiar that acceptance of full marriage is widely accepted in principle – but low in priority.  A news report earlier this year suggested that government had accepted the principle of gay marriage, but that the delay at present was just waiting to get approval from the Danish Lutheran Church for their own acceptance of same sex weddings in church, as in Sweden.

Iceland

As in Denmark, the political will is there (with an openly lesbian PM, how could it not be?), but there is some delay while they attempt to achieve the backing and support of the Lutheran Church.

Finland

The leaders of all the main political parties have accepted the principle of a move from civil unions to full marriage, but the issue does not appear to have any great priority. Equality for Finns will surely come, but do no expect any progress until after the next general election – another couple of years to wait, then.

Cyprus

A news report from the Cyprus Mail back in February that the government had promised to “look at” gay marriage led me to ask breathlessly “Would Cyprus be next?”. As there has been not a whisper since, anywhere, I think I can answer confidently “No.” The government may well have “looked” at the question – and then looked away. It takes more than looking to achieve change, it requires political will and action. (Will David Cameron’s promise before the UK election to look at gay marriage go the same way?)

Albania

In Albania, the delay is because ME has become embroiled in wider, much more serious constitutional issues. The governing party has declared support and promised a marriage bill. The opposition socialists would also support the proposal – but do not recognize the validity of the government since the last elections, for which they dispute the results.  They have paralyzed parliament by boycotting it. Gay marriage, it seems, will pass when parliament reconvenes: but nobody can say when that will be.

Outside of Europe, the brightest hopes are in Argentina and Nepal.

Argentina

A bill to approve both marriage and adoption rights for gay couples has already passed the Lower House of parliament, and is currently before the Senate. In an innovative move to take debate around the country, a Senate committee is touring major provincial cities to sound public opinion. The country’s president and Senate leader have both said they will not obstruct debate, nor veto the bill if approved. However, my own gut feeling is growing more pessimistic. Declared sympathies of senators are running about even, but a large bloc will not disclose their views, which I do not take as a promising sign.

Nepal

As in Slovenia, equality has been mandated by the courts, and must come. As in Albania, the process has been clouded by bigger issues of fundamental constitutional change. Until they have been resolved, marriage equality is unlikely to be enacted. It is clear thought that the political will is now there: the money men have recognized the potential value of the pink pound to the country’s crucial tourism industry, and regularly float stories in the Western gay press promoting Nepal as a wedding and honeymoon destination. They will not want to backtrack now, but I am not going to stick my neck out and predict timing on the wider political issues.

Australia

Possibly the biggest marriage story I have not been reporting on comes from Oz, where I have a sense of a steadily growing groundswell of public support. However, their has not yet been acceptance by the two major political parties for anything beyond civil unions, and even they are limited to certain jurisdictions. However, there is widespread de facto recognition of same sex couples, the small but important Green party has embraced the cause, and if I am right that public pressure is growing, this could become a high profile issue quite suddenly, at least in the key states of Victoria (Melbourne) and New South Wales (Sydney).

New Zealand

?

New Zealand was one of the earliest countries to adopt strong civil unions, which offer marriage in “everything but name “- and adoption rights. But I have never seen any reports of pressure for anything stronger. What gives? Are Kiwi queers so laid back that the name doesn’t matter? Are they not interested in adoption? Or have I (and Wikipedia) simply been missing the news stories?

Christian Divorce.

Meanwhile. my research for this post led me stumble upon this delightful snippet, on religion and divorce. Which religious grouping (in the US) do you suppose has the highest divorce rate? Evangelical Christians. Which has the strongest opposition to gay marriage? (Oh, right that;s too easy – Evangelical Christians).

And which has the lowest divorce rate? Catholics. Which has (among) the lowest opposition to gay marriage? Catholics, again.

Perhaps that is why the religious right is so opposed to marriage equality – they are so desperate to rescue the parlous state of their own, that they will try anything, no matter how far-fetched. While Catholics, feeling less threat to their own marriages, are happy to share the benefits more widely.

OK, the preceding paragraph badly oversimplifies, and the data on divorce is ten years old, from a research outfit I’m not familiar with. This needs more careful analysis. But prima facie, I thought it fascinating.

 

Related articles

For the Irish Catholics, a Modest Proposal.

No substantive posting today, as I have been out all day on retreat with the Soho Masses congregation, with with as retreat director.Fr Bernard Lynch.  Bernard is Irish, and is even more concerned about the poor position of women in the Catholic Church than about that of gay men.

As an aside to a discussion on a broader topic, he made the following useful suggestion for the Irish Church. The best way for them to recover from the hurt inflicted on them, he says, is for every Irish Catholic to stay well away from Catholic priests and Catholic buildings for a year.  During that time, the impressive Irish women can fill the breach, celebrating Mass for their families in their own homes.

Sounds good to me:  Now, what about elsewhere?

A Theologian’s 12-step Recovery Program for the Church

Enda McDonagh is one of Ireland’s foremost theologians, with a particular interest in prayer through art and poetry. (I once attended a short retreat he led got our Soho Masses group, using this approach.) Now, he has turned his attention to the crisis of the Irish Church, and how it might regain the trust and respect of the Irish people. It needs, he says, something like a 12 step recovery program.

This could usefully be adapted for the wider, global church, too.

Theologian maps 12-step recovery for church

ONE OF Ireland’s most distinguished theologians has recommended a 12-step programme of recovery for the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Fr Enda McDonagh, former professor of Moral Theology at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, calls for the church leadership to repent more convincingly their failure “in dealing with the crimes of clerical and religious sexual abuse”.

He says “the intellectual weakness of the Irish Church will also require attention” in a contribution that, he says, was prompted by watching excerpts on the TV3 Tonight with Vincent Browne programme of the Catholic bishops’ press conference in Maynooth last Wednesday and, having attended the Tom Kilroy play Christ Deliver Us! at the Abbey Theatre earlier that evening.

The 12 steps are as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Abuse: Is it OK if everybody else is doing it?

An Irish prelate has lashed out at “the media” for making so much fuss about clerical abuse, when so much more abuse occurs elsewhere.

A senior bishop has attacked the media for singling out the Catholic Church for covering-up paedophile priests when 95pc of child abuse occurs in families and community life.

Christopher Jones, the Bishop of Elphin and head of the bishops’ committee on the family, said in Maynooth last night that he strongly objected to the way the church was being isolated. “Of course we have made mistakes,” Dr Jones added.

“But why this huge isolation of the church and this huge focus on cover-up in the church when it has been going on for centuries?

“It is only now for the first time ever that victims have been given their voice.” Dr Jones said that it was known that “95pc of abuse out there is in families, communities and other institutions.

He is right, of course.  There is far more abuse outside the church than in it.  But that completely misses the point.  We do not point to “families” as at fault, because they do not represent a cohesive group, subject to the same  corporate rules and controls as the church.

But let’s take Bishop Jones’ figures at face value, and consider their implication.  If 95% of abuse takes place outside the chruch, then presumably 5 % is “within” . That implies that 5% of abusers are priests ( or other church staff).  Wikipedia gives the number of secular clergy in Ireland as about 3000, with a further 700 in religious orders.  Call it 4000 for round numbers, or even 5000 in case of undercount. The total population of the country is about five million: one person in a thousand is a priest.  So, 0.1% of the population are responsible for 5%  of the of the abuse.  That equates to a propensity to abuse which is 50 times greater than the general population (or 25 times more if we assume all abusers to be male). That is the point – not the total number of cases, but the incidence, especially in an institution that claims to be a moral guardian, guiding us in right living.