Sexuality, Nature and Justice

Sep 11, 2016 | 9 comments

The same-sex marriage question

How should we Catholics react to the presence of anyone involved in a same-sex marriage in any role of ministry in our church congregation?  Sean O’Conaill presents a very personal view.

Activist ‘forced’ lesbian couple to leave roles in church choir. So reported Patsy McGarry in the Irish Times on September 9th 2016. Less than five hours later, this headline had been replaced with Lesbian couple to retake church roles they were ‘forced’ to leave.

As such brief reports typically summarise and over-simplify a great deal of complexity, and I have no means of verifying the factual statements made in that report, I will refrain from attributing any of the reported ‘facts’ to any named individual. My purpose here is not factual reportage but personal reflection and comment upon a situation which we can regard as entirely hypothetical, as follows:

Person A, described as an ‘activist’, takes exception to the participation in a Catholic church choir, and in Eucharistic ministry, of Persons B and C – on the grounds that their gay civil marriage is contrary to Catholic teaching. Person A makes known this opposition in such a way that Persons B and C at first feel obliged to relinquish their membership of the choir. Sometime later they reverse this decision – influenced, it appears, by an unknown number of other members of the same church community who do not share Person A’s position.

The story is of interest to Catholics generally for the obvious reason that this situation could occur anywhere, posing (possibly) a clear challenge. We will all naturally ask ourselves ‘how would / will I respond in that same situation?’

Asking myself that same question, I place myself in the situation firstly of Person A, who becomes aware of the personal relationship of Persons B and C and their membership of the church choir in my own local church. What, if anything, do I feel compelled to do about this circumstance?

Yes, Persons B and C do appear to be in breach of a disciplinary position advised to us by the official leadership of the church – but is it not possible, even likely, that other members of the same congregation (and perhaps even I myself) are in breach of one or more other rules of the church, and that these other infractions could well be known to others present? As it is most unusual for anyone to take express exception to the presence of someone else in a church gathering, for whatever reason – even if that person is in some kind of ‘leadership’ role  – is this particular circumstance exceptional to a degree that obliges me to behave in an exceptional way?

On balance I strongly think not. For one thing, the official leadership of my church in Ireland has signally failed even to try to convince me that it has understood human sexuality as fully as this particular situation requires. No one yet has convinced me that the church’s ‘take’ on ‘natural law’ requirements regarding sexuality and marriage is binding in conscience – and none has ever entered into dialogue with me or anyone I know on the matter. (At 73, I have been a Mass-goer in Ireland all of my life.)

Furthermore, when it came to church management of other issues of sexual morality in the church – specifically clerical sexual abuse of children – huge injustices followed that have not yet been fully explained or healed. Had the principles of natural justice been followed in those circumstances, rather than the comparatively trivial matter of protecting popular trust in priestly celibacy, thousands of Catholic families throughout the Catholic world would have been saved from long-lasting trauma.

So the central question for me now in regard to all issues of sexual relationships is: ‘what are the requirements of justice here?’ Until the Catholic episcopal magisterium has also systematically addressed issues of sexuality and marriage under that criterion I will remain unconvinced by ‘natural law’ argumentation on matters of sex. (Instead, a US Catholic theologian who has systematically pursued that very line of inquiry has been censured – without any discussion, as usual – by the Holy See. That is in no way convincing either. * )

And knowing that the same bishops allowed priests guilty of clerical child abuse to continue to celebrate the Eucharist – without ever warning even the parents of those children who served on the altar – on what grounds would I feel compelled to complain about the presence of anyone in a same-sex marriage in the choir or in the role of a Eucharistic minister? How, in justice, could I do that? The question answers itself.

So, next, how would I react if someone else in my church community took such an action, leading to a decision by others to resign from any ministry open to lay people?

I honestly hope I would have reacted as others appear to have done in the case cited above: taken the trouble, firstly, to express disagreement with the action of Person A, and, secondly, to show solidarity with Persons B and C – for the reasons given above. I hope I would also take the opportunity to protest the total lack of opportunity to discuss such issues with clergy during the whole of my adult life – and to point out that this clear moratorium on dialogue has done untold damage to the faith and trust of so many families in Ireland, as well as to confidence in the said magisterium. For me, no ‘New Evangelisation’ can be effective in Ireland until that truly disastrous dialogical deficit is remedied.

Finally, I hope I would also take the trouble to oppose any move to ostracise or pressurise Person A into leaving my church community either, and to make known that opposition to Person A. When it comes to celebrating our central Eucharistic and penitential rite, all of us deeply need to embrace fully the principles of both mercy and inclusion – and to seize such ‘learning moments’ as a God-sent opportunity to begin the deep discussion that has been so disastrously delayed for so long. Person A also needs a hearing, and compassion – and this Year of Mercy surely requires of all of us a supreme effort to bear with one another as imperfect beings who are called, above all, to love.

* Margaret A Farley: ‘Just Love: A Framework for Sexual Ethics’ (Continuum, NY, 2006)


  1. Mary Vallely

    Well said, Sean, thoughtful, wise and compassionate. I totally agree that this moratorium on dialogue has done huge damage to the trust people have in our churchmen, in those chosen to guide us.
    Self-righteousness is a sickening trait especially in those who protest against loving same-sex relationships. However even more stomach -churning is the hypocrisy of those ordained who continue to indulge in gay or hetero sex and whose bishops turn a blind eye to it as long as they are discreet. We can all understand the need for affection and a genuine desire for the love of a life partner but whilst many clergy have been ignoring the laws set down by the Magisterium ordinary lay people are castigated for breaking them. I know one man who married a divorcée who hasn’t been to the altar for years as he is not welcome according to church laws.
    The hypocrisy re sex is what turns people away from the RCC. The fact that a young man wishing to enter a seminary has to pretend that his sexual orientation is not gay is truly alarming. What are we breeding in the seminaries if these lies are the norm and mental reservations become an accepted element in the mindset of our hierarchs? I feel angry, saddened and amazed that we have accepted so much without questioning. Like most people I have no difficulty in accepting that being gay is perfectly normal and that celibacy is an unfair burden to impose on all ordained. For those who can keep their vow it is a great blessing but many more than I had previously realised struggle so what are they supposed to do? The honest thing would be to leave the priesthood but if they are good priests with a genuine God- given vocation? Time to challenge and to demand that dialogue we so badly need. Deep down, I can hear my inner Dragon taunting me to say, ” I’m out!” But I ask myself, where else would I go for the spiritual nourishment our church gives and which feeds my very soul?

  2. Martin Murray

    Dairmuid O’Murchu’s recent book “Inclusivity: A Gospel Mandate” (Sept 2015) addresses the core issue in this article, not least by highlighting the radical inclusiveness of Jesus as revealed in his parables and his practice of commensality (open table).

    Here’s a few quotes:-

    It is sometimes described as the great scandal of contemporary Christianity, particularly in the Catholic Church which refuses participation in Eucharist to a range of people deemed not to be worthy of being included. If anything is crystal clear from the Gospels, it is the fact that those deemed to be most unworthy were precisely the ones who had the primary right to be at table with Jesus. No distinction is made between the righteous and the sinner. Not only are all welcome, but all are fully embraced and included. There are no exceptions to the inclusivity of the open table.”

    “Of all the examples of Gospel inclusivity explored in this book, the unconditional invitation to the open table may well be
    the most radical. Correspondingly, it is one of the most neglected and perverted of Gospel mandates. It is unlikely that mainline churches are going to embrace (this) inclusivity. It will be up to the adult people of God—in their homes and close affiliations—to adopt a new bold, subversive creativity and transcend the painful exclusions that have prevailed in the Christian churches for far too long.”

    See also

    • Kevin Walters

      No distinction is made between the righteous and the sinner. Not only are all welcome, but all are fully embraced and included. There are no exceptions to the inclusivity of the open table”.———————————————————————–

      Martin, an extension to the inclusivity of the open table can be seen in (Matt 22:11) where All are called to the Wedding Feast but one condition is imposed a wedding garment has to be worn, those who original heard this parable would have known instantly that the custom of the day was that the wedding garment was provided free of charge, by the Bridegroom and had to be worn no matter how well one’s own apparel may be, dignitaries etc would conform to this custom as did those with poor apparel, not to do so would be an affront the groom. This garment also created equality (Mutual respect) amongst the guest. I believe that name of this garment is humility; we can deduce this because we are told that one of the guests had no garment, to those hearing this parable they would have instantly have concluded that he was arrogant by refusing to wear the free customary garment of compliance offered to him. He wanted to be accepted on his own terms as he was in his own/self-image (ego). He was gagged, (his opinion no longer to contradict (offend) God his stance so offensive that he was bound hand and foot and thrown into the darkness never to be able to repeat the same action again. The wedding garment has been purchased by the Master own body and blood (suffering) and His body and blood should be freely available to All who are willing to wear the wedding garment (Humility) but to do this we have to willingly drink (accept openly own our own frailty) and suffer it, with our heads bowed low as we form a relationship of Trust in God’s infinite love and mercy. Our Father in the incarnation gave of himself out of love to save that which had been lost. All of us, Clergy, laity, married, divorced, gay, the crippled (in mind and body), the lame, the bad, the good, we (the lost) are all flawed and sinful. But we have ALL been called (invited) to partake in the Wedding feast but when the Master comes will he find our hearts ( which are broken, sinful, and lost,) now contrite, blest, and wearing the wedding garment of humility (Holiness).
      The True divine Mercy image gives all of us who cannot receive the sacrament of reconciliation the means to wear the wedding garment of humility. This includes those who have committed themselves to the use of contraception, those who have divorced and taken a civil partner; and also committed same sex couples, although the garment is freely offered for some it can be difficult to wear/own openly our own fallen human nature, but not to do so is to partake of The Lords table dressed in one own apparel and personal stance (self-image).
      Please consider reading the link below and connected links if you have time, which deal with a way forward for all in humility.
      kevin your brother
      In Christ

      • soconaill

        Your account of the wedding garment, humility, is quite fascinating and compelling, Kevin. Can you give us the source of this interpretation, if you can remember where you learned it first?

        • Kevin Walters

          Thank you for your comment Sean I have made a similar comment on the ACP site over the last few years and on this site about a year ago.It comes from my own reflect on the parable.
          kevin your brother
          In Christ

        • Kevin Walters

          Sean the source of this interpretation comes from a reflection I had when I first heard this parable, I was about twelve years old I could not understand how not having a wedding garment could result in such harsh dealings with the individual concerned, which caused me a lot of anxiety at the time, been unable to read or write at the time I took the parable given by Jesus at face value but could not understand this cruelty, about fifty years later I read somewhere on the internet, of the Jewish custom at the beginning of the first century AD of the father of the groom providing a wedding garments free of charge for the invited guests, this drew me back to the original time when I heard the parable, it appears that my pray and anxiety at the time concerning the individual who had been thrown out gaged, bond hand and foot in to the darkness had now been answered, as I now understood the parable and also I had been given the means The True Image of Divine Mercy an image of broken man, to play my part to draw anyone who cannot take part in His Wedding Feast (Communion) to come in from the darkness unfettered dressed in Humility and partake of His table.
          kevin your brother
          In Christ

          • soconaill

            It’s fascinating for me, Kevin, to hear that the purpose of the same wedding garment for all may have been to forbid social display and therefore to prevent embarrassment on the part of those who could not afford to compete with the well-to-do.

            Think of weddings today, especially the ‘celebrity’ wedding, and the lavish haute couture that accompanies that – not to speak of the ‘wheels’ on display as well. And think also even of ‘Holy Communion’ garment competition, which misleads children from the very beginning.

            Too often that parable is glossed over without a word of comment on why the penalty for not wearing that wedding garment could have been so harsh. I wonder where we might find confirmation of the meaning of that wedding ‘uniform’ in Jewish practice in Jesus’ time.

          • Kevin Walters

            Sean I agree for some the ‘Holy Communion’ garment has become a form of social competition, and this competition often appears to be more intense in poor countries where large families are often struggling to make ends meet; in not forgetting the wonder of the occasion, simplicity of dress would send out the message to all that we are all loved equally by God, while at the same time saving the embarrassment of some parents and their children often seen in my day as not been able to afford a new garment.

             I have read the Wedding Garment was a simple white over garment, one comment I found said the King would lavish special garments, information available is not conclusive the general consensus is that a wedding garment was supplied free of charge and not to wear it would be an insult to the groom. In most commentaries found the wedding garment represents a person’s righteousness.

            I have supplied three links below with an extract taken from the different commentaries.
            . “It was well known that one had to be suitably dressed to appear before a king. The apparel of the guest was a reflection of respect for the host. It was also commonly understood that the appropriate dress for such an occasion would be white robes. Apparently the people invited from the highways of the earth would have neither time nor means to procure the appropriate wedding clothing, so the king supplied his guests from his own wardrobe, a common practice. Thus all had been invited to clothe themselves in the garments of royalty. ———————————
            These garments were supplied by the host, and the guest not wearing the wedding garment was violating the normal custom.

            The parable suggests that, not only did the man not have on a wedding garment, but he did so intentionally. He decides against clothing himself properly, even though the appropriate clothing is available——- The wedding garment, conspicuous and distinctive, represents a person’s righteousness. It symbolizes the habit of sincerity, repentance, humility, and obedience.
            kevin your brother
            In Christ

  3. soconaill

    Thanks for this, Martin. When you mentioned this book and author I confused the latter’s name with ‘John O’Donoghue’ (‘Anam Cara’).

    Could it be the lack of inclusivity in our typical Masses that is causing the dwindling congregations? I suspect Ireland is still suffering from that period when many went to Mass for status reasons. That doesn’t happen any more, of course, but we haven’t really adjusted yet to the requirements of the present.


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