Living in London, people are usually surprised and impressed when I tell them that as a gay Catholic, I am totally accepted by my family, and everyone else I know back home in Northern Ireland.
In Britain, people are
surprised to hear that Ireland’s opinion polls on same-sex marriage are
currently more favourable than those in Britain were before the law was
passed in Westminster last year.
In November 2013, a Red C poll for
Paddy Power showed a 76% level of support for same-sex marriage in
Ireland – a country traditionally viewed as singing to the tune of the
Church’s teachings on sexuality.
I have a very accepting, extended Catholic family back in Northern
Ireland. Furthermore, I never experienced anti-gay rhetoric in Catholic
schools or from parish priests as I was growing up.
I often wonder if
this was all luck, or if it’s the case that the stern message preached
from the top of the hierarchy is now fairly diluted by the time it gets
to the real people living enlightened, modern lives at the bottom.
The attitudes of Catholics on gay equality is clearest to me in
Northern Ireland, where the Catholic base of Sinn Féin and the SDLP
support same-sex marriage, whilst the opposition of the DUP - with its
links to Protestant churches - is preventing the British law from being
I feel a huge shift in opinion has happened over the past few decades
in Ireland, and the country now has many evolved Catholics who are
happily rejecting the more damaging rules on how we live and love.
the cultural traumas of the abuse scandal, the ghosts of the Magdalene
laundries and other scars inflicted by Church teachings which are
increasingly at odds with the lifestyles of the general congregation,
Catholic Ireland is accepting gay people.
It’s hardly surprising that
people who have felt so much hurt are happy to accept a little love.
Former President Mary McAleese was right: being gay is no longer seen
as ‘evil’ or ‘intrinsically disordered’.
I was relieved when my parents
didn’t have a problem with me being gay, and surprised further when my
grandparents didn’t either.
But, come to think of it, they belong to
generations who quietly disregarded the Church’s teachings on divorce,
contraception, and sex before marriage – all of which were condemned
from the pulpit, but ignored by many outside the church gates.
Homosexuality is just another thing that the Church must realise is
being accepted and incorporated into the lives of Irish Catholics.
Let’s remember that homosexuality isn’t a modern trend with which
we’re asking the Church to ‘get with the times’.
History shows us it’s
always been there, but it’s been treated shamefully by the Catholic
Church, and focused on more fervently than other issues of sexuality –
for ironic reasons.
Mrs McAleese claimed the Church has been in denial
over “a herd of elephants” in the room, considering “a very large number
of priests are gay”.
Whether they were attempting to suppress their
feelings through a life of penance, hiding in the clergy from a life of
otherness, or merely sent off by ashamed families, many of our priests
are gay and the Church knows it only too well.
This makes its attitude
hypocritical and embarrassing.
The case of Cardinal Keith O’Brien in Scotland is particularly apt.
Dr O’Brien, who called homosexuality a ‘moral degradation’ had to
disappear red-faced last year after he admitted making advances on
younger male clergy in the 1980s.
Cardinal O’Brien seemed like an
extreme version of the homophobic bully at school, who ‘doth protest too
much’ and later turns out to be gay himself, after an adolescence of
reflecting their own self-hatred on others.
Mrs McAleese has suggested
that rather than hiding out as a disgraced villain for the rest of his
days, Cardinal O’Brien could do a great deal for the cause by telling
I wouldn’t hold my breath for a Cardinal O’Brien exclusive on
Oprah, but the Church could really benefit from a watershed moment of
this kind – where, as with the abuse scandal, it recognises the historic
wrongs it has committed to gay people, and offers out a hand.
Pope Francis has thawed the mood, but when magazines like Time and
Advocate (the leading gay publication in the US) named him Person of the
Year in 2013, many complained it was premature, excessive praise.
liberals, Pope Francis has not, and could never go far enough in
embracing gay people.
But these critics fail to grasp how radical he is
being as the leader of a Church which isn’t in the business of changing
its views on anything.
A religion isn’t a political party that we can
lobby to modernise, and as a man who leads 1.2 billion people from
across the entire world, Francis has a line to toe.
Still, we can count this Pope as more of an ally than any of his
predecessors, and as a young gay Catholic, I welcome his positivity.
There are many young gay people like myself who want to retain a
Catholic identity, and be welcomed by the Church.
A sustained emphasis
on condemning homosexuality will continue to alienate not just gay
people, but their parents, siblings and friends too - and with Church
attendance dwindling continually, the Church needs to start listening to
what is turning people off.
I’m hopeful that Francis will pay attention to the results of the
Vatican survey on marriage and family life sent out to Catholics last
I don’t expect the Church to come out with open arms and throw the
rice after the first gay wedding, but if Ireland legalises same sex
marriage - and it looks like they overwhelmingly will - then the Church
must accept that denouncing homosexuality as a sin will be redundant at
pulpits across this country.
* Ben Kelly is a musician and writer for the London-based gay magazine Attitude.