Religion, from the Latin religare, means to bind/gather. However, whatever the religion, hardly do they unite that they separate them again, according to sex. Sex, you see. Religions find this troubling.
Women bear the brunt of it, of course. For example, when Father Seán Sheehy was growing up in Listowel, County Kerry, women had to cover their heads in St Mary’s Church and they sat on their side of the aisle, away from the men. In case.
They were expected to be “silent in churches.” They are not allowed to speak, but must be submissive, as the law says. If they want to inquire about anything, they must ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church. Thus spoke Saint Paul.
The women of St Mary’s back then had their heads covered because “any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head – it is the same as having her head shaved”. St Paul again. “As the church submits to Christ, so wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Yes, him again.
Fr Sheehy hardly needs a reminder. Clearly, as we saw in his sermon at St Mary’s last Sunday, he is still back in the Listowel of his youth. In the days when there was rock solid religious certainty, God was Catholic and in his heaven with all Protestants in hell, John B Keane was an upstart tax collector with notions, the Rose of Tralee was unknown and he n there were only two sexes.
At 80 and having spent so much time in America, how could he expect him to adapt to an Ireland that has undergone such social change? “Crazy,” he said. And, coming from America, he should know. That he delivered his sermon on Halloween didn’t help, of course.
There is such a gulf between what Father Sheehy said last weekend and the views of the vast majority of practicing Irish Catholics today that you have to wonder if there can ever be a connection between them. People have moved on.
As part of the synodal journey initiated by Pope Francis last year, tens of thousands of Irish Catholics gathered in the island’s 26 dioceses to discuss the Church, its practices and its teachings. What they concluded was sent to Rome last August in anticipation of a synod of bishops next October.
And what did those Irish Catholics say in Rome? They want female priests, marriage for priests who want it, and greater inclusion of LGBTQI+ people, remarried divorcees, as well as cohabiting couples and single parents. They want to embrace, not exclude all these “sinners”! Did you notice, Father Sheehy?
[ Priest at centre of controversial Listowel homily stands over remarks ]
[ Listowel priest denounces sex between two men and two women as a mortal sin ]
[ Fr Seán Sheehy and the Listowel sermon ]
Didn’t Fr Sheehy notice that a survey of these 26 Irish Diocesan Reports found that 85% of practicing Irish Catholics expressed concern about the exclusion of LGBTIQ+ people by the Church, its attitudes and his language towards them?
No acceptance there then of the description of Pope Benedict XVI (in 1986 as Dean of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) of homosexuality as “a more or less strongly ordered tendency towards an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder”.
Everything upside down, then? Not anymore. It is this small cohort of Conservatives, traditional clerics and Catholic laity who are out of step in today’s Ireland. When it comes to pastoral practice in the field, the dominant pursuit these days is to “smell the sheep,” as Pope Francis recommends. “Woolly thinking,” say the curators with disdain, pun intended.
This, however, is no longer the church of the edict from above. It’s a messy church, going down with the people in their messy lived lives, sharing their joys and sorrows.
As Father Gerry O’Connor of the Catholic Priests’ Association leadership team put it this week when he said that being a Christian or Christian teaching is “finding the authenticity of who we are in life”.
The average Irish Catholic doesn’t have it anymore, and whoever pays the preacher sets the tone
Asked about a recently bereaved gay man, Jason, who interpreted Father Sheehy’s words last weekend to mean that her late husband was now in hell, Father O’Connor said: ‘To me it is inconceivable that we are created in the image and likeness of God, and Jason found love with her late husband, that God would in no way be negative in generosity, mercy, forgiveness. I think God would probably be glad that Jason’s husband was authentic to who he is.”
He felt that for Father Sheehy, “to add a word like ‘crazy’ about people struggling or seeking happiness, personal fulfillment and understanding of who they are in life is, without a doubt, deeply upsetting. “.
In today’s Irish Catholic Church, the priest in the field is far more likely to be in the mold of Father John Joe Duffy, parish priest of Creeslough, County Donegal, than to be of the hellish variety, fire and brimstone. Yes, some young clergy – the “children” of Popes John Paul and Benedict XVI – are drawn to this old mold, as are some foreign priests currently serving in Ireland.
The average Irish Catholic doesn’t have it anymore, and whoever pays the preacher sets the tone.
This persistent “anti-sex terrorism,” as Augustinian Father Iggy O’Donovan said in reference to Father Sheehy’s sermon, has had its day. It was a form of Catholicism that was always out of step with Catholicism in general, which tended to be more relaxed on issues of sexual morality.
This particular 19th and 20th century Irish Catholic church was a creature of Victorian respectability, politically driven by those Puritan Welsh non-conformists who forced Gladstone to abandon Parnell in the infamous divorce action of 1890. With a Finger in the Wind , the Catholic bishops of Ireland soon followed suit and helped create that strange sex-obsessed sentimental hybrid that became English-speaking Catholicism, spread by the Irish to the English-speaking world.
But it would be a mistake to think that the only Church in Ireland apparently obsessed with sexuality is the Catholic Church. The Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist churches on this island may have long conceded the ministry to women, but they are torn apart by homosexuality. Three of the Church of Ireland’s 11 bishops support the conservative Gafcon movement within global Anglicanism, which opposes any change in Church teaching on homosexuality like Pope Benedict XVI.
In 2018, the Presbyterian Church of Ireland banned gay people from becoming full members of the church and banned baptism for their children.
At his world gathering in Canterbury last summer, a schism in Anglicanism was averted by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby reiterating traditional teaching on the issue but adding that he would not discipline member churches of the Communion who might act otherwise. Clever cakeism at its finest.
In 2018, the Presbyterian Church of Ireland banned gay people from becoming full members of the church and banned baptism for their children. He also severed ties with his mother church in Scotland over a perception that he was becoming too liberal on the gay issue. In 2019 at Sandymount in Dublin, in a bitterly contested decision, he retired Steven Smyrl as an eldest when he married his same-sex partner.
And then there is our fastest growing religious minority, the Muslims, with by their own estimate over 100,000 in Ireland today. As a religion, it can hardly be said that Islam has a relaxed approach to gender/sexuality issues. Interviewed by this reporter in the late 1980s at the Islamic Foundation of Ireland Mosque on Dublin’s South Circular Road, Ireland’s most senior Imam, Sheikh Yahya Al Hussein, spoke warmly of how living in Ireland at that time was so compatible with being a Muslim.
In general, the majority of Muslims in Ireland are Sunni and are said to have a traditional outlook. They also have the largest mosque, at Clonskeagh in Dublin. As with Christianity, Islam has many denominations, many also in Ireland, including Shia, Ahmadiyya and Sufi.
One of Ireland’s most prominent Muslim leaders is believed to be Imam Shaykh Umar al-Qadri of the Blanchardstown Sufi Mosque in Dublin. He presents the face of a more tolerant Islam in Ireland, as Waterford-born Imam Ibrahim Noonan would at the Ahmadiyya Mosque in Galway.
In response this week to Father Sheehy’s Listowel sermon, Sheikh al-Qadri tweeted: “In Islam, no human being can pass final judgment on who will enter heaven or who will enter hell. This is God’s domain. Regarding sins, even providing water to a dog can be the source of forgiveness and the reason for admission to paradise.
In another tweet, he said he was “not an expert on Christianity, but I know there are different approaches ppl [people] of faith have in Scripture. Some lead people away from faith and others push them to faith. Regardless of someone’s religious approach, we should allow religious freedom and freedom of expression.
We should, but it must be said that due to the growing tolerance and compassion of its laws, Ireland is fast becoming a foreign country for dogmatic religion.