Friday, September 5, 2014

The Bishop and his bigotry

The main story in my newspaper today concerned comments from the Bishop of Galway, who slated the St Vincent de Paul (SVP) society for giving funds to a new resource centre for the gay community in the city.

He claims that the gay community promotes a culture that is “morally wrong”.

Bishop Martin Drennan’s comments would be laughable if they were not so hurtful, if they did not cause such damage, and if his own church did not have such an appalling history of being morally wrong.

The €45,000 donation came from the Maureen O’Connell Fund, after a late publican bequeathed her city centre bar to the society which later sold it on for €7.8m. O’Connell’s, in Eyre Square, is one Galway’s most popular pubs and her donation was a remarkable gesture of goodwill.

Bishop Drennan wrote to SVP at both local and national levels this week after discovering through the local media that the donation was being made to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community support group Amach.

The Bishop now wants to know the reasons behind the funding and hinted that it could jeopardise the relationship between the society and the Catholic Church, which regularly holds collections for Saint Vincent de Paul.

Yesterday, Bishop Drennan told Galway Bay FM he took the decision to write the letters because he believed the society’s reputation had been damaged.

“My problem is with the moral judgment involved in making the decision,” he said.

“Gay culture is a different culture. We respect their view. But in our eyes it’s morally wrong behaviour and we cannot put funds at the service of behaviour we don’t believe is morally correct … We cannot be seen to support a culture that promotes that kind of activity.”

That kind of activity? Will somebody tell him that homosexuality was legalised by a Minister for Justice from Galway, Maire Geoghegan Quinn, all of 20 years ago. Like a bolt from the dark ages, Bishop Drennan’s comments show that bigotry is alive and well in the Catholic Church in 2014.

They provide a reminder of another, terrible, dark era when one of his predecessors urged the people of Galway to lash their daughters if they were out late on a Saturday night.

After all the wrong-doing by the Catholic Church which has been exposed in recent years, some of us might claim that Bishop Drennan should examine “morally wrong” behaviour closer to home, specifically within his own organisation.

If anything, his beloved Church went out of its way to block and thwart investigations by the State into clerical sex abuse.

Priests who destroyed the lives of countless victims were allowed to get away with their crimes thanks to the complicity of people in positions of authority like Bishop Drennan.

If the number of Irish children abused by clerical members of the Roman Catholic Church is unthinkable, then so too is the way ordinary priests and bishops turned a blind eye at best, or covered up wrong-doing at worst, for so long.

There are also questions to be answered regarding where the money goes within the Catholic Church - and why adequate compensation has been denied to victims of clerical sex abuse. Why are some religious orders refusing to pay up for appalling crimes committed by their members to this day?

These comments are all the more reprehensible given the increased level of suicide we have seen in the West of Ireland in recent years.

I knew someone who took his own life because he could not come to terms with his own sexuality. Much of his pain was due to the “morality” of the Catholic Church in the Ireland he grew up in, a Church which dominated Irish society for far too long. A Church which told homosexuals that they were deviants, while ignoring criminal predators within its own ranks.

Have people forgotten that it was illegal to engage in homosexual activity until 1994? Thanks mainly to the ethos of the Catholic Church during an era when so many priests were getting away with heinous crimes against Irish children.

I also know someone who cried tears of despair on his wedding weekend a few years ago. His tears related to the abuse inflicted on him by a priest in a Galway secondary school two decades ago.

What should have been the happiest weekend of this man’s life was almost ruined as the memories of childhood helplessness and pain came flooding back to haunt him. I was shocked to see how much pain this pillar of the community had caused.

No wonder that man, now an adult victim of clerical abuse, does not live in Catholic Ireland any more. People like Bishop Drennan made light of his suffering and made it clear he didn’t belong.

The priest who abused that young man, and probably countless others, is still alive today. He lives a comfortable life in a “retreat house” on the other side of Ireland and Bishop Drennan and his counterparts have never asked this man to account for his crimes.

Bigoted comments like those by Bishop Drennan this week are no longer acceptable. Not while the West of Ireland has such a high suicide rate, including I’m sure among young men who have struggled to come to terms with their own sexuality in the type of society dominated by Bishop Drennan and his ilk.

Oh, and it’s precisely because of these kind of comments about “morally wrong” behaviour among consenting adults that the LGBT community need resource centres –places to socialise without fear or discrimination – of their own.

The SVP are a brilliant organisation, helping the poor and marginalised of Irish society. I hope they treat Bishop Drennan’s comments with the contempt they deserve.

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