Friday, May 30, 2008

Gay people are not part of Irish Christian Society

One of the things I haven't blogged about, and don't often tell people (any more) is the fact that I studied to be a Catholic priest.

It was eight years ago at this stage, and a lot of things have happened in the meantime. It seems like a different me. And it was.

I'd wanted to be a priest all my life. Like B over at Positive Boredom, I'd had the masses with the teddy bears, I'd use the ice cream wafers as the host and I'd practise homilies, readings and the hymns.

At one stage I was going to all four masses in the local Abbey (a very inspiring building) at the weekend, I'd read at mass, I'd joined the choir and I was an altar server. We had amazing priests in our parish - genuinely good men who cared about their parishioners and who made a definite improvement and contribution to parish life.

I'd always known that my ambition would mark me as "different" and even going to a Catholic Secondary School didn't give me the courage to be open about what I wanted to do. I was singularly focussed on my goal - being a priest, serving God, helping people at the most important parts of their lives - birth, weddings, illnesses, deaths and all the bits in between. I wasn't obsessed with girls (knowing I'd be celibate), I didn't have plans to marry or settle down or have a great life plan except study, be ordained, do what I thought I was meant to.

I went to UCD after a tumultuous Leaving Cert in 1997 and the following year I'd decided that I'd had all the confirmation I'd need that it was the life for me. I joined a missionary order seminary as a postulant, meaning I wasn't a "proper student" but had two years to see if community life was for me. This is slightly different to diocesan priesthood - studying at places like Maynooth or Clonliffe - but I felt it was my calling.

I was 20.

What followed was one of the most eventful and enjoyable times of my life. I woke in the morning and joined the others for prayer. There was a community of about 30 men all at varying stages of their process. We ate together, prayed together, worked together, went to Lés Miserables in the Point together(!) and lived as brothers, as colleagues.

I got very involved in the local Dublin community as well, joining the folk group, reading at mass, arranging liturgies, serving and being "a source of enthusiasm and joy" as I was called.

It was 1999. The abuses of men serving as Catholic priests on the young, the poor, the vulnerable and the too-trusting was just coming to light.

It was a time of concern, of reflection and of hiding for the men who weren't the paedophiles, who weren't the perverts or those taking advantage. The actions of their peers and their superiors forced them to retreat. The heads of the Church were not commenting, not responding, not being open (to their detriment) and those below them, bound by their vow of obedience, had to stay silent. It was no excuse, but it was all they had.

Image taken from here.

Priests left in their droves. In fairness this had been happening anyway - only one other student entered the seminary in my year - but we started to hear more and more about it. For someone like me - outgoing, eager and wanting to show how great it was - the idea of hiding seemed abhorrent, alien and not what it was about. Jesus never hid did he?

At the same time I was studying hard and started reading the alternative texts and views of the Catholic Church. The Da Vinci Code was no shock to me, I'd read most of the books that it was based on (as well as many of the books that those books were based on) years before. Things didn't add up. It wasn't right. This wasn't real.

Eventually I made the decision to leave. It was the happiest day of my mother's life - she had never wanted me there at all. I'd been there almost two years. I'd had amazing opportunities, met some lovely people and made friends, but it wasn't for me.

It was the most difficult decision I've had. Here I was, after hiding my ambition for so many years and then getting to live it only to have to leave it now. The director of students was remarkably open and understanding "Go out, get a job, get a girl, live in the real world. If you want to come back you know where we are." and so I was gone, without a clue what next to do.

Image taken from here.

Over the years more and more has come out about the Catholic Church in Ireland, the abuse cases, the restrictions, the neglect, the taking advantage. The doctrines of the Church were examined and exposed, the historical facts raised. I learned a lot. I drifted away from describing myself as "Roman Catholic" to "Christian" in that I believe that the message of Jesus "Do unto others as you would have them do to you" is as valid as ever.

It's been difficult to leave something I was so passionately involved with behind and I still stay in touch with it from time to time. I am not a regular mass goer, but appreciate an interesting way of communicating a message of tolerance, understanding and love to an audience. I try to do the Christian thing of living a good life, trying to do good things.

That's why this article written by the ever on-the-ball Maman Poulet has me fuming today.

Seriously, who the hell do the "Irish Society for Christian Civilisation" think they are to promote such hatred, such vile inaccuracies and such lies as this absolute pile of festering homophobic propoganda?

I'm not gay but have many gay friends. I have absolutely no problem with anyone's sexual orientation and do not see it as any factor in how they should be dealt with, what rights they have or their place in society. A homosexual couple should be allowed marry, adopt, have the same tax, insurance and couple benefits same as everyone else. They're lucky to be in a couple at all.

And yet here we have this "Christian" society promoting such pearls of wisdom as

As conscientious Irish Catholics, we cannot but say “No” to a Treaty that imposes on our country and on the whole of Europe, for the first instance in an international legally binding document, the prohibition of any discrimination based on sexual orientation, which will in its turn impose on us the placement of children for adoption or foster care in the hands of homosexual partners, the employment of teachers or athletic coaches with homosexual lifestyles, the obligation to grant accommodation to homosexual partners in B&B facilities, etc. and will restrict the freedom of the Church to preach the Gospel.
Let's take that again:
As conscientious Irish Catholics, we cannot but say “No” to ... the prohibition of any discrimination based on sexual orientation

I lament the fact that people in this country - mostly decent people - have views like this thrust on them - views that they will believe because the labels "catholic" and "christian" are attached.

I abhor the fact that freedom of speech means freedom to distribute such hateful "literature" and I feel sorry that the Catholic Church is used to back this up. For an organisation that has such potential to do such good - and for the men and women committed to doing good for same, I feel nothing but pity that this sort of thing is associated.

Following the logic of this "Christian" group, they're supporting an organisation that has subjugated human rights, learnings and sciences and committed some of the worst crimes in humanity all in the name of a simple man who said:
"He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone"
I'm sending this article to this "Christian society" - - asking them to explain how they can promote "Christianity" and "Jesus" and still justify their actions in this, a definition of Christian being:
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, a monotheistic religion centered on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as presented in the New Testament
I have yet to see anywhere in The New Testament where Jesus condemns homosexuality.

They do not represent my views as a Christian. Or anyone's that I personally know.

What's your feeling on it?


  1. Great post, Darragh.

    I often wonder how these people [including the Roman Catholic Church] reconcile themselves with the real teachings of Christianity? The Christian message is one of love, tolerance and humility, yet so many have twisted it into a message of greed, intolerance and subjugation.

    If there is a Second Coming, it should be a very interesting event!!!!

  2. Wow! Powerful post Darragh!
    It's shocking to see this kind of baseless crap being handed out and consumed with maybe a few nodding heads along the way. Really does make you stop and wonder how far we've really come.

  3. Darragh that was a wonderful post.

    I don't know what else to say so I'll say nowt. Well done x

  4. I can't say I'm surprised by this. Don’t be fooled, these beliefs aren't extremist views, they're catholic views. The same religion that preaches that condoms should not be promoted in Africa because their use "leads to sexual promiscuity".

  5. I agree with Sinead unfortunately. The Catholic Church are not exactly progressive - apparently it's better to contract a disease with no cure than to have protected sex. That just doesn't make sense. Neither is all male priests who can't marry giving people advice on how to live their lives. It boggles the mind.

  6. Darragh,

    Thanks for sharing that personal journey and I resonanted with my journey from catholic to fundamentalist christian to losing my faith in my late teens (although it was Channel 4's "Jesus the Evidence" that was the tipping point for me).

    I agree that preaching hatred of homosexuals has nothing to do with christianity and is based on very selective old testament quotes. Leviticus bans eating shellfish, eating pork, getting tattoos and yet there are all ignored and edicts in homosexuality are seized on. It all seems a bit bizarre to me.

  7. Thanks so much for highlighting this, Darragh. Truly appalling stuff. It'll be interesting to see if Catholic church officials come out with any sort of attempt to distance themselves from this nonsense.

  8. Wow Darragh. I'm all teary now, because I can so relate. In my teens I was very involved in the church. I found it a sanctuary in a world of bullying and cruelty. My parents are extremely Catholic and it seemes a natural way of life for me. I even toyed with the idea of Holy Orders for awhile. I still to this day consider going back to university for a degree in theology.

    When I went to the US for university my whole outlook changed. Since I was living in Belgium in the nineties, the language barrier prevented me from being fully aware of what was going on with the abuse cases and when I copped on I was disgusted. It escalated from there. The views on birth control, homosexuality, none of it made sense and don't get me started on trasubstantiation. I was heavily involved in the theatre and music scene, meaning 90% of my friends were gay. How could these incredible people not be welcome in the church? I've become more and more of a skeptic as I get older and unfortunately whatever relationship I had with the man upstairs has all but disappeared.

    Logically atheism makes sense to me, but when I think of the few people in my life that have died, I somehow know they are not just gone, so I guess all hope is not lost.

    When I see things like this, in this day and age it saddens me, because I think ultimately, the church could be a place of great comfort for many people. But shunning fellow humans and judging them so openly and publicly surely cannot have anything to do with what Jesus wanted and people finally realise that!

    I often think if Jesus still roamed the earth, where would he be? He sure as hell wouldn't be in Rome discussing apologetics with the Pope. No, he'd be in the ghettos of New Delhi and with starving people in Africa. That's the message. Reach out to the less fortunate, to those around you, even to your enemies, in love, no matter who they are. Treat people as you yourself would be treated.

    Okay sorry... I've rambled on. But methinks this could be another post of the month winner right here.

  9. Great post. I can't believe this kind of nonsense is still alive and kicking in this day and age, it makes me so angry.

  10. What a wonderful,moving post, very well written.

  11. Thank you all. Maman Poulet deserves the praise. Things like this need to be highlighted and spoke about more, so we can show people that we do not appreciate being told who we should like because of the way they choose to love someone else.

    @Grandad - Thank you sir. I have no idea what the thought process of the head people are - maybe they're just institutionalised into a society that has lost its way. I look forward to see what happens in the near future. More voices are being raised, not in praise but in protest. Things need to change.

    @Anthony - thank you and welcome - your reaction is just the same as mine.

    @Niamh - thank you :) Just talk about it to others - keep the conversation going.

    @sineadc - the sad thing is how right you are. These aren't extreme views. They are however views we don't have to accept, to take or to stand for. I'm a big believer in talking about things to get them into the open so we can help improve them.

    @yvonne - thanks for the comment! A lot with how the catholic church runs itself beggars belief, but it's important to remember they're following a simple message of - as Grandad says - love, tolerance and humility.

    @Dave - hiya sir! Bizarre is a word often used - but it's no excuse either. I'm glad things are changing :)

    @Deborah - wow, what a great story you have! There was no rambling my dear - what you said

    When I see things like this, in this day and age it saddens me, because I think ultimately, the church could be a place of great comfort for many people. But shunning fellow humans and judging them so openly and publicly surely cannot have anything to do with what Jesus wanted and people finally realise that!

    is exactly what I tried to convey. I rambled!

    @threnn - thanks my dear. Hope it helps highlight things.

    @lin - hello and welcome :) Thanks for the compliment - it's appreciated.

  12. That's a fantastic post!

    I was raised around lots of religious people, many priests included. The majority of whom were always interesting and pretty open-minded... then there was the other fella that was crazily backwards.

    Using wafers was a far better idea than bread, you clearly had far more talent than I ever could've had.

  13. well done dar an interesting and thought provoking blog

    As for the rest of the palaver - would these people ever get a life in the real world?


  14. Really superb post Darragh, it devastates me every day to see the things people will say and do in the name of Christianity.
    Your post is lucid and clear but let me just get one thing straight: it wasn't actually the Da Vinci Code or the sources it was ripping off that tipped you over the edge, was it? As a Biblical and Theological Studies graduate I'd be terribly upset if it was, cos they just aren't enough for me. Christianity is a more complex and syncretistic thing than church history would have us believe, but that doesn't quite make it false.

  15. A really Powerful post, Sir.

    Just look at the response, you have put into words the thoughts and feelings of so many others.

    I am only reading it now because every time I tried to access your blog in the past few days it killed my Firefox.

  16. I have huge issues with the catholic church and indeed religion in general (for many reasons) but to echo you - "I am not a priest but I have many priest friends". Or at least my family did when I was growing up.

    They were wonderful, fun loving men many of whom desperately wanted children (not in that way- tut) and a family but the Churches rigid archaic stupid rules forbade this and they were forced to choose between their faith and their fates and often driven to depression and dire loneliness.

    I for one am glad hat you chose the way of the lay (person). The church has done nothing to improve or untarnish its image in recent years and I fell you will do more good and reach more people without bearing the label of "priest" which tends to turn minds against one.

  17. @b - thanks indeed. The wafers were the influence of the nuns - that's what we practised with. Plus, you know, melt in the mouth...

    @boo - thank you my dear. I look forward to an end to palaver myself!

    @Andrew - no, it was nothing to do with the Da Vinci Code (which came out long after I'd left) but my own understanding of faith, hope and belief. The historical fact is important but even more is one's own commitment and satisfaction to something you believe in. I don't believe the message of Christianity to be false, but have many, many issues with what's done in its name.

    @grannymar - I bet that's to do with the RTE clip unfortunately. Should be grand now. Thanks also for the compliment :D

    @Lottie - thanks for sharing. I hope you're right, I really do. I am of course happy in my life now, but the opportunity to make more of a difference, to reach more people and to communicate better is always a draw, a tantalising prospect I have yet to achieve.

  18. Sorry for coming so late to the comment pool, I'm only just catching up on my Google reader and really enjoyed your powerful post.
    I went to a Catholic convent from age 7-12 and have very good memories of it. It taught openess and acceptance, and, while I of course realise I that when at a young age you can be impressionable and not question what you are taught, I don't remember prejudice ever coming into it; We were encouraged to ask questions and to find our own moral compass and way of living, even if we didn't agree with all that catholicism taught: pretty progressive for 50+ nuns. I think they saw the way the church was headed and I think it disappointed them because they joined for a lot of the same reasons you did.
    But I'll tell you something - rosary every day and mass twice a week was tough!

  19. I agree with you so much. Now we're seeing a similar cancer of homophobia blurring the vision of the usually much more tolerant Church of England and its associated congregations in America, Africa, and elsewhere. There's so much they could focus on in the Bible, and yet here they are obsessed with sexual orientation (and, in another context, women's reproductive rights).

  20. I work in London on Fleet St and today I happended to go into St Bride's Church during a memorial service for Sir Geoffrey Cox. The choir were amazing.

    I stayed to sing along to Lord of all Hopefulness. The Anglican prayers that followed spoke of the certainty that the deceased was enjoying his eternal reward.

    Your talk of your time as a postulant and your lapsing from the Church is very interesting. One rarely finds out why people lapse becuase they either don't want to talk about the Church or are bitter about her.

    In my view the past twenty years have seen too great an emphasis on the God is Love theme, what ever you do God loves you.

    The Church still teaches that no-one may presume their salvation. Many souls, we are taught, go to purgatory and those who reject God go to Hell.

    You seem to have adopted a protestant view of the faith. Just because Jesus did not speak of homosexuals does not mean that the Church's teaching that homosexuality is a disordered state is wrong.

    We know clearly from Our Lord's life and words - think of the woman taken in adultery - that Our Lord praised purity and chastity. Do you really think he approves of so-called "gay-marriages".

    As well as the Love of God there is a demand by God that we listen to Him and try to live lives according to his will. That means sacrifice and choosing to do things that are difficult; prayer, helping others, being charitable, being patient with others, being humble etc..

    I hope you will come back to regular Mass attendance.

    Yours truly,

    Bryan Dunne

  21. My Father was going to be a priest. He witnessed what was going on and left after only a couple of weeks.
    He tried blowing the whistle and his parents were threatened by the church for this and told that they would be banned from every church around and that their children would never be married or have children baptised, or funerals unless my father sat on what he knew.

    This was at a different time when the church had a lot more power, but scary all the same.

    They still hold power, and in my experiences, both actual and anecdotal tell stories of them abusing their power.

  22. Not only are they bigoted but recently I found a begging letter sent to my 94 year old mother asking foe €100, or €120 "If she wanted to support their cause". At no point are they endorsed by the catholic faith - Just a greedy shower of bigots.