There’s an old Irish textbook, used in generations past, called An Rotha Mór an tSaoil. Literally translated, it means The Big Wheel of Life. Put another way, What goes around comes around. It is a statement I have often found to be not very far from the truth. It is also the statement that comes to mind when I look back over the past few weeks and the news around the Catholic Church in Scotland.
Born and raised in the west of Ireland, the Catholic Church has always been an integral, and for the most part, good part of my life. I would say it is as much a part of me as my sexuality. Growing up gay holds plenty of challenges. Growing up gay and Catholic in the west of Ireland even more so.
Yet on the whole, I’ve been able to reconcile my faith and my sexuality. However, there have been some serious road blocks along the way.
Not least of which is the leadership of the Church in Scotland, where I have lived since moving here to study in 2006. More and more I’ve come to believe the leadership of the church is far removed from the ordinary mass-goers on the ground. I was able to be active both in the Catholic Students Union (CSU) and the LGBT society at university. Neither had a problem with me.
The leadership of the Church was rather a different story. The point at which I felt like the Church no longer wanted me, that I could no longer find the space to be with God, came one Sunday evening at university. Cardinal Keith O’Brien was saying mass at the CSU. In his sermon, he preached for 20 minutes about a trip to China. Then he moved onto ‘morality’. The only issue he discussed was that of same-sex unions. This was before equal marriage was even thought of. He said it offended him to see two people of the same sex entering into a union.
I sat there thinking ‘How can love be offensive’? I had been taught since birth that God is love, so how could God not be happy with two people promising to love one another, care for each other in sickness and in health?
I almost cried at the vehemence with which my right to love another person was denounced.
So, when news broke of the allegations against Cardinal O’Brien and he admitted he had behaved improperly, I wanted to be so angry. I felt like I should be angry. Angry at the hypocrisy: angry at the double standards by which he seemed to live his life.
In truth, I don’t feel angry at him. I feel sad for him. I’m frustrated for him, and for the thousands of other gay priests whose internal struggle must surely be an immense burden. But I can’t find it within me to be angry with him for how he has made me feel over these past years.
I’m angry at him for abusing his power, and placing those under his care in difficult and painful situations. The relationship between a spiritual director and directee is almost more sacred than marriage. Often you bear your entire soul and place it in the hands of another person.
As much as being angry at him would be the easier response, a better one is to be angry at the institution which has allowed all of this to happen. It was hellish for me growing up as a gay Catholic in small-town Ireland. I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like being a gay member of the clergy in the Catholic Church.
People who have known Cardinal O’Brien since before he was made Cardinal talk about how liberal he used to be. So I’m left wondering if the vicious statements that he’s made in recent years are not truly his words, but those of the institution that he represents. It is likely we’ll never know.
One of those statements was: ‘The empirical evidence is clear, same-sex relationships are demonstrably harmful to the medical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of those involved.’ Not only is there no evidence at all for this. In fact hiding and suppressing your sexuality, rather than falling in love and promising your life to someone else, is demonstrably harmful behavior,
That is something the Catholic Church could do with bearing in mind. Its pastoral care towards the LGBT community has been more than lacking in recent years. Rather than caring for folk, it is damaging them.
I won’t hold out much hope though. The Church moves at a glacial pace. But I’ll keep praying for a miracle.
Stiofán McFadden is a Chemistry graduate who had previously been involved in the Equal Marriage Campaign in Scotland through his role as National Union of Students Scotland LGBT Officer.