As I sit at Dulles Airport, waiting to fly back to Ireland, I am reflecting on my week here in the United States.
My first assignment was in Pittsburgh last Wednesday evening, where I was invited to speak to the Association of Pittsburgh Priests. This is an organisation founded back in the late nineteen sixties, after Humanae Vitae. That far back it was an independent association of priests, with an independent voice. (I thought we were very daring setting up the ACP in 2010 with an independent voice — they were forty years ahead of us)
Now there are not many priests left, and the association has changed in character. It is now largely an lay movement, with some religious sisters, and maybe about ten remaining priests. I spoke to them about how the evolutionary process, as it is being more and more revealed to us by science, is challenging many of our traditional teaching and doctrines. I could see immediately that I was speaking to people who were already familiar with the topic, and who were extremely receptive to my message — a fact that became even more obvious when we opened the topic up to the floor. I discovered that they had Ilia Delio speaking to them a year or two ago.
It was a great evening. One phrase that stands out for me came from a woman; “A new consciousness is breaking through, and it will not be denied”. I believe she is totally accurate, but this new consciousness is a great challenge to the Church. Our notions of the Divine, and a lot of doctrines that have their origin in the fourth century, and that we repeat in the Nicene Creed at Mass, no longer make sense in this new consciousness.
Then I moved on to a town called Reading in Pennsylvania, where I conducted a weekend retreat for New Ways Ministry. This is an organisation founded by Jeannine Gramick and Bob Nugent forty five years ago, with the aim of providing a welcome for LGBT people in the Catholic Church. Bob is dead for some years, but Jeannine is still going strong, and is a remarkable women. The retreat had a full house of fifty people, men and women, either gay themselves or family members of gay people.
This was a new experience for me, in that I had never worked with an LGBT group before. It was intense, and tiring, but I loved it. I talked some to them also about the new consciousness (they too were well tuned in — they had Diarmaid O Murchu a couple of years ago), and how with this new understanding we are returning to the primacy of love over law —in other words, returning to a basic aspect of the message of Jesus.
I spoke on Catholic sexual teaching — the traditional notion of ‘only for procreation’ and the more recent use of ‘complementarity’ by John Paul, and indeed by Francis. (He is not on the ball about everything!) I showed what I saw as the inadequacy of those teachings, and that the ultimate test of all relationships is the quality of love that is shown.
Most of the people in the group were close to the Church, in spite of what it was saying about them. But they were hurt, and some had great difficulty receiving the Eucharist if they were in a committed relationship.
We celebrated Eucharist together. I encouraged them all to participate, for the sake of the group as much as or themselves, and I hope they all did.
Whatever I contributed to them, I learned a lot from them. They were lovely people, open, caring, and really wishing to live good lives and be close to Jesus.
Our final session on Sunday morning was on the future of the Church — were they hopeful or pessimistic. That discussion went on for at least an hour after my input. They were passionate about it, and had plenty to say. And they were also surprisingly hopeful. While the U.S. Church is deeply divided, there are some real signs of light. And this group too were well versed in religious, and even theological, issues.
They were an absolute pleasure to be with, and to speak to.
It was good for me to be here this past week.
Below is a link to a video of the talk I gave in Pittsburgh: