Joe O’Leary on Fiducia Supplicans

Sermon on Fiducia Supplicans

I feel rather guilty for the first time about something that happened more than 40 years ago. A priest acquaintance who has left the ministry to marry, but had to wait for laicization, asked me to do some kind of marriage ceremony to reassure his parents. I told him to just tell them the situation. Now I see that I should have reached out to the couple and organized a blessing ceremony, or at least talked with them about possibilities. My reaction showed “clericalism,” more concerned with rules than with the situation of a man anxious to marry the woman he loved but caught in a canon law bind. Pope Francis has been waging a war on clericalism and has insisted that we must “accompany” people, including those in “irregular” situations.

He has done this again in Fiducia Supplicans, which is particularly dedicated to the situation of same-sex couples. Without having studied the document closely, I am struck by the fact that this is the first document from the Congregation [Dicastery] for the Doctrine of the Faith to address a kind word to gay and lesbian people since the Congregation first addressed same-sex questions explicitly in 1975. The headline under which this was done was “the problem of homosexuality,” surely not the right place to begin. Gays and lesbians appeared as a problem for the Vatican’s sense of order. There was no sign of dialogue with the people concerned or of pastoral accompaniment of them in their path in life.

Gay couples have been blessed by common sense pastors, and would be regarded by many of the clergy with admiration and envy. They have wrongfooted Vatican teaching by the unexpected success of their relationships and their impact on society. But there is a group whose need is greater and that Fiducia Supplicans does not mention. They have rather been scapegoated in Vatican documents denouncing “gender ideology.” They are the T in LGBT, suffering from what the doctors call “gender dysphoria.” I have a friend who is biologically female but identifies as a man and has had his name legally changed to match that gender identity. The problems and sufferings he has had to face are crushingly severe. Here too the church has a duty of accompaniment and dialogue, not pontification and condemnation.

A few years ago [2018] our former Irish President Mary McAleese, an outspoken Catholic woman, as well as [Ssenfuka Joanita Warry] a brave activist in Uganda on behalf of heavily oppressed gays and lesbians, were disinvited by a cardinal from a women’s meeting supposed to be held in the Vatican [Cardinal Kevin Farrell, b. Dublin, 1947]. Here is clericalism again, and the refusal of dialogue.

Pope Francis has put compassion centre stage in his reading of the Gospel. In fact, that is perhaps the central feature of the character of Jesus, his quick response to those in distress and his speed in coming to their assistance, as a healer. Is that the trait we think of when we think of him? A regular orderly life, a bit of prayer, an offering of our work for the glory of God, is not that our Christian ideal? But the Gospel makes other demands: generosity, compassion, self-giving, sacrifice. We easily miss the call of our neighbour in distress, though distress is all around us if we care to look for it. We choose the street where we will not meet someone asking us for money, stepping to the other side. (By the way, who said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive”? Anybody? It’s not in the Gospel but it is transmitted in a speech of Paul in Acts as a word of Jesus in Acts 20:35.)

King Lear is a vision of human cruelty that is hard to read and unbearable to see acted, but one line leaps out of it for me: “Expose yourself to feel what wretches feel.” When Pope Francis talks of accompaniment and dialogue he is calling us to that kind of compassionate tenderness. “Expose yourself to feel what wretches feel”—it is a heavy prescription, but it brings us closer to humanity and closer to Jesus. 

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