Legitimising what’s unacceptable.

Omar Mateen, the police in Orlando said, spoke calmly to them as they tried to talk him out of killing more hostages in the Florida massacre. 49 people were dead, 53 injured and countless others traumatised by the experience.
In a coldly calculated, carefully planned project, Mateen bought two firearms over the counter in a local gun-shop – one a semi-automatic rifle with a huge bullet capacity, the other a handgun. He travelled to the nightclub patronised by gays, gained admittance and proceeded to kill and maim as many as he could before police eventually took his life.
The horrific ordeal involved Mateen running after patrons as they tried to hide from him and as some texted their parents as they found themselves cornered in toilets or alcoves. It was as if some version of a children’s play was being acted out, a hide-and-seek Cowboys and Indians distraction instead of the grisly reality, a massacre – apart from 9/11 the worst terrorist attack in the history of the United States.
It is beyond words, beyond, feeling, beyond reason.
Two motives have emerged. One that Mateen was a follower of the Islamic State and, two, that he was an obsessive homophobe. But for the dead and their families it hardly matters, though for the rest of the world it surely does, because who knows where or how or when a noxious political virus or a noxious homophobia will infect society. There are lessons to be learned from the Orlando outrage.
Sometimes, suddenly we can see something clearly, as if we’ve come to a clearing in the forest and we get a perspective on the trees. The light-bulb moment for me was some years ago when I was involved in a panel discussion on a radio station about suicide. A young man who had attempted suicide a few times was queried on his motivation. It emerged that it was because he had felt disrespected, diminished, disparaged, sidelined, reviled, judged as unworthy. ‘By whom?’ the chairperson asked. ‘By society and by the Catholic Church’, he replied.
The Church has moved on since then. Or, at least, I hope it has. We no longer use disparaging words to describe gay people like ‘unnatural’, ‘intrinsically disordered’, ‘objective disorder’ and so on. And no one has done more to change the Catholic perspective that Pope Francis.
After the Orlando outrage, Francis very quickly spoke of his ‘deepest feelings of horror and condemnation, of pain and turmoil before this new manifestation of homicidal folly and senseless hatred.’
A Florida bishop, Robert Lynch, lamented the role religion has played in breeding contempt for the LGBT community: ‘Sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people,’ he wrote ‘attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence. Those women and men who were mowed down were all made in the image and likeness of God. We teach that. We should believe that. We must stand for that’.
Archbishop Cupich of Chicago, in a letter read at a Mass for the Catholic gay and lesbian community in that city, wrote: ‘For you here today and throughout the whole lesbian and gay community, who are particularly touched by the heinous crimes committed in Orlando, motivated by hate, know this: the Archdiocese of Chicago stands with you. I stand with you. Let our shared grief and our common faith in Jesus, who called the persecuted blessed, unite us so that hatred and intolerance are not allowed to flourish.
Cupich’s letter to the gay and lesbian community was separate from an earlier statement the archbishop released decrying the violence against gays and lesbians in Orlando, as well as the ongoing gun violence in the United States: ‘The people of the Archdiocese of Chicago stand with the victims and their loved ones and reaffirm our commitment, with Pope Francis, to address the causes of such tragedy. We can no longer stand by and do nothing.
And Jesuit priest, James Martin, editor of the prestigious Catholic Journal, America, tweeted: For too long Catholics have treated the LGBT community as ‘other’ but for the Christian there is no ‘other’. There is no ‘Them’. There is just ‘Us.’
Ten years ago, five years ago such outright support for the Gay and Lesbian community would have been unthinkable, unsayable, unmentionable. Yet, here we are, having travelled in the space of a few years from a Pope who said that the inclination to homosexuality is tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder’. To a Pope who says in response to a loaded question on the gay community: ‘If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person?’
Five years ago who would have anticipated that a 75 year old bishop in Florida who says ‘singling out people for victimization because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality must be offensive to God’s ears. It has to stop’.
The Catholic Church, it is sometimes said, takes centuries to change and there’s no doubting its often definitive ‘barnacle’ approach to truths that the rest of society would regard as well past their sell-by date. But it can change too, as the ‘heretical’ Galileo must be pondering in heaven, now that we’ve come to accept that the world is not flat.
What Pope Francis, Archbishop Cupich, Bishop Lynch, Fr Martin are implicitly saying is that Catholics, including our leaders need to reflect on how our silence about homophobic attitudes contributes to behaviours which treat LGBT people as less than human. And that those who do so contribute effectively to outrages as in the Orlando nightclub.
William Butler Yeats’ words, ‘Did that play of mine send out/Certain men the English shot?’ should cause us all to ponder how easily loose words can be used to legitimise what’s unacceptable.

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  1. Eddie Finnegan says:

    An unfortunate analogy in your final paragraph, Brendan. To whom were or are the actions of those “certain men” unacceptable, and did anyone other than W.B. himself ever think that his Abbey play spurred anyone to action of any kind? Loose words by a few Brexiteers may well have led to the tragedy at Birstall, but I’d be loath to mention an outrage in an Orlando nightclub in the same breath as Dublin’s GPO.

  2. “The Church has moved on since then” — Brendan, I don’t think it has, despite the miracle of Francis. You mentioned the two American bishops who spoke with compassion towards the LGBT community. But, the rest were, mostly, silent. Fr. Jim Martin’s video sermon and Robert Michens’ heartfelt article in yesterday’s NCR sum up very well the actual reality.

  3. Joe O'Leary says:

    The word “unnatural” was cashiered by Ratzinger but all the other objectionable language is still proudly displayed on the Vatican website. And yes, such language sends out troubled men to shoot gays (as happened also in Mexico a few weeks before Orlando: http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/15-people-shot-dead-mexico-gay-bar/#gs.aI5KdCo). It is also recycled ad nauseam on rightwing Catholic websites, doing great damage to the church.

  4. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Unfortunate that this type of event is what really makes people sit down and think. I’m on constant cycle between human rights within progressive societies (how could we be anywhere in less progressive?) and war profiteering which accounts for automatic weapons becoming a mainstay in American culture so this tragedy hits home for me. I can’t imagine what type of misery Mateen must have been going through to think that an action of such magnitude would ease his suffering on any level. While you are all in the prayer mindset, please continue on with one for our young Redemptorist, Gerry Moloney, who is having a hard time adapting to his debilitation.

  5. Soline Humbert says:

    @5 “While you are all in the prayer mindset, please continue on with one for our young Redemptorist, Gerry Moloney, who is having a hard time adapting to his debilitation.”Yes ,of course Lloyd, we are continuing praying for Gerry who is experiencing excruciatingly debilitating physical pain. Gerry has courageously agreed to come and speak in Dublin on Saturday. We look forward to hearing him and express our support and solidarity. http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2016/05/my-experience-at-the-hands-of-the-cdf/

  6. Cardinal Marx always strikes me as a really sound man.
    Church must apologise to gay people, pope’s adviser declares
    Cardinal Reinhard Marx: ‘We’ve done a lot to marginalise homosexuals’
    Thu, Jun 23, 2016,
    Patsy McGarry
    Cardinal Reinhard Marx: told a conference held in Trinity College that until “very recently”, the church and society at large had been “very negative about gay people . . . It was the whole society. It was a scandal and terrible.”
    A leading cardinal has said the Catholic Church should apologise to the gay community for its scandalous and terrible treatment of them, which had not changed until “very recently”.
    Speaking in Dublin, Cardinal Reinhard Marx said: “The history of homosexuals in our societies is very bad because we’ve done a lot to marginalise [them].”
    As church and society “we’ve also to say ‘sorry, sorry’ ”.
    The German cardinal is a member of the council of nine cardinals chosen by Pope Francis to advise him.
    Until “very recently”, the church, but also society at large, had been “very negative about gay people . . . it was the whole society. It was a scandal and terrible,” he told The Irish Times after speaking at a conference held in Trinity College.
    He said he had “shocked” people at the October 2014 extraordinary synod of bishops in Rome when he asked how it was possible to dismiss as worthless a same-sex relationship of years duration where both men had been faithful.
    “We have to respect the decisions of people. We have to respect also, as I said in the first synod on the family, some were shocked but I think it’s normal, you cannot say that a relationship between a man and a man and they are faithful [that] that is nothing, that has no worth,” he said.
    Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Cardinal Marx would not be drawn when asked by The Irish Times for his view on Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Parolin’s description of the marriage equality referendum result in Ireland last year as “a defeat for humanity”.
    Hesitant to judge
    Cardinal Marx said, “I don’t comment on others because that is not good.” As an outsider in the Irish context he was “hesitant” about making a judgment, he said.
    He spoke to the media in Trinity College Dublin after addressing a conference organised by Trinity’s Loyola Institute on The Role of Church in a Pluralist Society: Good Riddance or Good Influence?
    It is up to the state “to make regulations for homosexuals so they have equal rights or nearly equal . . . but marriage is another point”, he said. The secular state “has to regulate these partnerships and to bring them into a just position and we as church cannot be against it”.
    But “in all the history of mankind that [marriage] was the relationship between one man and woman, two who are open to give life for the next generation and that is a special relationship I think.”
    The state “must be secular. The state is not a Christian state. But the society is not secular. Society is Christian or religious, non-religious, multireligious, whatever,” he said.

  7. Terry Whelan says:

    Why can’t catholics just leave gay people alone? Why are you so obsessed with gay people?
    The church’s obsession with LGBT people is difficult to understand. The catholic church’s hatred of gay people is even more difficult to understand. You can deny your bad behaviour all you like, but wouldn’t it be more honorable to just accept it and admit that this is who you are? Your catholic prayers for victims of the Orlando shooting mean absolutely nothing when you continue to preach hatred. Your apologies ring hollow. The catholic church cannot and does not stand with the victims of the Orlando shooting. Catholics cannot share the grief of the LGBT community when they continue to sermonise disparagingly about us, when you campaign against giving gay people even the most basic civil rights. In every region of the world the roman church will campaign as far as it can against the LGBT community.
    I do not want your prayers, I would just rather catholics left gay people alone. Try to control your obsession and just leave us alone. Irish catholics and their church have been and continue to be vile and and hateful towards gay people and still retain the ability to walk around with a pious air about themselves. Just google some of the disgusting / hateful / disrespectful comments made by Irish bishops in the last 12 months regarding gay people. The church has definitely not moved on. An old saying – ‘If you have nothing good to say, say nothing’. I wish catholic bishops / priests would adhere to this and not continue to spout their poison. Why can you not just leave us alone?
    Robert Lynch – ‘it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people,’ he wrote ‘attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence’.

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