When Pope Francis visits Dublin later this summer to participate in the World Meeting of Families, he will touch down in an Ireland that used the ballot box to express its dissatisfaction with the Catholic Church’s views on sexuality, ushering in same-sex marriage via popular vote in 2015. The decision, along with last month’s vote in support of legalizing abortion, highlighted the chasm that has grown between Irish citizens and the church.
But in an effort to bridge that gap, organizers of the World Meeting of Families announced on Monday that James Martin, S.J., an editor at America known in recent years for his ministry to L.G.B.T. Catholics, would speak at the August event.
“The organizers have asked me to speak about how parishes can welcome L.G.B.T. Catholics, as well as their parents and families. So I hope to share ‘best practices’ from parishes that have successfully reached out to the L.G.B.T. Catholic community,” Father Martin told America.
Father Martin: “I hope to share ‘best practices’ from parishes that have successfully reached out to the L.G.B.T. Catholic community.”
The announcement came in aprogram published Monday, which says Father Martin will explore “how Parishes can support those families with members who identify as LGBTI+.”
The event includes a visit by Pope Francis, who will visit Ireland following referendums that have legalized same-sex marriage and signaled support for legalizing abortion.
“The visit of Pope Francis to the World Meeting of Families in Dublin must not be just a once off event. It comes as the Church in Ireland struggles to find a new place in Irish society and culture - a very different one from the dominant one it held in the past,” Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said in a press release on Monday.
According to the announcement, more than 30,000 people have registered for the event, which organizers say makes it the largest World Meeting of Families since Pope John Paul II launched it in Rome in 1994.
The event will focus on “Amoris Laetitia,” the pope’s 2016 letter about family life.
The event will focus on “Amoris Laetitia,” the pope’s 2016 letter about family life. More than 200 speakers, about half of whom are women, will focus on marriage preparation, Christian marriage and passing on faith in the home. Other topics include caring for creation, business and sports.
The last time the World Meeting of Families convened, in Philadelphia in 2015, L.G.B.T. issues were largely absent from official programming. But organizers of Dublin’s event havesaid for months that they planned to include outreach to families with L.G.B.T. members, though their efforts have not been without controversy.
Last summer, event organizers released a preparation booklet that includes a section about L.G.B.T. people, along with images that showed same-sex couples.
“While the Church upholds the ideal of marriage as a permanent commitment between a man and a woman, other unions exist which provide mutual support to [couples],” reads the document. “Pope Francis encourages us never to exclude but to accompany these couples also, with love, care and support.”
“Why wouldn't we want to help baptized Catholics feel included in their own church?”
But by the start of 2018, following an online campaign by a Canadian anti-abortion group, the images had been removed and the text altered.
Father Martin said there is still some discomfort among some church leaders when it comes to expressing support for L.G.B.T. people in the church.
“ And that's tragic,” he said. “Why wouldn't we want to help baptized Catholics feel included in their own church? And the argument that they’re ‘sinful’ is beside the point because we’re all sinful. We need to see L.G.B.T. people as full members of the church, by virtue of their baptism. They need to know that God loves them and their church accepts them.”
As to what organizers were trying to say by inviting a priest who has called on church leaders to be more welcoming to L.G.B.T. people, Father Martin said it is clear.
“The message to L.G.B.T. Catholics seems straightforward: you're an important part of the church,” he said.
“I’m tremendously grateful for this invitation, not so much for what it says about my own ministry or writing but what it says to L.G.B.T. Catholics, a group of people who have for so long felt excluded,” he added. “I hope they see this invitation, which had to be approved by the Vatican, as an unmistakable sign of welcome from the church.”