Irish Archbishops Agree: Language Does Matter, Insensitive Language Deplored.

In a radio interview on March 9th about the pending Irish referendum on gay marriage, Bishop Kevin Doran made some highly insensitive remarks about gay and lesbian Catholics.  Just two days later, the president and vice – president of the Irish bishops’ conference have rebutted those remarks, regretting the “inappropriate” language. 

Archbishops Eamon Martin (left), and Diarmuid Martin (right)

The Irish bishops’ conference was gathered for their Spring meeting, during which Archbishops Eamon Martin and Diarmuid Martin hosted  a  press conference to release a joint statement on their response to the gay marriage referendum.  Responding to questions put about Bishop Doran, the archbishops stressed that it was they, not Bishop Doran, who were fronting the Catholic bishops’ opposition to marriage equality, and deplored the use of insensitive language.

The Archbishops’ own language, in their statement on the gay marriage referendum itself, and in their rebuttal of Bishop Doran, is remarkable for the contrast it presents with so much of what we have become accustomed to, from other bishops, especially those who have been opposing marriage equality elsewhere

For  example, in rebutting Doran’s claim that “the jury is out” on whether people are born gay, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin avoided the more usual language by Catholic bishops, of “same – sex attraction”, stating instead,

“You will notice I always use the term people with homosexual or same sex orientation. The fundamental thing is that they are people, men and women with a unique dignity which can never be taken away from them. That’s the fundamental thing.”

His colleague Archbishop Eamon Martin confirmed that in his view, gay people are, indeed, “born the way they are born and that God creates us as we are”.

Rebutting Bishop Doran’s claim that although gay people do sometimes have children, but that “does not make them parents”, the two archbishops have in effect conceded that gay people are quite capable of being not just parents, but sometimes good parents. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin:

We have used the term parenthood…we talk about adoptive parents, we talk about lone parents. “There are very many, many definitions. I think that we should look on that variety of situations in a way that is more positive. We shouldn’t use phrases that may offend people…….I believe there are many different kinds of parenthood and indeed there are many gay people who are parents.”

On the referendum itself, the statement confirms the Catholic bishops’ collective opposition. That’s not surprising, but what should be welcomed by all is it’s explicit recognition that other views exist and must be respected:

We respect the views of people who think differently to us, trusting that our sincerely held views, grounded in faith, will also be heard and respected.

In all these respects, there is a welcome advance in tone from the these leading Irish bishops. Just as Pope Francis was the first pope, and the first senior bishop, to use the word “gay”, this may be the first time a senior bishop has spoken publicly of “same – sex orientation”.

During the Family Synod 2014, one of the important advances for lgbt Catholics was the public recognition by many bishops, that language used in the past (and in official documents) has been seriously hurtful and damaging. Since then, there’s been further recognition of that damage, even from bishops in Africa and Asia. This clear repudiation of insensitive language by the Irish archbishops, is still more evidence of how the process continues, and will continue still further

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