Friday, 18 November 2011

Gay Marriage: At London "Catholic Voices" Discussion, Gay Catholics NOT Welcome.

At a Catholic event in London next week,  specifically about Catholics and gay marriage, the people most directly affected - gay Catholics themselves- have been excluded.

In London next week,  "Catholic Voices" is hosting an event to discuss the public communication of the Catholic Church's stance on gay marriage. The advance material for this event made it clear that for security reasons , those wishing to attend needed to RSVP ahead of time, or they would be turned away.

Please note that, due to security policies at Notre Dame, nobody will be admitted who has not RSVP’d to the above email address by the date specified. If you are bringing a guest, you must give us their name and email by then.
-Catholic Voices mailer
However, when I tried to RSVP as instructed, I received a prompt response from the organizer, Austen Ivereigh, stating in effect that I was not welcome. Excluded (and not for security reasons). I have never met Mr Ivereigh, who was presumably responding simply to my name. I soon discovered that two other gay Catholics hoping to attend, had been similarly excluded.
Catholic Voices states that they "began with a single aim: to ensure that Catholics and the Church were well represented in the media when Pope Benedict came to the UK in September 2010". It is clear from this little kerfuffle that it is emphatically not all Catholics and the Church as a whole that they are aiming to represent, but purely and simply the bishops: not "Catholic" Voice, but "His Master's Voice".
And so, we have the curious position that, at a Catholic event specifically about Catholics and gay marriage, the people most directly affected - gay Catholics themselves- are excluded.
This morning, the Guardian has taken up the story:

Gay Catholics in partnerships have in effect been barred from an event about gay marriage, after organisers said it was aimed at developing "communication of church teaching" rather than debating it.
Catholic Voices, which was set up to train ordinary parishioners for media appearances, is holding an event next week called Gay Marriage and the Common Good. But it has informed those with diverging views they are not welcome.
In an email exchange, organiser Austen Ivereigh asks Martin Pendergast, a gay man who is in a civil partnership and wishes to attend: "What is your position on gay marriage? Are you in favour? I ask because CV [Catholic Voices] Academy is not a debating chamber but a means for developing the communication of the church's settled positions; and both Rome and the bishops are firmly and publicly against gay marriage.
"Therefore, if your purpose is to put an opposing point of view, this is not the appropriate forum."
In fact, as Martin made clear in his email exchange, his interest in attending was not to put an opposing point of view. Although in a civil partnership himself, he does not want that to become a legal marriage (as he has noted in a comment here at QTC), and is not a supporter of gay marriage. But no matter - he remains persona emphatically non grata at Catholic Voices.
I am personally in favour of legal recognition of civil marriages without discrimination, and believe that there is a real need for rational discussion of this, and of liturgical recognition of same-sex marriages or civil unions in church. The problem is that when the popular presentation of the bishops'  opposition is made using the ridiculous arguments that have been presented thus far, it becomes all too easy for the opponents of the Catholic church to make us into a public laughing stock, and for gay and lesbian Catholics to simply walk away from the Church in despair.
My interest in attending was not to oppose teaching (not at this event), but to suggest rather that we need to consider the bishops' teaching against the broader background of the Church's full teaching, including other considerations. Otherwise, there is a real risk of the bishops and their loyalists simply shooting the Church in the foot, as I explained to the Guardian:

 "I wanted to go and say: how are we going to promote the full teaching of the church? They are only interested in developing the communication of one part. There is another part that says gay people should be treated with respect, dignity and understanding. If you're going to promote this narrow perspective, people will use it as a weapon against the church."
"Understanding" another is not possible without active listening. There is not nearly enough listening by Catholic bishops to the voices of LGBT Catholics - and similarly not by "Catholic" Voice.
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