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'If the non-inclusive attitude is not radically reformed, the Irish Catholic Church will continue to decline'

The organisers of the World Meeting of Families have taken a hardline approach and only unquestioning docile Catholics are welcome, writes Brendan Butler.

Brendan Butler

WHEN WE ARE Church Ireland were informed that the organisers of the World Meeting of Families were inviting organisations to take part we immediately responded. This event which takes place in different countries every three years is normally attended by the Pope and this year it is taking place in Dublin.

The theme of the family oriented event is ‘All are welcome’ and we felt we should have a presence at this international event where we could meet up with Catholics from all over the world and discuss the mission and aims of our reform movement.

We are Church Ireland is part of a worldwide movement for church reform founded in Austria in 1996 . Each national group signs up to five aims which include the creation of an inclusive church, voluntary clerical celibacy , and the equality of women. In our Irish mission statement we are committed ” to ending injustices within the Catholic Church”.

On 14 February we submitted our application and deposit for a stand in the Main Hall of the RDS. during the Pastoral Congress 22 – 25 August.

We received no written confirmation of the receipt of our application and deposit and so I rang up the organisers to inquire whether they had received them. I was relieved to be told that it had been received but then I was informed that it was “on hold ” awaiting a decision by their executive.

Almost on a fortnightly basis I patiently had to listen to the same mantra that we were still “on hold “.

‘Hardline approach’ 

Five months on, we felt that we were being strung along and on 29 May,on behalf of We Are Church Ireland, I sent a registered letter to Fr. Tim Bartlett , Secretary General of the World Meeting of Families and copied it to its president, Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, asking that our “application be given the urgency it deserves ” and that the “delay was unacceptable”.

However, we did not receive the courtesy of a reply to either letter. To add insult to injury we received an email on 5 June from the WMoF advertising the fact that exhibition stands were still available and inviting applications.

We felt that by the middle of June that enough was enough and with their own deadlines having expired we cancelled our deposit.

As a group we had hoped that with the advent of Pope Francis that the hardline stances that his predecessors, Pope John Paul 2 and Benedict XV1 had taken against minor changes in the Catholic Church would be relaxed. In fact Pope Francis is trying to open up the church so that there is room for all points of view and that inclusivity rather than exclusivity should be a central feature of the 21st Century church. But his constant plea for dialogue and openness is being met with resistance from some of his top cardinals and bishops worldwide.

There is no doubt that the organisers of the WMoF have taken a hardline approach to this event and that only unquestioning docile Catholics are welcome.

‘Lack of respect’

We believe that we are excluded because we stand for the full equality of women, the welcoming inclusion of LGBTQI people, greater democracy and transparency in the church.

What is really unacceptable is the lack of basic courtesy in how our application, made in good faith, was dealt with and the total lack of respect shown to us throughout the past six months.

It is in contradiction to the advertised slogan of the WMoF that “all are welcome”. This is not the first time that stealth tactics rather a spirit of openness have been used by the organisers.

Earlier in the year an ultra conservative US website ‘life site news’ attacked the WMoF for using “Pope Francis’s teaching to push homosexuality” and denounced the use of a picture in the WMoF official brochure “of two lesbians clinging intimately to each other with one wearing a tattoo of a gay pride rainbow flag”.

Within three months the original pamphlet was withdrawn and a new sanitised version with photos of traditional happy families with a revised text was published. Obviously the organisers came under high level pressure not to antagonise ultra conservative elements in the church while it discriminated against a catholic group like ourselves who advocate necessary reform in the church if it is to survive.

The Pope’s visit will be a public relations success for the organisers of this World Meeting of Families with plenty of razzmatazz and euphoria but unless the non inclusive attitude of the church, as exhibited by the organisers, is radically reformed then the Irish catholic church will continue in its decline.

Brendan Butler is a founder member of We Are Church Ireland.

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