From bombs and bullets to pink priests
(by Suzanne Breen, Irish Times) - January 31st 2003
At first, it appears a refreshingly radical position for the ultra-conservative North.
West Belfast curate Father Joe McGuigan has just become the first mainstream Catholic priest in Ireland to publicly state he is homosexual.
Instead of the expected condemnation from the hierarchy and threats of pickets by parishioners, there has been support from the bishop and petitions from the people requesting his return.
Perhaps the local gay community has also found a hero. Someone not frightened to take a principled stand in a tough town. Someone with the guts not to hide his sexuality. A role model for the next generation.
Yet all is not as it seems. It will take a little longer for the North to become better known for its tolerance of sexual diversity than its bombs and bullets.
We have emerged as neither more nor less homophobic than before the saga began, and we certainly haven't found a gay champion. Father McGuigan (35) is a curate in St Peter's Cathedral, off the Falls Road, known for his work with the homeless and his culinary skills.
He was a live wire at a Sound of Music sing-a-long in the Grand Opera House. It was a predominantly gay audience. Some men went as the von Trapp children and clutched teddy bears. Others dressed as Nazis. Another priest appeared on stage in pyjamas. To his parishioners, a Sound of Music sing-a-long sounds like an innocent event.
Those in the know marvelled at how Father McGuigan was getting away with it all. He has been active on Belfast's gay scene for eight years. He regularly attended meetings of one group, Men of the North, in a gay pub.
This group joined its equivalent in the South, LUBE (Leather, Uniform, Bear Encounter Ireland), for a bondage and fetish party at a Dublin pub last summer. LUBE is into S&M.
Father McGuigan's photograph was taken there. It appeared on a gay website and a tabloid newspaper then approached the priest with the image. After consulting with the hierarchy, he admitted his sexuality last week.
He said he had known he was gay when he entered Maynooth. When asked if he had kept his celibacy vows, he said in his position as a priest, he had been "indiscreet and possibly careless".
Father McGuigan did not courageously come out, he was outed. If the News of the World hadn't contacted him, there would have been no disclosure.
He was tame on whether the church should allow gay priests: "I'm not a crusader for either side." That's unbelievable. A man who knows he is a homosexual takes celibacy vows, is active on the gay scene and attends bondage parties, then says he has no opinion on the issue of gay priests. He has a reputation of steering clear of radicalism and keeping in with the "clerical club".
Bishop Pat Buckley, who outed himself after he left the mainstream church, said Father McGuigan refused to shake his hand during the sign of peace at a funeral Mass four years ago: "Joe viewed me as far too troublesome and outspoken.
"Personally, I don't know why gays or feminists want anything to do with a homophobic, patriarchal church.
The Pope called a recent Gay Pride parade "an offence to Christian values" and described homosexual acts as "depraved". His official spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, says homosexuals shouldn't be ordained and steps should be taken to remove those who have been.
The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said a homosexual inclination is a "strong tendency towards an intrinsic moral evil and . . . must be seen as an objective disorder". Even today, Father McGuigan remains silent on this stuff.
Those homosexuals who don't tell the church to get lost - or at least speak out against particular teachings - then have certain duties if they are men of integrity. After all, they preach conservative morality to others. They knew the celibacy rules when they signed up.
One suspects it often isn't the case that those who break them have genuinely tried and failed. Rather, the resolve was missing from the start. These priests seem to have been quite happy to compartmentalise their lives - endorsing the rules in public, breaking them in private, for as long as they got away with it.
Richard Sipe, a former priest and psychotherapist, who has studied priests' sexuality for 25 years, believes up to 40% are gay.
We have the absurd situation of an apparently pink priesthood sustaining homophobia.
Father McGuigan says he has withdrawn from active ministry for three months to consider his future. Much public support for him is accompanied by confused statements that don't acknowledge his sexuality and propagate the idea he is the victim of slander.
One supporter said it was disgraceful someone was "out to destroy his character". The Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Patrick Walsh, has praised his curate's work and offered "prayers and support".
The entire episode has been well managed. The hierarchy has appeared compassionate and the curate hasn't lost face. But cynics predict no return to active ministry even if Father McGuigan wants it. He has broken the 11th Commandment, "Thou Shall Not Be Caught".March 19, 2003
A lay job will be found instead. The hierarchy will have buried another problem. Father McGuigan will be able to attend whatever parties he likes, and it will be business as usual for the church.