Quo Vadis Irish Bishops?

The need for Irish Catholics to pray for our bishops grows more urgent by the day. One could be forgiven for thinking that our Irish bishops have lost their way. Irish Catholics will once again be officially denied access to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Easter Sunday and the Irish bishops, by their actions, fully support the unjust penal restrictions that have been forced on lay Catholics. The bishops and the priests will get to attend the Holy Sacrifice of Holy Mass at Easter, most of the lay faithful will not.

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

As I write this article the Irish Government have just confirmed to Declan Ganley that they believe that it is now illegal in Ireland for a priest to celebrate Holy Mass with members of the laity in attendance and that it is illegal for the laity to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. They have confirmed that penal sanctions have been attached to such celebrations or attendance. It will be interesting to see what the High Court judge decides in this case and whether it will be referred to our Supreme Court.

In Scotland, a recent ruling by Judge Lord Braid has declared the criminalisation of celebrating Holy Mass and attendance at same as being unconstitutional. He said that article nine of the European Convention on Human Rights had been breached. This article reads:

Freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and
    in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
  2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

It is notable that article nine allows governments to restrict freedom of religion on health grounds. However, if one can go to the supermarket to purchase an Easter egg or a television set, then one can hardly argue that there is a health imperative which would allow the restriction of public worship in conditions which are safer than the supermarkets.

The Irish bishops have not made any legal challenges to the legislation as it would appear that they have more important things on their minds such as launching a synodal process in Ireland and making negative comments about the recent Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s document re-affirming Catholic Church teaching that one cannot bless openly sinful relationships.

Bishop Paul Dempsey, of the Achonry Diocese, recently issued a ‘reflection’ which was published on the Irish Catholic Bishops’ website. In his reflection Bishop Dempsey quoted Bishop Bonny of Antwerp. Bishop Bonny is in favour of blessings for same-sex relationships.

I called Bishop Dempsey and he kindly took my call. I asked him if he supported Bishop Bonny’s call for blessings of same-sex relationships.

Bishop Dempsey said that I seemed to have a particular focus on that issue and that he also quoted Pope Francis in his reflection. I explained that the reason I was focusing on this particular issue was because of Bishop Bonny’s public stance on the blessing of homosexual relationships and because Bishop Dempsey, in his reflection, had not clarified whether or not he supported Bishop Bonny’s position.

Bishop Dempsey said that the reason he quoted Bishop Bonny was to highlight what was discussed at the Synod on the Family. Here is the quote from Bishop Bonny that Bishop Dempsey used in his reflection.

“there were frequent discussions about appropriate rituals and gestures to include homosexual couples, including in the liturgical sphere. Naturally, this occurred with respect for the theologically and pastoral distinction between a sacramental marriage and the blessing of a relatioinship. The majority of the synod fathers did not choose a black and white liturgical approach or an all-or-nothing model.”

Bishop Dempsey goes on to tell us how we must understand the bigger picture saying that the Church’s understanding of marriage is fundamental. He says that, “The deeper problem arises in the sphere of language, at best it is experienced as cold and distant, at worst hurtful and offensive. The statement that the Church “cannot bless sin” is seen as targeting or treating same sex couples in a way that others are not targeted or treated in the Church. Many have found this deeply offensive. As a result some feel they are not welcome and have no place in the Catholic Church. There is a great sadness in this as no one should feel that they are not welcome in the Church, which is the Body of Christ. Further to this so many people in same sex relationships have enriched the life of the Church and continue to do so in parishes across the world.”

In my conversation with Bishop Dempsey, he said that I was trying to twist what he was saying, and that I was angry and aggressive. I admit that I was angry as I am very passionate about these matters. This is because I am a father of children who is very much aware of the push to have homosexual relationships given some form of false recognition within the Catholic Church.

Most of our Catholic schools in Ireland promote the false LGBT ideology and to date, no Irish bishop has publicly spoken out against this false indoctrination of Catholic children. This makes me angry and I publicly apologise to Bishop Dempsey for any upset that I may have caused him.

However, Bishop Dempsey did not answer the question I asked him which was, “does he support Bishop Bonny’s call for blessings for people in same sex relationships”. This is a yes or no question and Bishop Dempsey accused me of trying to put words into his mouth by asking this question, which is simply not true.

Catholic parents need to know if their bishop supports giving blessings to same sex couples. It is not clear from Bishop Dempsey’s article, which you can read in full on the Irish Bishops website, what exactly he is in favour of with regards to same sex couples.

Bishop Dempsey’s reflection is misleading, I assume unintentionally. When Bishop Dempsey says that “The statement that the Church “cannot bless sin…”, he has misquoted the CDF document which nowhere states that the church cannot bless sin. What the CDF document says is that Jesus does not and cannot bless sin:

“At the same time, the Church recalls that God Himself never ceases to bless each of His pilgrim children in this world, because for Him “we are more important to God than all of the sins that we can commit”. But he does not and cannot bless sin: he blesses sinful man, so that he may recognize that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him. He in fact “takes us as we are, but never leaves us as we are”

When Bishop Dempsey erroneously says that “The statement that the Church “cannot bless sin” is seen as targeting or treating same sex couples in a way that others are not targeted or treated in the Church.” he is again being misleading and is following the agenda of those who seek to incorporate the homosexual lifestyle into the Catholic Church.

The CDF was not targeting same sex couples, even though it was responding to a specific question which asked, “Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?”

The CDF document does not narrow its treatment of relationships only to same sex relationships. In regard to the blessing of relationships the document states the following.

“Consequently, in order to conform with the nature of sacramentals, when a blessing is invoked on particular human relationships, in addition to the right intention of those who participate, it is necessary that what is blessed be objectively and positively ordered to receive and express grace, according to the designs of God inscribed in creation, and fully revealed by Christ the Lord. Therefore, only those realities which are in themselves ordered to serve those ends are congruent with the essence of the blessing imparted by the Church.

For this reason, it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage (i.e., outside the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life), as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex. The presence in such relationships of positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated, cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing, since the positive elements exist within the context of a union not ordered to the Creator’s plan.”

In this discussion of the blessing of relationships, the CDF speaks of the illicitness of blessing any sexual relationship where those involved are not sacramentally married. It is not just speaking about same sex relationships.

In my phone call with Bishop Dempsey he said that I seemed to be focussed on one particular quote from him, the one from Bishop Bonny. I would say that it is Bishop Dempsey who chose to focus on one particular aspect of the CDF document whilst ignoring the fact that the CDF included non-marital heterosexual relationships in the ban on blessings.

In its response, the CDF broadened the discussion out beyond the limits of same sex relationships, but Bishop Dempsey chose to narrow the focus to same-sex relationships, and this was the very reason for my phone call to him in order to seek clarification of his position.

I ask you to pray for Bishop Dempsey as it is my belief that his reflection, with its misquotes and singular focus on same sex relationships, will only serve the cause of those who seek to normalise homosexual relationships within the Catholic Church.

That I am correct in this assumption is borne out by the fact that organisations which support same sex marriage, such as The Irish Times, as well as other newspaper outlets, have given favourable coverage to bishop Dempsey’s reflection.

The Irish Times article was headed “Vatican language on gay blessings ‘hurtful’, says Ireland’s youngest Catholic bishop”

Bishop Dempsey is not alone in using quotes from bishops who do not accept Catholic Church teaching on same sex relationships. This March, in Knock, Fr Richard Gibbons had an online presentation during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which featured Cardinal Schonborn who gave an address on St Joseph.

Cardinal Schonborn recently objected to the CDF document and seems to indicate that he will not follow the directive in certain situations.

“If the request for a blessing is not a show – if it is honest and really is a plea for God’s blessing of a way of life that two people want to embark on together, then such a blessing will not be refused.” (Cardinal Schonborn – Der Sonntag interview)

While Bishop Dempsey is focussed on same sex relationships, Father PJ Hughes continues to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and to allow Catholics to attend, despite the penal laws against this, and to feed the flock entrusted to his care.

Bishop Dempsey also mentions another very worrying development within the Catholic Church in Ireland and that is the proposed National Synodal Assembly. I fear that the Irish bishops will follow the German bishops and will lead Irish Catholics into schism. The Church as instituted by Jesus Christ, it is a hierarchical institution with Christ as its Head. Dogmatic Catholic teaching is not a matter for negotiated discussions as dogmatic matters are already settled.

I am suspicious of Catholic bishops who claim to uphold Catholic teaching on marriage and family life on the one hand, whilst intimating that we must somehow include those who live in sinful relationships in the life of the Church without calling them to leave the sinful relationships they are in or to bring these relationships, where possible, into line with Catholic Church teaching.

Catholics are called to follow Catholic Church teachings because they are the teachings of Jesus Christ. Catholics are called to strive to “sin no more”, just as Christ called the woman in adultery to “sin no more”, whilst not condemning her.

Christ told the chief priests and the elders of the people that, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31)

Why was this so?

“For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” (Matthew 21:32)
The prostitutes and tax collectors repented of their sinful behaviour. Christ did not concentrate by reflecting “on how His language was heard and interpreted by the people of His time” as Bishop Dempsey urges the Catholic church of our time to do. Christ simply preached the Truth saying “Whoever has ears, let them hear” (Matthew 11:15)

Christ’s direct, uncompromising way of speaking led to Him being crucified.

Perhaps this is a good place for the Irish bishops to start. Let them concentrate on preaching the Truths of the Catholic Faith simply and with clarity and stop thinking about who is going to be offended. Let them stop their selective quotes from bishops and Cardinals who favour same sex marriage. Let them stop their selective quotes from CDF documents which distort the reality of those documents and let them stop accusing those who challenge them to uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church as being the ones who are selective.

The language used in the CDF document, which Bishop Paul Dempsey has misquoted, is not discriminatory in any way. The document even addresses this question of discrimination. I wonder why Bishop Paul Dempsey did not refer to the following section of the document?

“The declaration of the unlawfulness of blessings of unions between persons of the same sex is not therefore, and is not intended to be, a form of unjust discrimination, but rather a reminder of the truth of the liturgical rite and of the very nature of the sacramentals, as the Church understands them.” (CDF – Responsum 22/02/21)

Bishop Paul Dempsey needs to let us know whether or not he favours giving blessings to those in same sex relationships. Perhaps Bishop Paul Dempsey could actively promote John Cassidy’s book, ‘There’s A Place For Us’, which was written by a man with same sex attraction and which addresses the very question of the role of same sex attracted people within the Catholic Church whilst fully upholding Catholic Church teaching.

I recommend that our readers first read the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s – “Responsum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to a dubium regarding the blessing of the unions of persons of the same sex,” which was published on the 15th March 2021 and is available on the Vatican’s website.

I then recommend that our readers read Bishop Paul Dempsey’s “Reflection by Bishop Paul Dempsey to mark Pope Francis’ ‘Amoris Laetitia Family Year’ which is available on the Irish Bishops Conference website.

I have been in contact with the Catholic Communications Office in Maynooth to ask them to correct the misquote in Bishop Dempsey’s reflection.

After reading both of these documents I will leave it to our readers to decide who is ‘targeting’ the same sex issue, Bishop Dempsey, or the CDF?