Need for Conversation on the Pastoral Outreach to Gay Catholics

Earlier this week the ACP Leadership wrote to all the bishops calling for a conversation on the pastoral outreach to gay Catholics. The letter is attached:

Tuesday 18 May 2021

 Dear Bishop,

There needs to be a conversation in the Irish Church that involves a sensitive and respectful pastoral outreach to gay Catholics. Pope Francis has demonstrated that respect and sensitivity in his carefully judged words, and has encouraged us to go to the peripheries and to welcome all the baptised, including gay Catholics, into the Church’s care. It is both their right and our responsibility.

This need has been underlined recently by the insensitive and unnecessary intervention by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) that has brought such pain and distress to gay women and men, to their families and friends.

The content, language and judgemental tone of the CDF’s statement reflect an increasingly out of touch and uncaring Church and exactly the kind of attitude that provokes more and more Catholics into walking away from our Church. Messages we have received from gay people and family members spoke of the hurt and anger they are made to feel and they write of the struggle they have remaining part of the church. Only one Irish Bishop had the courage to respond to the CDF statement and his words were deeply appreciated.

More worryingly, the CDF intervention runs counter to ‘the synodal path’ that Francis has told us is God’s way of being Church in the future and which the Irish Bishops have recently endorsed through their commitment to move the Irish Church along that pathway in preparation for a national synodal event within the next five years.

The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has enthusiastically supported the Bishops’ decision (ACP statement, Holy Thursday, 2021) and we look forward to playing our part in this important initiative.

Times are changing. Both this synodal initiative and the present pandemic remind us that we now have to try and do things in a way we never would have dreamt of doing in the past. An instance is the ACP adopting the now popular Zoom meetings and organising webinars in order to inform and promote our reform agenda. These have been open to all and have been hugely popular. A number of bishops have joined us and in one instance some joined in a very worthwhile discussion.

A recent ACP webinar on the topic ‘Pastoral care of LGBTQ+ and the Church’s position on LGBTQ+’ was presented by James Alison, a priest theologian, highly regarded and valued, and who has received an endorsement from Pope Francis. It was disappointing that no bishop attended but, even more so, to discover that some bishops even failed to forward to the priests of their respective dioceses the notification of the event sent to them – a practice that by now is an established protocol.

Nonetheless, the Alison webinar was memorable. There were many heartfelt contributions from people who continue to feel hurt and shame. Stories that could be replicated in every parish but sadly are often unwelcome or unheard.

Why are we so cold and uncaring in the Church around this topic? Why the lack of knowledge and understanding that still informs inappropriate sermons and comments? Why are we afraid to welcome gay Catholics? Why are we afraid to listen to their stories?

There is a listening and a conversation that need to take place in our Church and we respectfully request the Irish bishops to facilitate it and to participate in it. A refusal to engage runs counter to the synodal pathway.

With every good wish and blessing.


Tim Hazelwood, Roy Donovan, John Collins, Gerry O’Connor CSsR

ACP Leaderhsip Team