O Ireland

Ireland seems to have two kinds of weather. Either it’s raining, or it’s about to rain. At least that’s how it’s been the past week as the residual wind and water from Hurricane Ernesto made landfall in the West.

I’ve been hiking there – my annual summer strategem to come down to earth is to spend some strenuous days outdoors, as far away as possible from the news cycles and turmoil in the Church and the world. The skies held off enough that we got in a great long loop through the high rocky hills known as the Burren and a simple walk along the Cliffs of Moher. Today it will be the walking pilgrimage up Croagh Patrick.

Geologic time isn’t eternity, of course, but when you put yourself in vigorous contact with natural features that have taken hundreds of millions of years to form, it puts human things in different perspective.

A very good thing, too, because all this is prelude to the events that will take place later this week in Dublin and Knock. Events (plural), because in addition to the ill-timed and partly ill-conceived World Meeting of Familes (WMOF), there are also various “alternative” gatherings. I myself will give the concluding lecture at one of them in support of the traditional family (along with Cardinal Burke, Fr. Thomas Weinandy, Edward Pentin, and other friends). More about this, I hope, in special reports, later in the week.

The WMOF has been rocked, before it’s even begun. The new abuse revelations caused Cardinals O’Malley and Wuerl, scheduled speakers both, to withdraw. Over 10,000 people signed a petition calling for the disinvitation of Fr. James Martin, S.J., well-known advocate of “building bridges” to people with same-sex attractions and other disorders. That hasn’t happened. But the negative publicity probably caused the conference organizers to keep two LGBT groups from renting booths. The excuse: they didn’t know how much space would be available for exhibitors. Nothing to do with Catholic doctrine, of course.

A spokesman for one of the groups opined that Pope Francis wants to accept gays, but shadowy conservative forces in the Vatican are stopping him. That’s not at all clear. The pope has urged Italian bishops not to admit men even suspected of homosexual tendencies to the seminary. And has even wondered aloud how so many have entered the priesthood.

It’s true that Cardinal Kevin Farrell, a native of Ireland who as head of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life was responsible for organizing the WMOF, gave a glowing endorsement to Martin’s book Building a Bridge, saying that it would “help LGBT Catholics feel more at home in what is, after all, their church.”

But no. The Church is not theirs – or his, or mine. It’s Christ’s. He and a long tradition have left us pretty explicit instructions about this and many other matters.

Pilgrims’ path up Croagh Patrick

Meanwhile, Irish gays and dissident women have been publicly lamenting that they don’t mutually support each other enough. Women have been organizing, though. On Saturday, the day Pope Francis arrives, Trinity College’s School of Religion will be hosting an independent event, “Voices Pope Francis Will Not Hear.” But it would be difficult for anyone these days not to have heard these “voices” since they are speaking on progressive subjects so familiar that they’re miles beyond banal: the Church’s marginalization of women, vilification of LGBT Catholics, contraception, abortion, the abuse crisis.

The program for the official WMOF doesn’t break much new ground either. Most of the topics seem to be the kinds of things people professionally involved in family work do on a regular basis. No harm in that, of course, and it’s always a good thing when even two or three are gathered in His name. But the Irish just voted, in large numbers, to give themselves the right to kill their own children in the womb. Yet so far as I can see, the word abortion does not appear in the title of any session.

None of this seems likely to make a difference to the global crisis of the family – and the global crisis of the Church at the moment.

Whether this WMOF is going to have an impact will largely depend on what Pope Francis says and does. His concluding homily at the previous (2015) World Meeting of Families, in Philadelphia, was startling. He turned the Gospel of the day – he who’s not against us is with us – into a rebuke of Catholics being too “narrow.” I was covering the event for EWTN and it didn’t quite leave me speechless – if only because you can’t be speechless live on air. But it was clear – we were in the midst of the two Synods on the Family – that he was trying to stretch things in the directions we’ve since seen him take.

There were 40,000 people from all over the world at that event and he did eventually speak, as is his wont, of little acts of kindness and affection within the family, and the larger realities of the covenant between man and woman. But the way he set the tone – introducing ambiguity and even criticism of strong ideas about family – colored everything else.

In a similar vein, someone in Ireland or Rome (or both) approved a WMOF banner that is set up in almost every Irish Church this week. It quotes Pope Francis: “How much better family life would be if we used the words . . . Please, Thank you, I’m sorry.” Good counsel, in its modest way.

But given the immense and undeniable storms striking the family – everything from legal and cultural norms that encourage easy divorce, the demographic collapse of virtually every developed nation owing to contraception and abortion, the deliberate blurring of male and female, the creeping validation of same-sex relationships within the Church Herself  (and the damage sex abuse has done to the Church’s credibility), Ireland – and the world – need a much stronger message.

I wonder what we will get?

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent books are Columbus and the Crisis of the West and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century.