Tomorrow morning, at the Church of Ireland General Synod, some bishops of the Church of Ireland will attempt a second time to introduce a motion declaring that the relationships of gay and lesbian people are not ‘normative’. Like Roman Catholic bishops expressing views on contraception; straight bishops, who have turned a blind eye to gross injustice in Irish society, will again presume to pronounce on matters of which they know nothing.
Sean O’Casey, a working class man from the sort of community on which the Church of Ireland long ago turned its back, became embittered towards the church in which he had been baptized and raised. The Church of Ireland had said nothing while the prospect of the sort of Ireland imagined by O’Casey, and those who had struggled for justice, disappeared without trace. O’Casey eventually faced a situation where the influence of the Roman Catholic Church was such that it was not possible even for his plays to be performed. At one point, in frustration, he had penned lines to the letters column of the Irish Times:
There we go; the streets of Dublin echo with the drumbeats of footsteps running away. The Archbishop in his Palace and the Customs Officer on the quay viva watch to guard virtue and Eire; the other Archbishop (Barton) draws the curtains and sits close to his study fire, saying nothing; and so the Hidden Ireland becomes the Bidden Ireland, and all is swell.
A century on from the Ireland of the young Sean O’Casey and it might have been imagined that a church now with no reason to fear anything from anyone might manage some contribution of substance to the public discourse of the state.
Yet the preoccupation is with sex – not with the economic crisis in Ireland, not with the chaos in Europe, not with the plight of hundreds of millions of people in Africa, not with global concerns about the environment, but with sex.
In an Ireland gone from boom to bust, where hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs and where the poor and vulnerable must now pay the cost of the reckless greed of a small and influential minority, the bishops have still not managed a single statement in response to the culture of lies and deceit and the contravention of the Biblical imperatives to act justly and to defend the poor. Bishops quick to express opinions on matters of sexuality find no words to condemn the scandal of taking from the sick and the weak to give to the wealthy and to the powerful.
Archbishop Barton closing his curtains and pulling his chair closer to the fire was positively outspoken compared to some of his successors today. O’Casey would despair of them.