The Church’s loss of influence in Ireland

You wouldn’t expect this from the 71-year-old gay leader of the successful campaign to legalise same-sex marriage in Ireland. But scholar, senator, and civil rights activist David Norris not only calls Pope Francis a “terrific beacon of hope around the world,” he also bemoans the Catholic Church’s dwindling influence in his homeland.

I’d call that inspiring magnanimity, or even a New Testament moment of be-kind-to-your-persecutors grace.

For the Church has, and still does, consider Norris and his fellow homosexuals a “disordered” crew.

Yet when Norris first saw the newly elected Pope Francis at the balcony in St. Peter’s Square, “when he pushed away the man who was trying to decorate him like a Christmas tree and said ‘buonasera‘ (good evening) and commanded silence from that vast audience, that was terribly impressive …. I suddenly had a leap of heart.”

So said Norris in an interview last week with Jim Braude and me on our WGBH-Boston radio show.

And his admiration for this “wonderful” pope has only increased as Norris has watched Francis help the homeless and migrants and go after Vatican bank corruption and financial systems favoring the rich over the poor.

“Here is a man who got down in a prison and washed the feet of women prisoners,” said Norris, who then called Francis that “beacon of hope around the world — although he’s not great on gay rights.”

Not great on the cause of Norris’s life, the senator conceded, chuckling.

Yet Norris is still willing to publicly call Francis a powerful force for good, no matter how that might irk gay partisans demanding all-or-nothing allegiance.

Norris then lamented the Church’s declining influence as a moral force in Ireland, blaming not just its sexual abuse cover-up, but also what he called its dismal mid-level management team.

Both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI appointed cardinals and bishops who “are very conservative and really pretty mediocre intellectually and out of touch with modern reality.” No vision, Norris said.

Francis, however, is both a visionary and a “very humble man.” Continue reading

  • Margery Eagan, spirituality columnist for Crux, is a writer and commentator on current affairs.
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