Ask by Tony Hanna

Peter was a staunch member of our weekly prayer group, a quietly spoken but perceptive analyst of life and people. He was a deeply spiritual man, humble and gentle in his conduct and speech. The twinkling eyes betrayed a lovely sense of humour that was both self-deprecating and mischievous.

Yet underneath the quiet, unassuming face that Peter presented to the world, there was an inner courage and mettle to deal with great challenges. Peter may have been small in stature, but he was resolute and unflinching when it came to matters of principle or justice.

When Peter ASKED to meet with me to discuss something of importance to him, I assumed it might have been something to do with some help in his spiritual life. The topic he brought to our discussion was surprising and somewhat challenging for me, but it was profoundly traumatic and deeply personal for him.

Peter had come to me asking me to include a workshop for “Catholic parents of homosexual adult children” in a forthcoming conference which my community, The Family of God, was hosting in Dundalk under the theme ‘Family at Crossroads’. His discovery that two of his children were homosexual had almost overwhelmed him when he first encountered it. Yet he faced it steadfastly and looked at it through the eyes of love and compassion and he found peace.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27).

Ultimately his deep faith helped him to live with the turmoil and many unanswered questions. He also felt called to a mission, which was to highlight the trauma of parents caught in the backwash of deep emotions of confusion, compassion, guilt, anger, regret, love and hurt, and to find some mechanism whereby they could support each other.

Peter also felt called to ask the church to look again at its response to homosexuality. Ireland was a very different country in the 1990s, and the subject of homosexuality was more than a little taboo.

As I recall, we had already agreed on the conference program and had invited speakers, including our local auxiliary bishop. When I brought it to the Council of the Community for its consideration, there was fear and a great reluctance to get involved in a topic that could prove very embarrassing and perhaps damaging to the reputation of this fledgling community, in the eyes of the church.

Peter’s proposed workshop was a potential time-bomb and one that was considered very risky to undertake. And yet there was the witness of Peter himself! He had come to us as a father who loved both his homosexual children. He was coming to the church asking for help in how he should respond. There was nowhere else to go at that time.

He knew there were other parents like him struggling to make sense of it all, parents who knew the church’s position and who wanted to be loyal, obedient and faithful, but parents who also loved their homosexual sons and their lesbian daughters whose lifestyles were at odds with the teachings of the church.

Frankly, I was not sure where to begin, but I was convicted by Peter’s sincerity and his own faith life. I knew his pain and the internal turmoil through which his faith was trying to navigate.

I agreed to set up the workshop. I asked a well-known moral theologian who was known to be sympathetic and liberal in his views to conduct it. I balanced this approach by asking a lecturer in Moral Theology at the Pontifical University, Maynooth (now the president), to act as chairman.

We wondered if anyone would turn up to the workshop. We feared it would be contentious, that the press or media would get wind of it and that there would be a hullaballoo. None of these things happened. The workshop was excellent, well attended and hugely helpful to those who participated.

I know Peter was delighted, and it encouraged him to consider becoming more proactive in setting up a self-help group for parents of homosexual children. I think his proposed book was one of the initiatives that flowed from the conference.
I have little to add other than to record my own appreciation of a life well lived; a humble, dedicated family man who, in his own quiet way, raised questions for the church to consider as part of its pastoral ministry.

The homosexual question is complex, sensitive and difficult, and the church has a responsibility to hold fast to sound doctrine. She is also called to marry that responsibility with compassion for those whose lifestyle is not compatible with church teaching.

Peter walked a personal tightrope between these two poles. He was a good man in the truest sense of that simple but profound accolade. May he rest in peace!

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