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Non-judgmental remembrance of two gay men and their love for each other


'Who am I to judge?' These are the words that Pope Francis used when speaking about homosexual persons. He was speaking during an interview on the plane returning from the World Youth Day in Rio de Janiero. I'm sure he would have been delighted by the love and respect shown to John Lynch and Kevin Devine at their wake and funeral at St Teresa's Carmelite Church in downtown Dublin in August last year.

John, a viola player with the Irish National Orchestra, and Kevin, a senior manager with the Department of Health, tragically drowned at Kissamos Beach in Crete on the last day of their summer holiday. No one knows the complete story but it seems that on a stormy day Kevin got into difficulties and John went to his rescue. Kevin was already dead when pulled from the water, while John, despite the efforts of three doctors on the beach, could not be revived.

My wife, Lynne Muir, knew John and his family well through the Melbourne Irish community and we had met John and Kevin at various music functions in Ireland and Melbourne. Our last meeting with them together was at John's mother's funeral earlier in the year when Lynne sang at the graveside. Both of John's parents died within a few months of each other less than a year before the tragic drowning.

We arrived in Crete the day after the drownings. The news was a huge shock as John had sent Lynne a long email describing their holiday just the day before. As we were on the spot we were able to assist both families in gathering information and contacts. John was a very loved and admired musician and news of the drowning travelled very quickly around the world. Our own news of the event came via New York.

Our travel plans enabled us to attend the wake and funeral in Dublin. Kevin's in-laws generously met us at the airport, put us up for the night and patiently waited up for us as we attended reunions of people who had flown in from many overseas locations. Kevin's sister-in-law, Karen, an event organiser, very capably co-ordinated the wake and Requiem Mass.

St Teresa's Church in the heart of Dublin fronting Clarendon Street has a two hundred year history and while the predominance of marble in the sanctuary and the altar itself tended to create an austere setting, it was softened by the beautiful stained glass windows and the packed congregation - and the music. What the church may have lacked in initial warmth was immediately dispelled with the opening hymn when the Irish National Orchestra began to play several introductory pieces and then accompanied the congregation loudly proclaiming, Holy God We Praise Thy Name.

Each family then processed with the coffins to the altar steps placing a single bouquet of flowers at the foot of each and a rose and crucifix on the top. Younger members of each family later added symbols of John and Kevin's lives.

Then followed several musical items from the viola section of the orchestra, members of John's original Australian quartet playing his arrangement of an Irish lament, a Gaelic song from Eileen Begley and a more popular song from one of Kevin's friends.

The wake followed the traditional Catholic service with readings on love, friendship and the promise of a new life in Jesus. The eulogies spoke of the joy each gave to his family and friends. More importantly over and over the eulogies showed how John and Kevins' relationship and the love for each other was accepted and celebrated by friends and family. In fact the photos in the booklets prepared in Dublin and for the subsequent Melbourne memorial gathering showed several examples of this.

The Requiem Mass the next day was anything but a solemn affair. The choir sang a Haydn mass accompanied by a string ensemble and the coffins were carried out together, John to be cremated in Dublin and Kevin to be buried near his family home. John's ashes were placed in Kevin's grave in Dublin and his parents' grave in Melbourne.

A lot of things came together to make this tragic event so memorable. Certainly the power and quality of the music made it unique and easily heightened people's emotions. At the end of the wake I looked up at the balcony in the side transept above the orchestra and saw the brass section rise. Then followed an extraordinary powerful rendition of How Great Thou Art! But I also looked down at the two coffins resting at the edge of the sanctuary and shed a tear for the tragic loss of two great friends. I shed another tear also to see such public recognition of the love these two young men had for each other, to see that it was embraced by the public face of the Church which said clearly, 'Who are we to judge, they are our brothers?'

Garry Eastman is Executive Chairman of Garratt Publishing

Topic tags: Garry Eastman, Pope Francis, homosexuality, gay relationships, death



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Existing comments

God ultimately judges the subjective state of the individual, gay or not, though confessors make a moral judgement re subjective state in confession.
The beautiful, poignant obsequies and orchestrated " How Great Thou Art[*] in no way trivialise, of course, perennial church teaching that gay sex is grave mortal sin, not allayed by a person being otherwise 'virtuous' eg monandrous,patient, compassionate etc[=also the public face of the church]

Father John George | 09 April 2015  

Thank you for sharing such a moving story. The last line is such a subtle statement of an attitude that I pray every society would embrace.

Mary | 09 April 2015  

Father John George, your comment was like a slap in the face after such a loving article about the celebration of love. Sure, God ultimately judges, but must you do it first?

Anna Summerfield | 09 April 2015  

Fr John, I suspect that if you had been the priest celebrating the funeral of the two gay men your own approach would have been equally as pastoral as that of those who prepared the funeral rites in Dublin - regardless of your strongly held belief on Church teaching. A while back Pope Francis said: "the bigger the sin, the greater mercy the Church must show." I suspect you would agree with him and that you would, in the day to day practice of pastoral care, show "the living face of the Father's mercy" [another quote from Francis].

Anthony P | 09 April 2015  

A very moving article Garry - thank you.

Christine Nicholls | 09 April 2015  

Thank you Mr Eastman for such an uplifting article. "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13. Or as another translation would have it: "The greatest way to show love for friends is to die for them." Not many of us are called upon to show this degree of love for our loved ones. Although it might be said that a father and a mother who give up many of the comforts of life so that their children are well fed and educated have to a certain degree 'died for them'. Perhaps moral theologians need to look more closely at the role LOVE plays (or the lack of it) in human relationships. I know some gay couples (both male and female) who show more care, concern and commitment in their relationship than many straight couples. But who am I to judge?

Uncle Pat | 09 April 2015  

Father John George,the idea of confessors making moral judgments is not one with which I am familiar of late. When I go to confession I have alreadymade my own moral judgment. I am a sinner needing God's forgiveness which, I believe, the priest, through the sacramental power bestowed on him at his ordination, can provide. Most confessors seem more intent on encouraging us rather than making a further moral judgment.

grebo | 09 April 2015  

Fr John George I read your comments and I ask: why?
Why does your Church teach this?
And why in God's name do you feel the need to remind us of it in the context of this article?
Or fear...?

Margaret | 09 April 2015  

What a beautiful tribute and what a funeral, these two men gave so much joy to others with their great talent Then one lost his life trying to save the other. God is our ultimate judge, what a relief to know that. He can read our hearts, and like Pope Francis "who am I to Judge" Margaret M.Coffey

Margaret Coffey | 09 April 2015  

Beautiful story and so very moving. Thank you for publishing this Eureka Street. I hope for the day that the Church will recognise and celebrate God's work in the love, friendship and sexuality of LGBTI people (like myself).

Matt | 09 April 2015  

How beautiful was this article it touched me deeply.
These two men were farewelled with the dignity and respect that their lives engendered. Not their sexuality.
As the mother of a gay son in a loving relationship I wonder how gay sex can be considered a grave mortal sin when shared as an expression of love and commitment. Surely what two loving people do in the sanctuary of their bedroom is between them and God and not to be presumed upon or judged

Mary McKenzie | 09 April 2015  

Every reader of this column and comments should obtain and read the book published last night, "The 2015 synod: The crucial questions: Divorce and homosexuality"by Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, published by ATF Press.I won't attempt to summarise its beautiful message of hope and love. Get the book and read it yourself. Especially Fr George. A review please Fr Hamilton? Peace Alan Hogan

Alan Hogan | 10 April 2015  

This beautiful piece brought tears to my eyes. Like the writer the tears were not only for the sadness and loss but also that at least in some parts of the church such beauty and love can be truly acknowledged and celebrated. What a powerful and glorious farewell. May they be now with the God who loves us all.

diane callinan | 11 April 2015  

It is worth pointing out that six priests concelebrated at the requiem, including John and Kevin's and Kevin's family's parish priests, the Editor of Religious Affairs at RTE, the chaplain to the Army as well as members of the Carmelite Community. The large church was packed for both the Requiem and the Service of Thanksgiving the night before, at which the entire National Symphony Orchestra played. It was truly uplifting and beautiful despite the tragic circumstances.

Jo | 11 April 2015  

This story tells of the love between Kevin and John and its acceptance in their community; it reminds of God’s mysterious movement, God’s ability to coax us out of our self-imposed limits. How appropriate to sing How Great Thou Art. When in awesome wonder we consider all the works God’s hand’s have made, we see the stars and hear the rolling thunder. Kevin and John were, after all, the work of God’s hands, and withstands human judgement.

Frank Cunningham | 12 April 2015  

What a pity Father John George had to remind us of the "mortal sin of gay sex", which frankly I think is a ridiculous notion. Surely the Church doesn't believe the love so described in Garry Eastman's article between Kevin and John to be wrong - what utter arrogance if it does.

Jeff | 12 April 2015  

How beautiful, I thank God that peace & love has been shown to these two men R.I. P.

Margaret O'Donoghue | 13 April 2015  

It is Monday and I just read the above article. Father John George, I don't know you, but I respect and I have a great admiration for you. You are a true and loyal Catholic priest. We certainly need more Religious men and women like you. Remember, Jesus told the woman caught in adultery: ''Go and sin no more'' God bless you Father George. Ron Cini

Ron Cini | 13 April 2015  

Thanks Ron Mate! Yes I will try and sin no more. Being bedridden hemiplegic in post stroke/cancer rehab makes it easier to avoid mortals but temptations to venials are a pest Tenete Traditiones buddy

Father John George | 13 April 2015  

Father John George and Ron Cini, do you both make similar judgmental remarks on possible sexual activity after the funerals of other Catholics? Do you habitually warn people after other funerals about the dangers of extra-marital sex and masturbation? In Gary Eastman's article there was no mention of sexual activity. Your comments are perverse.

AURELIUS | 14 April 2015  

Aurelius the article above was written for open discussion. Only 3 of my numerous funerals over 40 years ministry were of public notoriety and reported in media. One was a ruthless, Sydney, repentant, hetero, underworld gangster-- immortalised in tv mini series. Most hit the broadsheet short obits' headlines. Though chaplain to major Sydney Necropolis and others over five years especially and up to nine funerals per day, I never knowingly came across deceased cremations or burials of SSMs, Though in very early 1980s, I buried an HIV person[, [Due to ignorance and HIV paranoia then, the burial took place on the cemetery extremities, with limestone packed in-all predetermined before my arrival.] This article mentioning the deceased's in-laws suggests SSM, in any case my post emphasized subjective guilt known absolutely by God and prudentially by confessor absolving. Finally I dont resile on church teaching on SSU or SSM, both gravely scandalous-thus the France-Vatican present diplomatic imbroglio, with His Holiness standing firm!

Father John George | 15 April 2015  

I pray for the repose of the two souls involved, as I earnestly hope others will pray for me. "Betwixt the stirrup and the ground, mercy sought and mercy found". Hopefully Fr George and Ron Cini will pray for me when that time comes, as I will for them. Maybe others here too, who come to see the wisdom of their comments. We should pray for each other to the One True God regularly, whatever side of the fences we sit on. Time is short and eternity is very long.

HH | 16 April 2015  

To the so-called staunch traditionalists patting each other on the back and praying for each other, spare us your prayers and open your eyes.

AURELIUS | 16 April 2015  

Relax Aurelius, we "traditionalists" will especially pray for your immortal soul, and "with wide open eyes" should you predecease us!

Father John George | 19 April 2015  

I read this essay as a tribute to a beautiful love tragically cut short in this life. I also read it as a loving response from a faith community holding John and Kevin in its loving arms and comforting grieving family and friends. A church should do that. I did not read it as an endorsement of or commentary on same sex marriage, but as a commemoration of love. I’m pleased the Requiem Mass was anything but solemn and I hope it was a celebration of life because it seems to me John and Kevin did celebrate life. Thank you for sharing this with us Garry.

Brett | 19 April 2015  

This group of family and friends did what is right to do, and did it lovingly via the beautiful funeral rites of the Church. God bless them. Margaret, in justice to the Church I have to question Fr. George's understanding of the 'perennial church teaching that gay sex is grave mortal sin..'. I believe that the teaching is that gay sex is 'grave matter', only one of the requirements for a definition that a person is in sin, the others being full knowledge and free will. That's why no human being can judge this from outside - we judge the act but not the person. This is very clear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, though not well taught, I think, with obvious results.

Joan Seymour | 25 May 2015