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Sex and gay children in Catholic families


Over the last few weeks the Australian couple featured in this interview have become unlikely international media celebrities. The very forthright speech they gave at the recent Vatican Synod on the Family was reported widely around the globe in both secular and Catholic media.

Ron and Mavis Pirola were among 14 married couples chosen from around the world to attend the Synod to provide input on contemporary family life. There were also a number of lay experts invited to the meeting. But these lay Catholics were far outnumbered by ordained clergy – cardinals, bishops and priests – and only the clergy had voting rights.

The Pirolas spoke to the gathering frankly about their sex life and the importance of sex in marriage, and they made a plea for a welcoming attitude towards homosexuals in the Church.

While this sentiment of openness and welcome towards homosexuals made it into the interim report halfway through the two week meeting, it was opposed by many of the Church fathers attending, including Cardinal George Pell. It was voted down and omitted from the final communiqué of the Synod. 

But for the first time, at least since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, the meeting was transparent and debate and the voting about such contentious issues was made public.

Throughout their lives Ron and Mavis Pirola have been committed and very active Catholics. They’ve been married for 55 years and have four children and eight grandchildren.

Mavis is a former secondary school teacher, and Ron is a prominent gastroenterologist and Professor of Medicine at the University of NSW and Notre Dame University in Sydney. He gained a doctorate in medicine at the University of NSW, and did post-doctoral training in London and New York.

His research into pancreatic disease and hepatology spans three decades, and he was co-founder at the University of NSW of the highly successful Pancreatic Research Group. He has authored a medical text book, several book chapters and over 100 articles in peer-reviewed journals.

The Pirolas have been awarded Papal and Australian Honours (Knight and Dame of the Order of St Gregory and the Medal of the Order of Australia) for their advocacy for the family, and introducing family movements and programs into Australia.

They are founding members of the Pontifical Council for the Family and served on this important international body from 1983 till 2009. They currently chair the Australian Catholic Marriage and Family Council.

This interview is in two parts - Part 1 (10 mins) above, and Part 2 (9 mins) below:


Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.

Topic tags: Peter Kirkwood, Synod on the Family, Vatican, homosexuality, Pope Francis, Ron and Mavis Pirola, laity, fam



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Existing comments

I was struck, while watching these two videos, by the obvious closeness and the joy this couple experience in being together. This is, of course, due to a healthy sexual relationship and a great respect for each other. And it should be obvious to any thinking person that these same joys can be experienced in homosexual relationships. The Pirolas' thoughtful answers to the questions posed show that lay participation in synods is the way forward for the Catholic church - listen up Bishops and Cardinals.

Pam | 28 October 2014  

I just finished reading the bio of Fr Bob Maguire: it is a sad, sad story. It is interesting that as Ron and Mavis point out, a number of bishops used the phrase "accompanying people", the very thing that Fr Bob was criticised for.

Frank | 29 October 2014  

The Pirolas are certainly not the sort of bland, conventional delegates I thought they could've been. I think it strange that anyone might have to explain that it is perfectly acceptable, indeed necessary, for a legitimate married couple to have a normal sex life. But then again, we are talking about the Roman Catholic Church, which has historically, certainly in its Irish-Australian incarnation, seemed almost totally against what would be normal married sex a la 1960s. When I was growing up then celibacy - which turns out, given the dreadful paedophilia scandals, was often neither celibate nor chaste - was pushed as a "higher calling". What rubbish! The Orthodox are much more normal in not pushing this line but seeing the two as equal. Until secular clergy in the Roman Rite are allowed to marry I fear the same situation will continue. Regarding homosexuality - we are, I think, talking male homosexuality here, which draws the particular ire of the likes of Pell - is de-emphasised and let be I fear the Catholic Church may be headed for the incredibly destructive brangling which has had such a diabolical effect on the Anglican Communion.

Edward Fido | 29 October 2014  

I am a long time colleague of Ron Pirola's at the University of New south Wales and admire him as a great Catholic and doctor. I am sure that both he and Mavis differentiate clearly between homosexual people and homosexual practices, recognising the latter as they would other transgressions of morality but not condemning but forgiving and understanding as Christ did of moral transgressors. It is time for Catholics to understand that the Church has never condemned nor excluded the people (although many choose to wrongly believe that it has) but has and will continue to condemn homosexual practices in the same way that it does other sexually immoral acts and practices. It says a lot about the ignorance that abounds in the secular media and generally in secular society, including amongst deluded sanctimonious Catholics, that the only widely reported segment of the Pirola's speech in this country was, "If your son is a homosexual you should invite his boyfriend to Christmas dinner". If that is the only comment worth reporting from the Australian submissions to the Synod, then God help the Church in Australia.

john frawley | 29 October 2014  

I should have added that the interview with Ron and Mavis was wonderful and should become compulsory viewing for the secular media and the various apostate Catholics in this country. It is an excellent summary of the Sacrament of Matrimony which so few understand in the modern world and clearly outlines the Church's refusal to ratify "gay marriage". Also couldn't agree more that the language of the Church does it enormous harm.

john frawley | 29 October 2014  


Peter Goers | 29 October 2014  

Comments about gay children begin at 2:33 in the first video.

Bruce Laidlaw | 29 October 2014  

Help! Could you please publish the text of this interview for those of us with ancient computers that stop to download every 5 seconds.

Pauline Small | 29 October 2014  

I understand what you are saying John Frawley and I guess you are technically correct but I think there was probably no need to issue the gratuitous theological caveat you did, which seemed high handed, slightly impertinent and totally superfluous. Such, I am afraid, is the language and methodology we would've been expected to use in the "good" old days of Mannix. This, I think is the "Irish" approach, so dominant in the Anglophone world. Pope Francis - of Italian ancestry and Latin by birth - would well know the phrase " una bella figura" which Italians use to express their way of dealing with controversial issues. It means this. The Vatican issues a decree. Italians hear it and go their own merry way about things e.g. contraception. There is no "hot" conflict on the surface a la Pell. Respect - self-respect - on both sides is saved. Nothing really changes. I think you can read the same thing into Pope Francis's most quoted comment on homosexuals. There was neither approval nor encouragement of their lifestyle issued but neither was there blanket condemnation. Face was saved on both sides and dialogue could continue. The only alternative you have is a standoff and then the de facto schism afflicting the Anglican Communion.

Edward Fido | 29 October 2014  

Why is it that sexual acts between two men or two women brings out ire and indignation? How do people express their love for one and another, sexually, without involving genitalia? The sexual act is not always about procreation - obviously not for same sex couples. If pregnancy results, how wonderful but not every couple are able to conceive and some married couples do not want children. How they express love for each other is their private business. The act of love making is intrinsically personal and I applaud Ron and Mavis Pirola for expressing their feelings before the Synod. The sexual act is/was rarely discussed in the Church, unless it is/was to say what cannot be done... and this from (mainly) men who are celibate - or at least claim to be. Thankfully, Pope Benedict XVI raised the issue in an encyclical and spoke of a physical love and spiritual love. Love making between same sex attracted couples is just as caring, loving and spiritual as it is for opposite sex attracted couples.

Jeff | 29 October 2014  

When I read the testimony of the Pirola's I knew it had to be photocopied and given out to all parishioners as one of the important discussions had at the Synod. With reference to the topic of this item, as a priest in a parish I really did identify with the Christmas Dinner issue. When I look back on over twenty years of ministry I can recognise many "Christmas Dinner" experiences. I've done funerals, weddings, baptisms with gay people present and I took each like a Christmas Dinner. The gay people were respectful and were'nt out to prove anything and I did the same. I've baptised babies with two mothers and I've had gay people and their partners do readings and prayers and know that the way of "Christmas Dinners" is a good starting point for having gay people know that their is a place at the table for them in the Church.

Fr5 Mick Mac Andrew | 29 October 2014  

I really appreciate these two people - both intelligent and thoughtful, listening to each other - not all of us get that in a relationship even if we try to give it. The real purpose of my post is to ask why must we be defined by our sexuality - why can we not just be seen as person? Is there some deep-seated harking back to tribalism and the need to belong to have a sense of self? Surely this in itself denies the Christian ideal of knowing oneself in Christ?

hilary | 29 October 2014  

Well the Catholic Church has go itself into a quandary here because it can't have its cake and eat it too on the issue of homosexuality. You either have to condemn the whole homosexual condition/orientation totally, or accept what people often derisively refer to as "homosexual acts". Because the church acknowledges that not everyone is capable or called to be celibate. And when people refer to sexual acts - there is more to our sexual expression than mere "genital acts". If anyone would like to spell it out for more, I'm sure it would be amusing to agree to some sort of cut-off point where "acts" are suddenly deemed sinful.

AURELIUS | 29 October 2014  

Good afternoon, Edward. I imagine the "high handed, slightly impertinent, totally superfluous and gratuitous theological caveat" to which you refer was my comment on Sacramental Matrimony (which was a major part of this interview with the Pirolas) accompanied by an explanation that it is the sacramental nature of marriage in the Catholic Church which does not admit the concept of "gay marriage". Matrimony (or marriage) which in part is a covenant with God the Creator as his instrument of human life creation is simply impossible between same sex human beings in Catholic teaching. This is simply the explanation behind Catholic failure to institute "gay marriage" That does not mean that same sex couples should not be recognised as having an enduring, loving relationship. It means that such is simply not marriage in a sacramental, Catholic sense, just as an enduring, loving, heterosexual, non-sacramental relationship is not marriage, but de facto (having the appearance of) in Catholic teaching. Hope I haven't upset you even further, since that is not my intention. However, I do accept your debating point that it was an extra which need not have been added, but I thought it a good opportunity to highlight the misunderstood Catholic position, based largely on a misunderstanding of what Catholic marriage is. The Pirola's expressed Catholic marriage extremely well in this interview but I am sure it will go over the heads of many not wanting to hear the true teaching of the Church.

john frawley | 29 October 2014  

I find it ironic that a small group of single celibate elderly males are exercising Church control over how contemporary lay Catholics are attempting to put into practice God's desire for us to "be fruitful, multiply", yet steadfastly refuse to comply with this wish stated so clearly in the first book of the Bible. With regard to homosexuality: there is still so much to learn about what makes people tick. The Church should be lovingly open to all.

Paddy Byers | 29 October 2014  

What an intelligent,caring set of replies to some vital questions! How grateful I am to hear their measured responses! Thanks you .

Peter Collins | 29 October 2014  

What is the definition of a "sexual act"? How is it different from a "nonsexual act"? Is the rightness of the "sexual act" a matter of who does it, with whom, or has it to do with the details of the anatomical bits that are involved? Could a "heterosexual act" be disordered if it mimicked a "homosexual act"? Would that make the participants disordered? Or would we accept them with tolerance?

Janet | 29 October 2014  

Jeff, I appreciate your perspective on same sex relationships but the loving is different than between a man and a woman - physically, socially and spiritually and that is why there must be two different ways of recognising loving couples, marriage for a man and a woman and and another suyitably named legal protection for same sex couples.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew | 29 October 2014  

Let's face it "Sex sells". I leave it to sociologists, psychologists and PR professionals to explain the 'how' and the 'why'. Just as a matter of interest were such 'periti' at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family? One positive outcome in my view was the coverage given to the Pirolas contribution in The Catholic Weekly Oct 19. In it they are quoted as saying that Church is expressed in language that seemed to be from another planet. How's that for bonza Aussie exaggeration to get attention. It certainly got the attention of Cardinal Rayond Burke, then Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura. He attempted to rebut the Pirolas' message of of understanding and compassion when dealing with issues like what do grandparents do when they want to invite their son and his gay partner to Christmas dinner. In rebutting he resorted to the language of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2357) except instead of saying 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered" as in CCC 2357 he said 'homosexual relations are intrinsically disordered'. Surely we could expect greater precision of language from the head of the Church's highest judicial authority? A position I believe he no longer holds.

Uncle Pat | 29 October 2014  

Uncle Pat, one of the definitions of "relations" pertains to sexual intercourse. As in: "Don't have sexual relations with that man".

HH | 30 October 2014  

Unce Pat must understand that the homosexual orientation, though not in itself sinful, is in Catholic Teaching intrinsically disordered, Such disorder even has e.g.obstetric ramifications and antepartum etiology. Embryological gender rewiring of the brain,can be gravely disrupted by female hormonal pathology due to stress etc.

Father John George | 30 October 2014  

Thank you, HH and Fr John George, for your comments. I'm reminded of the very narrow interpretation then President Clinton gave to "sexual relations" when he said "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" even though he was in a casual sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Two men I know who are open about being in a same sex relationship tell me that they are extremely considerate each of the other in how they express their love for one another in their more intimate moments. Like one would expect an affianced Catholic couple to be before marriage. They are not advocates of gay marriage. Nor are they the flamboyant type who would parade in Mardi Gras, As with heterosexuals so too with homosexuals there is a wide spectrum from what one would consider masculine to feminine behaviours and characteristics. Live and let love, I say.

Uncle Pat | 30 October 2014  

Thank you Mavis & Ron. Beautifully expressed as always. You have gifted us with Equippes Notre Dame [ Teams of Our Lady] and Marriage Encounter to nourish our marriages here in Australia. Our heartfelt gratitude.

Lorraine Murphy | 30 October 2014  

Father George I can't see the point in going into such biological detail to explain and confusing gender with sexual orientation. You seem to talking about transexuality and not homosexuality. In my personal experience, it's the excess of the male hormone testosterone that presents the challenge - but then again that's an issue for heterosexual men too.

AURELIUS | 30 October 2014  

Attention Pauline Small i suffered for some years with the problem, until my modern daughter advised that I simply needed the timing to be advanced/quickened. No difficulties any more for tutorials etc

Jennifer Milani | 31 October 2014  

Thank you Ron and Mavis Pirola for putting the case for compassionate love of those whose sexual attraction is not heterosexual. Thank you also for the emphasis on the value of marriage lived in full conscious awareness of its meaning not only for the couple but for all to whom their loving contact radiates. This is sacramental evangelisation indeed. No where in the Gospels do we find Jesus expressing negative statements about people of his time living in homosexual relationships. Where Jesus does meet people whose sexual relationships are awry - the woman at the well and the woman taken in adultery - he did not condemn. The Jesus of the Gospels placed greater emphasis on a lack of caring love between people - think the parables of the Good Samaritan or of the rich man and Lazarus. Has the church of today simply got hung up by misplacing its emphasis? After all Jesus said that the distinguishing sign of his followers was to be love. 'By this will all know that you are my disciples that you love one another. Love one another as I have loved you.' Is Jesus' emphasis what Pope Francis wants to restore?

Ern Azzopardi | 01 November 2014  

Mr Azzopardi there are sundry biblical references condemning homosexual acts. http://www.ewtn.com/library/humanity/homo.htm

Father John George | 02 November 2014  

Fr John George you appear to have mis understood me. No where did I state that homosexual acts are good. The point that I was making is simply that there would seem to be greater issues of concern for Jesus than the sexual relationships of individuals at his time. If one is to search the Gospels for issues of emphasis by frequency of occurrence then the over riding emphasis is not on sexual aberrations. How else do you read the Gospels?

Ern Azzopardi | 03 November 2014