The following is the statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry, on the occasion of Ireland voting to legalize marriage for lesbian and gay couples:
Today, headlines around the world announced Catholic news from two different parts of the globe, which may seem disparate, but which share an important common theme.
In Ireland, one of the most Catholic nations on earth, hundreds of thousands voted overwhelmingly in a general referendum to enact marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.
In El Salvador, a strongly Catholic nation, hundreds of thousands turned out for beatification ceremonies for Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was martyred 35 years ago while celebrating Mass.
What do these two stories have in common? In both cases, the opinion of Catholic lay people has won the day, even when the church’s hierarchy opposed both developments. In both cases, the sense of the faithful overcame institutional fears and customs. In both cases, Catholic ideals were articulated and lived out by the laity.
In Ireland, the Catholic bishops spoke out consistently against the establishment of marriage equality. Their statements have been documented here on this blog. But lay people insisted that allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry was consistent with Catholic principles of equality, fairness, human dignity, and family stability.
In El Salvador, lay people instantly declared Romero as a saint at the time of his death, but his cause for canonization was hindered during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI because Vatican officials feared any possible endorsement of liberation theology. But lay people, especially those who were living in poverty, insisted that Romero, who defended their rights and human dignity fearlessly, was indeed worthy of veneration as a martyr.
In both of these cases, the prayers and work of lay people have won out over hierarchical reluctance.
New Ways Ministry prays with joy for both nations for their courage and determination to bring about justice and Catholic ideals into the public square.
There is still work to be done in both cases. In El Salvador, the advancement towards canonizing Romero as a saint must still be completed. The support of Pope Francis in this case may help to speed up the process.
In Ireland, the Catholic Church there needs to learn to work together once again–hierarchy and laity. There will be pastoral work needed to help unite Catholics who were opposed during the marriage equality campaign. U.S. bishops who have been involved in marriage equality debates have yet to do this type of work, and our church is hurting and losing many of the faithful because of omission of this step.
In Ireland, the job may be a bit lighter because the hierarchy’s leader, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin (vice- president of the nation’s bishops conference) has been extremely courteous in their opposition to marriage equality. While maintaining consistent and strong opposition to marriage equality, he also voiced respect for those who held a different opinion. He worked hard for his position, but he worked even harder to make sure that those who disagreed with him would not be alienated from the Church.
Congratulations and prayerful thanks to the Catholics of Ireland who have shown what we here in the U.S. have known for a long time: that Catholic lay people support marriage equality because they are Catholic, not in spite of being Catholic.
Congratulations and prayerful best wishes to the Catholics of El Salvador who have shown that the preferential option for the poor is a pillar of Catholicism and that our church should honor those who live out that principle even in the face of violent opposition.
Yesterday was a day when, to paraphrase Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the arc of the moral universe bent a little more toward justice.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry