Bishop: Referendum Not ‘Defeat for Humanity,’ But Increases Human Happiness

Bishop Willie Walsh

An Irish bishop criticized Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin’s claim that Ireland’s passage of marriage equality was a “defeat for humanity,” saying the comment was inappropriate and not likely approved by Pope Francis.

Bishop Willie Walsh, Emeritus of the Diocese of Killaloe, spoke with Irish broadcaster RTE and contested Parolin’s conclusion as inconsistent with Pope Francis’ more inclusive style. Walsh told the interviewer:

“I was quite uncomfortable with that statement. I mean there has been lots of disasters in the world but I certainly would not support the belief that the referendum was among them.

“To suggest that over a million people who went to the polls and voted yes were so false in their judgment that it was a disaster for humanity is not something I can accept . . .

It is an inappropriate statement… [and] not one I think that represents the mind of Pope Francis despite it coming from a very senior Church figure. It is a very heavy judgement on the whole issue.”

According to the Irish Times,Walsh refused to say whether he supported equal marriage rights, saying only:

“[O]ne could hardly look at the celebrations and say it didn’t increase the sum of human happiness [in Ireland].”

Walsh has previously spoken out positively on LGBT and other controversial issues in the church. Speaking at a 2010 reception, Walsh referred to gay people when he said the church must “be always conscious of the fact that very often we in the church have hurt them and hurt them deeply and I am saddened by that…”

Fr. Seán McDonagh of the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland echoed Walsh’s criticism of Parolin, reported the Irish Times, saying the referendum’s outcome was “no surprise,” and that it would add to the discussion of LGBT issues at this October’s synod of bishops.

DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke also condemned Parolin’s comment, saying in a statement:

“Unfortunately, Cardinal Parolin’s comments demonstrate exactly the kind of inflexibility and arrogance that have driven so many people from the Church…It is very hurtful and insulting to supporters of marriage equality to be spoken of as having unchristian, even inhuman, values…Their vote was no ‘defeat for humanity,’ but a victory for the fundamental Catholic values of love, inclusion, and the inherent dignity of all people.”

National Catholic Reporter columnist Jamie Manson suggested a connection between Parolin and Pope Francis, a “good cop, bad cop” situation. She asserted:

“Francis clearly agrees with Parolin’s ‘defeat for humanity’ opinion on the outcome of Ireland’s same-sex marriage vote. . . But rather than respond directly to Ireland himself, this time, Pope Francis is putting the harsher, condemnatory language in the mouth of his secretary of state while he does the work of evangelizing the youth about the truth and beauty of the church’s teachings on marriage.

“Parolin is taking on the old-fashioned role of Vatican scold while Francis takes the new, more merciful, catechetical approach. But ultimately, both men agree with the institutional church’s opposition to marriage equality. Both men believe same-sex relationships violate the traditional understanding of natural law and gender complimentary.”

In Manson’s scenario, Francis and Parolin ultimately fail at evangelizing marginalized Catholics because they, especially those who are LGBT identified, will not tolerate a church which welcomes them while withholding equality for all. This perspective is juxtaposed to the one of LGBT advocates excited by Pope Francis’ pastoral outreach to LGBT Catholics, such as his “Who am I to judge?” comment or the granting of VIP seats to LGBT pilgrimages at a papal audience.

Whatever the strategy may or may not be, let us hope that Bishop Walsh’s words make their way to Rome. Opposing marriage equality is one thing, but using hyperbolic and harmful language is indeed inappropriate.

The good news is that Ireland’s Catholics are truly increasing happiness, not merely in their own country, but around the world by advancing LGBT rights and welcome.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

8 Responses to Bishop: Referendum Not ‘Defeat for Humanity,’ But Increases Human Happiness

  1. amagjuka says:

    Parolin’s comment heralds back to the days when people felt so repressed and shamed by the church that they would send their beloved daughters to the Magdalene laundries rather than face the shame and exile of the community. Catholics no longer succumb to these harsh judgments. We know that Christ requires us to reach out in a loving embrace to all of His children, LGBT, straight, pregnant teens, straight A students–everyone. All are welcome to His table, and we are to be His representatives on earth. Parolin’s comment is a pathetic appeal to hold onto Vatican control. Catholics will not respond to this. Young people certainly will not. The church must give Catholics a reason to come to mass and participate. Shame is not the way. Pastoral care, concern for the poor and disenfranchised–these are the things that inspire the faithful. We do not like bullies, in schools or in the hierarchy of our church.

  2. There was a quote from Cardinal Parolin which I think could mean several things:

    “While it is ‘beautiful’ that people today can choose whom to marry, the ‘freedom of this bond’ cannot be based simply on physical attraction or feelings, he said.
    In an oblique reference to the physical intimacy some couples share before marriage, the pope said the ‘powerful symbols of the body hold the keys to the soul.’
    ‘We cannot treat the bonds of the flesh lightly, without opening some lasting wound in the spirit,’ he said, noting the current culture is indifferent to this teaching in Scripture.”

    It is, indeed, beautiful that in Ireland and some other places ”people can choose whom to marry!” And if this freedom “cannot be based simply on attraction or feelings,” then there you have it; a bond between two people of the same sex may not be based simply on attraction or feelings, but may be based on love. And, to quote the Cardinal, we cannot treat these bonds lightly. I say that we cannot even presume to understand them — they are something divine.

    So perhaps the Cardinal was adding his own interpretation to what the Pope has said, as are many others throughout the world.

  3. […] last week criticizied Parolin’s comment, and he added that the referendum’s passage increased “the sum of human happiness” in […]

  4. […] sampling of comments from bishops is also joined by Killaloe’s Bishop Willie Walsh who criticized the Vatican’s Cardinal Pietro Parolin’s characterization of the referendum result as […]

  5. […] nation’s referendum instituting marriage equality was a “reality check” and increased “the sum of happiness” in Ireland. There is much wisdom in these remarks–wisdom learned the hard way that need not […]

  6. […] called it a “reality check.” Bishop Willie Walsh said marriage equality would “increase the sum of human happiness.” It even led German Cardinal Walter Kasper to suggest same-gender marriage should be the […]

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