Irish Bishops and Laity Have Differing Views on Marriage Equality

The Republic of Ireland has become the latest of focus of Catholic LGBT political involvement. And as is becoming the pattern in many heavily Catholic nations, there is a huge divide between the way that the Catholic hierarchy addresses these issues and the way that the Catholic people in the pews do so.

Ireland is gearing up for a Spring 2015 referendum on whether to extend marriage laws to gay and lesbian couples.  The Irish Catholic Bishops Conference has entered the debate by releasing a pamphlet entitled “The Meaning of Marriage,” in which they defend the position that marriage should only be open to heterosexual couples. The Irish Times reported on the press conference “launch” of the pamphlet:

” ‘The view of marriage as being between man and a woman and for life, that’s not something which is particular to Catholics and Christians. There are people of all kinds of other religious beliefs, and of none, who believe in that,’ said Bishop Liam MacDaid of Clogher, who is chair of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference council for marriage.

“ ‘To put any other view of marriage on the same level as Christian marriage would be a disservice to society rather than a service,’ added Bishop MacDaid . . .

Since same-gender marriage has been a reality around the globe for well over a decade now, and since we have research on the benefits that marriage equality has had for those couples, their children, and society, it is a very weak argument to say that allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry will somehow devalue or harm heterosexual marriage and society.

The Irish Times also noted:

“According to the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, 67 per cent of Irish people support the notion of same-sex marriage being constitutionally enshrined, with just 20 per cent of respondents opposed to such a move.”

Brian Sheehan, director of the Gay and Lesbian Network, a leading Irish LGBT organization, countered the bishops’ assertions with statistical information about the state of marriage in Ireland, noting:

“ . . . ‘[O]ne third of children born in Ireland are born to single parents. They grow up in a variety of diverse family arrangements.’ Allowing gay and lesbian couples make such a commitment in civil marriage ‘would strengthen marriage.’ ”

Christian Today reported on a significant symbolic gesture which shows how far Catholic Irish leaders have come in their support of LGBT equality. Reporting on the bishops’ release of their document, the article stated:

“The Church’s launch came a day after Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny was pictured in one of Dublin’s main gay bars at an event held by his party’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) society. . . .

” ‘The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) in a gay bar is a first,’ renowned Irish drag queen Panti Bliss, owner of Pantibar, the bar Kenny visited, wrote on its Facebook page.

” ‘Only a few years ago a Taoiseach wouldn’t have dared, so it shows how times have changed.’ “

One week before the brochure on marriage was released, Bishop Kevin Doran of the Elphin Diocese said in a talk that his opposition to marriage equality was

“ ‘not about homosexuality or the gay lifestyle, it is about the meaning of marriage.’

“He said ‘societies rely on families built on strong marriages to produce what they need but cannot secure: healthy upright children who become conscientious citizens.’ “

Doran’s arguments were countered in a letter to the editor from Dave Donnellan, secretary of the Gay Catholic Voice Ireland, the nation’s LGBT Catholic organization.  Citing an Irish Medical Journal report that said that LGBT youth are 14 times more likely to commit suicide and 16 times more likely to be the victim of sexual assault, Donnellan called on Catholic bishops to have their priorities better placed:

“This opposition [to marriage equality] mistakenly suggests that the primary issue from a Catholic perspective is a legal one. It’s not. The primary issue here for the Catholic Church is not legal, it is pastoral.

“The question is, do we as a church care about LGBT people who are suffering greatly as the study mentioned above, and others like it suggest? Have we put in place any pastoral care plan to respond to the needs of these vulnerable young LGBT people?

“The fundamental question for the Catholic Church is: ‘Do we love our LGBT people?’ What the LGBT community needs from Bishop Doran and the other bishops in the run-up to the referendum is a witness to the love that God has for the LGBT community and not instructions on how to vote in a referendum.”

Donnellan’s emphasis seems to be in line with Pope Francis’ admonition that bishops should not be “obsessed” with issues like gay marriage.

Stay tuned for more on LGBT political issues in Ireland later in the week on this blog.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

National Catholic Reporter: “Irish bishops: Marriage between man, woman is matter of justice”

Advocate.com: “Irish Ad Looks to Inspire Youth to Say ‘Yes’ to Marriage Equality”

Signs of Openness on LGBT and Marriage Issues from Two European Church Leaders

Two European prelates have made statements recently which point, once again, toward a more open discussion of LGBT and marriage issues, topics which will be discussed at October’s Synod on Marriage and the Family.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

In Ireland, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin acknowledged that some people in the church have used doctrine “in a homophobic way.”  The Irish Times reported that the archbishop made these comments in a discussion about the upcoming national referendum in Ireland about the legalization of same-gender marriage:

“Discussions have to be carried out in a ‘mature’ way so that people can freely express their views, while at the same time being respectful and not causing offence, he said. He said that in general he believed it was the person who was offended who defined what being offended is.

” ‘Anyone who grew up in Ireland would have told jokes that were pointed at the gay community; at Travellers [gypsies]; it is part of the culture we grew up in, but we have to grow out of it,’ he said. He said church teaching was that marriage was between a man and a woman, exclusively, but that this approach did not exclude gay people from celebrating their union by a different means.”

The Independent quotes Martin as saying further:

” ‘God never created anybody that he doesn’t love.’…

“Speaking to the Irish Independent, the senior cleric said this meant that ‘anybody who doesn’t show love towards gay and lesbian people is insulting God. They are not just homophobic if they do that – they are actually Godophobic because God loves every one of those people’…

“He added: ‘We all belong to one another and there is no way we can build up a society in which people are excluded or insulted. We have to learn a new way in Ireland to live with our differences and for all of us to live with respect for one another.’ “

According to RTE.ie, a leader of Ireland’s Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), was disappointed that the archbishop did not address pressing issues facing the LGBT community there, but affirmed his statements about the damage that cultural attitudes can cause:

“GLEN’s Brian Sheehan described it [the archbishop’s comment] as ‘a missed opportunity’ to tackle the role of the church and church teachings in creating what it said were ‘some of the difficult realities for lesbian and gay people in Ireland today.’

“However, he welcomed Dr Martin’s acknowledgement of the impact that a culture, which still has homophobia as part of it, has on those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.”

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn (standing) and Austrian bishops meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna made some surprising statements about the hierarchy’s views on marriage, at the time of the Austrian bishops’ ad limina with Pope Francis. The National Catholic Reporter stated:

“In several interviews shortly before leaving Vienna, Schönborn advocated a more rational, down-to-earth approach toward family relationships. ‘For the most part, the church approaches the [family] issue unhistorically,’ he said. ‘People have always lived together in various ways. And today, we in the church tacitly live with the fact that the majority of our young people, including those with close ties to the Catholic church, quite naturally live together. The simple fact is that the environment has changed.’ . . . .

“Schönborn said he regretted that the Austrian bishops haven’t dared to speak out openly on necessary church reforms in the past. They haven’t had the courage to address the need for greater decentralization and to strengthen local churches’ responsibilities, he said. ‘We were far too hesitant. I beat my own breast here. We certainly lacked the courage to speak out openly.’ “

Schönborn had high praise for the work and message of Pope Francis, and said he sees the promise of change occurring in the church:

“Schönborn said he was convinced that far-reaching church reform was on the way, ‘but it will not be achieved through big words and programs but through people like Pope Francis.’ One could already see that the pope has become a role model, Schönborn said. ‘The atmosphere is changing and his behavior is making itself felt,’ he said. What impressed him most about the pope was his charisma. ‘You can feel his inner devotion to God from which his compassion, his warmth and his infectious sense of humor emanates,’ the cardinal said.”

Though U.S. bishops have not yet embraced the new era of Pope Francis, it seems that some of our European church leaders are, in fact, taking steps toward a new era of less judgement and more discussion and openness of the reality of people’s relational lives.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry