Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin displayed a humility rarely seen by someone of his office, admitting last week he knew little of the realities of family life today. He also criticized the language used by anti-marriage equality campaigners in Ireland, saying plural societies must respect gay and lesbian people.
Speaking on “The Teaching of the Church on Marriage Today,” at the Iona Institute, Martin answered critics who question the bishops’ credentials in pronouncing on marriage and family life, reports The Independent. These critics, including former Irish president Mary McAleese, doubt “rightly” because, Martin continued:
“I have no experience and understanding…I must be honest and say that I am also lacking in knowledge of more fundamental day-to-day realities of the sexual, marital or parental experiences in a family.”
The Iona Institute is a think tank actively involved in the ‘No’ campaign against marriage equality in Ireland.
Elsewhere in his talk, the archbishop criticized anti-LGBT groups during his speech . PinkNews quotes Martin as saying:
” ‘I have consistently said that the debate must be carried on respectfully without the use of intemperate language…
” ‘I do however feel obliged to say that I have received in recent time correspondence from people who support a “no” vote in the referendum in which the language used is not just intemperate but obnoxious, insulting and, unchristian in regard to gay and lesbian people.
” ‘If people use such language to support a position they feel is Christian, then all I can say is that they have forgotten something essential about the Christian message.’ “
While opposed to marriage equality, Martin said society must ensure equality before the law. The Independent reported:
“Dr. Martin suggested that a pluralist society could be creative in finding ways in which people of same-sex orientation had their rights and their loving and caring relationships recognised and cherished in a culture of difference.
” ‘I’m not saying that gay and lesbian people are unloving or that their love is somehow deficient compared to others, I am talking about a uniqueness in the male-female relationship,’ he said.”
Archbishop Martin has also called for a “conscience clause,” should the referendum pass, to allow lay people who are opposed to marriage equality to express objections, such as denying business services for lesbian and gay weddings, without breaking equality laws. LGBT organizations are calling such clauses a “license to discriminate,” reports Yahoo News.
Though opposed to marriage equality, Martin has also made a name for positive statements on LGBT issues. Just last week he and another archbishop openly condemned Irish Bishop Kevin Doran’s comparison of homosexuality to Down’s syndrome and spina bifida. He has previously said church teaching is “disconnected from real experiences of families” and had been used “in a homophobic way” to do great harm. There are also no reports that he sacked a Dublin priest for coming out and openly endorsing marriage equality during Mass a few months back.
Criticism of anti-LGBT voices from any church leader is rare and this is not Archbishop Martin’s first time calling for a more respectful tone from the church on LGBT civil rights. Rarer still is the humility displayed by Martin that he is no expert on marriage and family. That is unprecedented in all of the discussions during last year’s synod and those that are leading up to this year’s meeting. The archbishop seems to be willing to follow Pope Francis’ requests to bishops to be close to their flocks.
This latest admission of non-expertise will hopefully allow for a greater opening space for those with expertise in family life — like married couples and LGBT people — to speak their truths during next fall’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry