Has the Marriage Referendum Victory Ended Catholicism in Ireland?

June 7, 2015

The Irish vote for marriage equality will certainly have great effects on the lives of the LGBT people of Ireland.  For those who are interested in Catholic LGBT issues, another question may be equally important:  What effect with the marriage equality victory have on the Catholic Church in Ireland?

A number of commentators have provided answers to that question, and I will try to summarize their positions in this blog post.

The two major insights about the future role of the Catholic Church in Ireland that have emerged from the commentary on the referendum are that  1) Church leaders no longer have political influence over the Catholic population; 2) Church leaders’ continued opposition to marriage equality means that they will continue to alienate the already distant younger generation.

Writing in The Irish Times, Omar Encarnación observed that because of child sex abuse and other scandals, “the moral and political authority of the Catholic Church had all but collapsed” in Ireland and in many Western European nations.  The fact that so many Irish voters did not heed their bishops’ encouragement to oppose marriage equality is strong evidence that their once powerful political grip has loosened greatly.

Tim Stanley, writing in London’s Telegraph, also saw the vote as the demise of the bishops’ political power, however Stanley identified a different cause for this loss:  the concerted financial backing of progressive political forces.  Stanley wrote:

“To emphasise, the Yes vote was undoubtedly a reflection of growing tolerance towards gays and lesbians. But it was also a politically trendy, media backed, well financed howl of rage against Catholicism. How the Church survives this turn, is not clear. It’ll require a lot of hard work and prayers.”

Joining the view that the Catholic hierarchy suffered a stunning defeat in the referendum was Mary Hunt, whose essay on Religion Dispatches was headlined “Did Ireland Just Bury the Catholic Church?”  Her answer: ” . . . the Irish referendum means that a top-down, clergy-heavy model of church heard its death knell in Dublin.” Replacing this model, Hunt says is a new trend:

“It is for lay Catholics around the world to be clear, as Irish voters were, that we can and will make our own decisions.”

Similarly, Fr. Bernard Lynch, writing in  Gay City Newscalled the referendum a “declaration of independence”:

“We have broken the shackles of our colonial past and our colonial governance by the Roman Catholic Church. We are free at last to live and love as we were born to be.”

But not all commentators see the referendum as an end to Catholic influence in Irish society.  Others see the electoral event as calling for a transformation of the relationship between church and society, particularly in the way that clergy communicate with young people.

On the dotCommonweal blog, Kaitlin Campbell speculated about how young Irish people might have felt when they heard bishops denouncing marriage equality:

“. . . I can’t imagine that many young Catholics enjoy being recruited to fight a culture war, especially if the opposition includes family, friends, and peers. They find it alienating when a priest homilizes about the essential differences between men and women; they would rather hear that “all are welcome” at Mass and rather the homily stick to the gospel. When Catholic identity becomes less about spirituality and more about political battles, something essential is lost…along with thousands of believers.”

Maryknoll Father William Grimm disputed the notion that Catholicism in Ireland is in trouble. Writing from Tokyo on UCAnews.comGrimm reminded readers that people need to see the Catholic Church as more than just the hierarchy, but, instead, as the entire People of God. Through that lens, he offered a different perspective on the Irish situation:

“Rather than the collapse of the Catholic Church, might we be living through a period when the hierarchy must defer to the experience, insight and faith of the mass of Catholics? After all, they, more than celibate clerics, have a clear idea of what might or might not threaten marriage. . . .

“The laity are challenging the leaders of the Church to find ways to affirm the sacramentality of matrimony while recognizing that marriage is a broader and more varied reality with legal, social, cultural and anthropological aspects that may differ from the practice of the Church.”

Gay Catholic Voice Ireland, the national LGBT Catholic organization, also expressed hope for the Church under the leadership example of the laity, In a statement, Dave Donnellan, the group’s leader discussed how poorer neighborhoods of Ireland supported marriage equality, while middle and upper class neighborhoods did not, prompting him to remark:

“How has the Catholic Church yet again found itself alongside the rich and privileged and against the liberation of what continues to be such a historically despised group in so many countries? The referendum result again shows up the Catholic Church’s abdication of its Gospel responsibility to stand alongside the poor and oppressed and be ‘Good News’ to groups that so desperately need to hear it. The LGBT community finally did have the ‘Good News’ preached to them last week but it wasn’t by the Catholic bishops. It was by the 1.2 million voters who voted ‘Yes’ to marriage equality for gay people last Friday.”

Father Tony Flannery, CSsR, a founder of the Association of Catholic Priests Ireland, also saw this referendum moment as an opportunity for changing “business as usual” in the Irish Catholic Church.  In an interview with The Irish Times, he said:

“The day of doctrinaire Catholicism is over in this country. The people are no longer willing to listen to speeches and sermons on morality from the Church. Some might see this as a bad situation, but I would regard it as a time of wonderful opportunity for the Church, if they can recognise it, and learn how to present the fundamental Christian message.

“We need a period of at least a generation, when the Church authorities says nothing about sex. Then they will have a chance to speak about the far more basic aspects of the Christian message – love, forgiveness, mercy, compassion – and have a chance of being heard.”

In a separate Irish Times article, Flannery focused on the importance of Church leaders reaching out to the youth of Ireland:

“[It was] particularly sad was to see the bishops in total opposition to a mass movement of the younger generation.

“The very people whom the church should be trying to listen to, and trying to learn a way of communicating effectively with, were the ones they were driving further away with all their pastorals in each diocese.”

The National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters also saw the referendum as signaling a new way for Ireland’s Catholic hierarchy to relate to the people in the pews:

“I do not know the degree to which the people of Ireland rejected traditional marriage but I am one thousand percent certain they rejected the judgmentalism with which the Church has too long, and too often, associated itself.”

The good news for Catholicism is that at least some bishops in Ireland seem to be getting the message that lay people there want change in the way the church operates.  Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has been in the forefront of speaking about the “reality check” that the referendum means to the hierarchy.

Armagh’s Archishop Eamon Martin, head of Ireland’s bishops’ conference, rejected disparaging language about Irish voters made earlier this week by Cardinal Raymond Burke who said they were “worse than pagans” for choosing marriage equality.  In an interview with Irish radio, Archbishop Eamon criticized Burke’s reference:

“I wouldn’t use that language.

“Throughout the debate and the discussion, we did ask people to try to be respectful and inoffensive in language.”

On the eve of the referendum, Derry’s Bishop Donal McKeown warned voters who would oppose marriage equality not to vote with hatred in their heart.  The Huffington Post reported his comments:

“I would hate for people to vote no for bad reasons, for sort of bigoted reasons, for nasty reasons, for bullying reasons. People have to make up their own mind, and I’m quite happy that they can do that in front of God, be it yes or be it no.”

This 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 “a defeat for humanity.”

Fintan O’Toole, an Irish commentator, urged reconciliation between the opposing marriage camps in a recent op-ed in The Irish Times. Writing specifically about the religious dimension of the debate, he saw that everyone will come out a winner because of the vote:

“[I]t looks like a defeat for religious conservatives. But nobody has been defeated. Nobody has been diminished. Irish people comprehensively rejected the notion that our republic is a zero sum game, that what is given to one must be taken from another. Everybody gains from equality — even those who didn’t think they wanted it. Over time, those who are in a minority on this issue will come to appreciate the value of living in a pluralist democracy in which minorities are respected.”

From the statements by several Irish bishops, and so many Catholic lay people, it doesn’t look like Catholicism in Ireland will die.  It will certainly look different than it has in the past, but isn’t that appropriate for a church who follows a Savior who said, “See! I make all things new!”  The referendum offers all Catholics in Ireland an opportunity to build a society and a church that is based on the equality of all.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

(This post ends our series on the commetaries concerning the marriage equality referendum in Ireland.  For previous posts on the Irish results, see the list below.)

Related articles and  posts:

Crux: “Lamenting the Church’s loss of influence in Ireland”

Bondings 2.0:  The Personal Dimension of Ireland’s Marriage Equality Victory

Bondings 2.0: How Did Catholic Ireland Achieve Such a Definitive Victory for Marriage Equality?

Bondings 2.0: Bishop: Referendum Not ‘Defeat for Humanity,’ But Increases Human Happiness

Bondings 2.0: “Cardinal Kasper: After Ireland, Same-Sex Unions Now ‘Central Issue’ for 2015 Synod

Bondings 2.0: Vatican’s ‘Defeat for Humanity’ Statement Shows Church Officials Have Not Learned from the Irish Example

Bondings 2.0: Irish Referendum Results Warrant a “Reality Check” for the Church Says Dublin Archbishop

Bondings 2.0:  A Great Day for Irish Lay Catholics! And for Lay Catholics in El Salvador, Too!


The Personal Dimension of Ireland’s Marriage Equality Victory

June 5, 2015

Continuing our coverage on the Irish referendum on marriage equality, we turn today from the political to the personal.  Many people commenting on the vote have noted that the effects of this social change in Ireland will be felt beyond the new political reality of gay and lesbian couples marrying.

Perhaps no one expressed these other effects as poignantly as Irish priest, Father Martin Dolan who received a standing ovation from his parishioners a few months back when he came out as gay while giving a sermon in support of marriage equality.  After the referendum, the Dublin pastor told the Irish Times that he now feels accepted in Irish society.   Countering Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s statement that the Church needed to find new language to discuss their view of sexuality, Dolan offered a different view of what the referendum’s results mean:

“With great respect, it is not a new language that we need but a new way of being and living.”

Donnachadh McCarthy, a long-time Irish gay advocate, wrote in the Irish Examiner that he “cried lots of tears every time I watched the coverage of the positive marriage equality referendum.” The reason for his tears is that he remembers a time when things were not so positive for LGBT people, and he marvels at the speedy change that Ireland has experienced:

“When I came out in Cork, in my late teens in 1979, the punishment by law for sleeping with your partner was life imprisonment with hard labour.

“I had two gay friends brutally murdered in homophobic attacks — one was left in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs with 27 knife wounds and the other left tied up with a knife through his heart.”

Less than 36 years later, the nation voted in marriage equality, he stated, and he asked the people of Ireland to remember those pioneers who had paved the way for this victory:

“So, let’s take a moment to remember with love the gay people murdered in Ireland over the centuries, and those who took their own lives because they could not take the mental pain any more.

“Then let’s also truly celebrate that the new generation of young people — gay, straight, bi — who can grow up to love and marry if they wish, whoever their heart leads them to do so.”

Following a similar sentiment to McCarthy’s, Ger O’Keefe, who campaigned for the “Yes” organization, expressed a hope that the referendum would send a strong message to the LGBT youth of Ireland. Reuters captured the thought:

“It changes everything, the worries and fears I had as a young gay kid in Ireland, they’re all gone.

“This will tell kids now that you don’t need to be afraid.”

And, the referendum was a victory for the “personal” dimension in the political realm.  Former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, was a strong supporter of the “Yes” campaign, in part because she is also the mother of a gay son.  In an Associated Press story before the referendum, she explained the personal dimension of the issue for her, and for so many other Irish families:

” ‘A yes vote costs the rest of us nothing. A no vote costs our gay children everything,’ former President Mary McAleese said at a gay rights event in Dublin this week after her only son, a 30-year-old airline executive, revealed he is gay. McAleese, a canon scholar and former legal adviser to the church, spoke of her son’s experience of bullying and isolation as a teenager, and of friends who learned that their own sons were gay only when they tried to kill themselves.”

The parental sentiment was echoed on the other side of the Atlantic by Paula Mattras, of Fort Myers, Florida, who leads a support group of Catholic parents of LGBT people.  Mattras commented on the Irish vote:

“As the mother of a gay son who has felt the overwhelming desire to protect him against those who would call him disordered and negate his many outstanding qualities, or deny him the same opportunities afforded anyone else, I find the Irish vote not as much of a protest against an ecclesiastical argument, but rather an enlightened realization and confirmation of the qualities and normal human activities that our GLBT loved ones share with humanity.”

It was the many personal discussions that people had in Ireland, a community of tightly-knit communities, that made made the difference in this referendum, as Donny Mahoney noted in a Politico article we cited on a blog post a few days ago. People knowing people knowing people is what made the difference.

Professor Paul Lakeland of Fairfield University, Connecticut, identified this dynamic in a blog post about the Irish vote.  He notices the same dynamic in his U.S. college students:

“In my long years as a teacher of mostly Catholic undergraduates I have found the growing support for gays and lesbians to have nothing much to do with moral relativism and everything to do with encountering and befriending gay and lesbian kids in high school.”

Indeed, as Lakeland asks why Catholics support marriage equality, he offers three possible reasons, two of which, the first and third, focus on the personal dimension, not the intellectual:

“First, perhaps the fact that Catholics have a celibate clergy that includes a large number of gay men means that the fear bred from ignorance is less likely to be operative than in other traditions. Second, could it be that a natural law approach to ethical questions, that is, that reason should guide our thinking and our conclusions,  is bred into the Catholic bone? Third, might Catholics be so imbued with the sacramental principle that they recognize any expression of genuine love to be evidence of God’s presence in the world, and hence to be cherished rather than condemned?”

Benjamin Brenkert explained that youth see this personal dimension as primary in their thinking.  In a blog post on Believe Out Loudhe said:

“Catholic youth want a different Church – they want a Church that publicly recognizes their friends, family members and colleagues.”

This Irish moment will surely bring about much good for LGBT people beyond the institution of marriage.  So many in Ireland are looking forward to a vast improvement in the quality of life for all LGBT people, whether they choose to marry or not.  This is just one more reason why it is so important that marriage be extended to all loving couples, regardless of the gender of the partners. This political change will bring about much personal happiness for all.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Cardinal Kasper: After Ireland, Same-Sex Unions Now ‘Central Issue’ for 2015 Synod

June 1, 2015

Cardinal Walter Kasper

In an interview with an Italian newspaper, Cardinal Walter Kasper, a close theological confidant of Pope Francis, said same-gender partnerships are now a “central” issue for the 2015 synod, contrasting other top bishops calling for dialogue or intent on stopping any change.

Kasper, a retired bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart and a former head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity,  told Corriere della Sera that the issue of same-gender relationships “remained a marginal issue [at the 2014 synod], but now it is central” following Ireland’s marriage equality passage via popular vote because “the church has been silent too long” on the issue.

On Ireland’s vote specifically, Kasper said the people’s will was clear and it must be respected:

“If the majority of the people want this civil partnerships, then it is the duty of the state to recognize such rights.”

One aspect of the cardinal’s proposal for the church is to find “new language” when speaking about issues of marriage and sexuality because “traditional formulas” are deficient in conveying the church’s teachings to people, according to Der Tagesspiegel which reported in German on the Italian interview. This includes shifting beyond harmful terms like “objectively disordered.” The French news outlet La Croix quoted Kasper:

“We must overcome the discrimination that has a long tradition in our culture.”

Kasper added that “elements of good” in same-gender partnerships must be recognized by the church, reported the German language wing of Vatican Radio, though he was careful not equate them with heterosexual marriage. Catholic News Service cited his comment:

” ‘We cannot accept putting (such unions) on the same level with marriage’ . . .It’s necessary to be careful about not using expressions that can sound offensive without, however, hiding the truth.’ “

Beyond issues of family life, Kasper made noteworthy remarks at a Georgetown University conference on Vatican II recently, saying that Pope Francis wants a greater respect for the sensus fidei — the People of God’s ability to discern God’s revelation — and a “listening magisterium” in which lay people participate more actively. At that Washington, DC, conference, he added that in interpreting Vatican II and the church’s tradition, the “hermeneutic of continuity,” a concept favored by conservatives, necessarily must be understood as a hermeneutic of reform, not a return to the past, reported Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter.

Other prelates have responded to the Irish vote with calls for dialogue in the line of Archbishop Martin of Dublin’s suggestion that the referendum was a “reality check” for the church. The Irish Times quoted Italian Bishops Conference President, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco agreeing with Martin, though, in the same breath, he promoted a traditional stance on marriage:

” As such [a social revolution], the Church cannot not ask itself how it can improve its dialogue with Western culture…in this context, we believe in the family that is born out of the stable union between a man and a woman, a union potentially open to life [children] and one which constitutes an essential good for society and as such is not comparable to other forms of co-habitation…”

Yet the Italian Conference’s Secretary General, Bishop Nunzio Galantino, took a more dialogic approach:

” ‘The margin of the Yes victory in Ireland obliges us all to take on board that Europe, and not just Europe, is undergoing an accelerated process of secularisation which touches on everything, including relationships. . . Faced with this reality, our response can be neither a stubborn refusal based on fear and arrogance nor an uncritical acceptance based on fatalism and retreat.’ “

A different tone was evident in remarks made by Cardinals Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, who called the Irish vote a “defeat for humanity,” and American-born Cardinal Raymond Burke, who said Ireland’s citizens were worse than pagans for approving same-gender marriages, according to The TabletOne extremely positive note came from Bishop Willie Walsh of Killaloe, Ireland, who said last week criticizied Parolin’s comment, and he added that the referendum’s passage increased “the sum of human happiness” in Ireland.

Kasper’s remarks differ from these and other bishops in two significant ways, and, hopefully, his approach will be the one adopted by more of their peers.

First, Kasper respects Ireland voters’ decision to legalize same-gender marriages and affirms the State’s duty to implement their clear will. He does not challenge the outcome or call for Catholics to resist, acknowledging implicitly the differences between civil law and church teaching. In historically Catholic Ireland, this political shift is telling and profound. The lesson that the church must accept and then respectfully engage with nations whose citizens mandate LGBT rights is universally applicable on other political issues, as well. Throughout his comments, Kasper respected Catholics of all beliefs as being well-intentioned. America’s bishops should follow this attitude as the Supreme Court marriage equality decision looms by the end of this month. Cardinals Parolin and Burke should also take a cue from Kasper.

Second, by framing his remarks around October’s synod, Kasper’s concerns for the church’s treatment of same-gender relationships is foremost pastoral. Recent calls for dialogue can seem, at times, more like tactical moves by bishops to re-pitch their rejected ideas, drawing from bizarre notions of what is happening culturally. Kasper seems less interested in fighting civil laws than renewing the church’s programs. While he clearly privileges heterosexual marriage, his hope for new language about sexuality and for discussion is not merely to find new ways of recasting old discriminatory teachings. Kasper admits to a history of discrimination by the church and the damage done by phrases like “intrinsically disordered.” He glimpses at the goodness found in same-gender partners, even if the fullness of this is obscured for him still.

Cardinal Kasper’s approach is not perfect, but it is infused with the mercy for which he and Pope Francis so often yearn. By calling for the 2015 synod of bishops to fully take up same-gender relationships, he is already making real the “listening magisterium” about which he speaks. What would be especially helpful is if the cardinal invites LGBT Catholic couples to speak before the bishops next October, sharing with those gathered the goodness, holiness, and love which exists in such families. That would be real dialogue — and real pastoral progress.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the 2015 Synod on the Family, click here or subscribe to the blog in the upper right hand corner for regular Catholic LGBT updates in the coming months.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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

May 29, 2015

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


Vatican’s ‘Defeat for Humanity’ Statement Shows Church Officials Have Not Learned from the Irish Example

May 28, 2015

Reactions to Ireland’s historic referendum vote to establish same-gender marriage in that nation have brought responses from around the globe.  The latest reaction came from the Vatican Secretary of State who said it was “Not a defeat for Christian principles, it was a defeat for humanity.”

Cardinal Pietro Parolin

Religion News Service noted that Cardinal Pietro Parolin made this comment while speaking on Vatican Radio, and that he also noted “The Church must take account of this reality, but in the sense of reinforcing its commitment to evangelization.”

This reaction from a high Vatican official differed from those of someone closer to Ireland, Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who had stated that he thought the Church needed to consider the views of young people on this and other issues:

“I think really the church needs to do a reality check right across the board, to look at the areas in which we’re doing well and see have we drifted away completely from young people.”

Martin also acknowledged that gay and lesbian people would see the new legal option “enriching as the way they live”–a far cry from calling it a threat to humanity.

Parolin’s remarks seem to be part of a shift from the more positive rhetoric that Pope Francis had been employing in regard to LGBT issues. More recently, however, Pope Francis has made it clear that he opposes marriage equality initiatives. His speech at a Vatican-sponsored conference on “sexual complementarity” last fall, and an address about marriage and family during his visit to the Philippines are two examples. Yet, as a Guardian analysis of Parolin’s remarks pointed out:

“Parolin differed from the pope in one respect: the Argentinian pontiff has also used the phrase ‘defeat for humanity,’ but he was talking about war, not the legalisation of gay marriage.”

The heightened rhetoric of Parolin, though, is not only harmful because it is so harsh, but because it shows that Vatican officials have not yet absorbed the lesson of Ireland.  Throughout this past week, commentators have remarked on the significant change that this vote represents.  Even Archbishop Diarmuid Martin referred to it as a “social revolution.”

For instance, the Irish victory has emboldened other nations to go forward, with leaders in Italy and Germany calling for  similar votes.  In Germany, though many in the ruling Christian Democratic Union party  and the Green party are calling for marriage equality, Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken against it. Following Ireland’s example, Greenland’s parliament voted to adopt Danish laws on marriage equality.  The Irish victory has re-introduced the topic of marriage equality into Australia’s parliament. While Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister opposes the discussion, Bill Shorter, an opposition leader asked:

“If the Irish people can vote in favour of marriage equality, the question has to be asked, what is Tony Abbott’s problem with it?”

Indeed, Frank Bruni, a New York Times columnist, has pointed out something that we have noted on this blog for a long time:  that Catholic people and Catholic nations have been in the forefront of the LGBT equality movement around the globe.  In speaking of Irish and other Catholic voters, Bruni said:

“They aren’t sloughing off their Catholicism — not exactly, not entirely. An overwhelming majority of them still identify as Catholic. But they’re incorporating religion into their lives in a manner less rooted in Rome.

“We journalists too often use ‘the Catholic Church’ as a synonym for the pope, the cardinals and teachings that have the Vatican’s stamp of approval.

“But in Europe and the Americas in particular, the church is much more fluid than that. It harbors spiritually inclined people paying primary obeisance to their own consciences, their own senses of social justice. That impulse and tradition are as Catholic as any others.”

With such momentum underway on the part of many nations and Catholic populations, Parolin’s extreme language will only continue to alienate people from Catholicism. It seems that he hasn’t learned that such language only pushes people further away. In Ireland, Fr. Brendan Hoban, a co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) in that country, observed that strong opposition messages from the bishops there worked against the hierachy’s goal.  Hoban stated in an Irish Times article:

“It was clear from the beginning that the bishops’ decision in policy terms to campaign for a blunt No vote was alienating even the most conservative of Irish Catholics. . . . [The referendum results highlighted] the gap between the church and a significant number of its people… It is so out of tune with the needs of the people.”

In the same article, Fr. Tony Flannery, another co-founder of ACP observed how the bishops’ strategy was not only a political, but a pastoral mistake. He said:

“[T]he day of doctrinaire Catholicism is over in this country. The people are no longer willing to listen to speeches and sermons on morality from the church.

“What was ‘particularly sad was to see the bishops in total opposition to a mass movement of the younger generation.’

“The very people whom the church should be trying to listen to, and trying to learn a way of communicating effectively with, were the ones they were driving further away with all their pastorals in each diocese.”

Instead of ramping up the negative rhetoric, bishops and church officials should focus on another form of communication which LGBT Catholics and supporters have requested for decades: dialogue.  Indeed, that was the message of Dave Donnellan, secretary of “Gay Catholic Voice of Ireland,” the LGBT Catholic organization in the Emerald Isle.  In a statement responding to the referendum vote, Donnellan spoke of the joy the members of his organization felt, but also added:

“As gay Catholics this profound joy was, however, tinged with deep disappointment that our own Church opposed this change. Whilst Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s comment that the Catholic Church needs a ‘reality check’ was noted, if this ‘reality check’ does not involve sitting down and having a dialogue with LGBT Catholics in his own diocese then it is of little value.”

If the Irish example teaches anything, it should teach church leaders that dialogue is the answer to how to proceed regarding not only marriage equality, but all LGBT issues.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

(Editor’s note:  There has been so much written on the landmark Irish referendum ushering in marriage equality that it has been hard to keep up with all of it.  Expect another post in a few days with more responses and analysis.)

Related articles

New York Times: “Vatican Official Denounces Ireland’s Vote for Same-Sex Marriage”

Crux: “Vatican: Irish marriage vote was a defeat for humanity”

Gay City News: “After This, No Exile: A Gay Priest Reflects on Ireland’s Declaration of Independence”

Religion Dispatches: “Did Ireland Just Bury the Catholic Church?”

Crux: “Irish voters were not swayed by their Church”

Huffington Post: “The Irish Referendum and the Future of Catholicism”

 


Irish Referendum Results Warrant a “Reality Check” for the Church Says Dublin Archbishop

May 24, 2015
Dublin's rainbow as referendum results are announced

Dublin’s rainbow as referendum results are announced

With 62.07% of the vote, Ireland became the first nation to approve marriage equality by popular referendum yesterday.

Ireland is more than 80% Catholic, meaning the debate over marriage rights was closely tied to the church.

Recent months included many Catholics coming out publicly for the “Yes” campaign, including religious and priests. The Irish hierarchy took a muted tone in comparison to their brother bishops abroad, and many considered this vote a referendum on the Irish church’s power as well.

Below,  Bondings 2.0 provides initial reactions to the referendum’s successful outcome. To view our full coverage of the debate from recent months, click here.  You can read New Ways Ministry’s reaction by clicking here.

As soon as the vote was tallied, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said the church needs a “reality check” in response to the “social revolution” signified by the referendum results.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

The archbishop criticized the church for being a “safe space for the like-minded,” rather than a church going out to the margins for which Pope Francis has called. Martin, as reported by the Irish Independentsaid the church needed new language because its teachings were clearly alienating to young people:

“It’s very clear that if this referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people that the church has a huge challenge in front of it to find the language to be able to talk to and get its message across to young people, not just on this issue but in general.

“I think really the church needs to do a reality check right across the board, to look at the areas in which we’re doing well and see have we drifted away completely from young people.”

Martin noted that he appreciates gay people feel marriage equality will be “enriching the way they live.” Though these admissions are obvious for many Catholics, such remarks from an archbishop are rare and a positive sign that members of the hierarchy might be learning more about same-gender relationships.

Father Seamus Ahearne of Finglas echoed the archbishop’s sentiments about a new language for the church, telling the International Business Times:

“Religion and the Catholic Church have almost become irrelevant in people’s lives…This pompous, pious, arrogant language we’ve used for so long — it’s wrong. The church has to speak a different kind of language now, reaching into people’s hearts.”

Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan

Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan, plaintiffs in an unsuccessful 2006 lawsuit seeking marriage equality in Ireland, gave their response to the vote to the Boston Globe. Their Catholic roots are deep, having met at Boston College after Gilligan spent time in religious life. The couple’s proposal was broadcast live on television as results came in and they plan to hold a wedding soon because, as Zappone says, “There’s nothing like an Irish wedding.”

Political analyst Sean Donnelly told the The Washington Post:

“We’re in a new country…When I was reared up, the church was all powerful and the word ‘gay’ wasn’t even in use in those days. How things have moved from my childhood to now.”

Health Minister Leo Varadkar

Health Minister Leo Varadkar, who came out as gay in January while endorsing the referendum, said the vote was a “social revolution.” Crux quoted him further:

“We’re the first country in the world to enshrine marriage equality in our constitution and do so by popular mandate. That makes us a beacon, a light to the rest of the world, of liberty and equality.”

New Ways Ministry director Francis DeBernardo said in a statement that Ireland’s victory on LGBT rights combined with yesterday’s beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero signified real gains for lay people in the church. The post says, in part:

“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.”

DignityUSA director Marianne Duddy-Burke said in a statement:

“It is very significant that the first nation to legalize same-sex marriage by popular referendum is a predominantly Catholic country…[Catholics] voted with their hearts and their consciences, and the result is increased justice.”

The response from those who opposed marriage equality, led by the conservative Iona Institute, is noteworthy. David Quinn, a spokesperson, congratulated “Yes” campaigners and accepted the results, a contrast to the often acidic tone which has characterized marriage debates in the United States and elsewhere.

Finally, Buzzfeed reported that some Twitter users are opining that a rainbow appearing over Dublin yesterday is Jesus’ approval of the referendum’s outcome.

Ireland’s vote means twenty nations have now legalized same-gender marriage and many of them are predominantly or historically Catholic. To see the official Irish results, visit the Referendum 2015 page here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


A Great Day for Irish Lay Catholics! And for Lay Catholics in El Salvador, Too!

May 23, 2015

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.

Crowds outside Dublin Castle celebrate Ireland’s marriage equality victory.

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.

Crowds gather for the beatification Mass for Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador.

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

 

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,328 other followers