‘Not inspired’ the crisis in Ireland’s hierarchy


Overwhelming support for same sex marriage in Ireland

Every once in a while a small thing happens which reveals a deeper truth. There must have been quite a few priests in Ireland trying to work out what to say on Pentecost Sunday in the wake of the referendum vote on same-sex marriage.

On the face of it, the second reading – St Paul raging about “orgies and similar things” – offered an open goal. But overnight the spirit of Yeats had descended on the country. “All changed, changed utterly”.

The priest – I will spare his blushes and save him from the wrath of the Irish hierarchy – took a deep breath. “Today is Pentecost,” he intoned. “The day the disciples were inspired to preach the Gospel to the world.” It was not the most imaginative introduction to a homily on such a day, but it was a beginning.

“It’s the Church’s birthday. On birthdays you get a present, and you are going to get one today,” he told the congregation.

“I’ve not been inspired,” the priest said, apologetically fumbling his way into the profession of faith.

If ever there were a metaphor for the Irish Church’s response to the cataclysm in the Irish Republic, this was it. “Not inspired,” sums up the Church in Ireland. And it’s not inspiring anybody either; as Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin ruefully reflected, the vast majority of those who had voted Yes had been educated for 12 years in Catholic schools.

There is an alternative view of the vote; not that it was a rejection of Christian values but an endorsement of Jesus’s teaching that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbour as yourself.

The scale of the vote – only one constituency had a majority against – showed this was not just an issue that excited the Dublin intelligentsia. Rural Ireland was gay friendly too. Archbishop Martin told Irish television: “We have to stop and have a reality check, not move into denial of the realities.”

Those realities are that the majority of people, in what was once one of the most conservative countries on the planet, don’t care what people do in bed. It’s what happens in people’s hearts that matters.

If the Church focused its attention on love rather than genitalia, it might find a way of dealing with human sexuality in a way that respects the right of people to fully express their humanity, while reaffirming its commitment to the love as the defining principle of the Gospel message.

Rather than taking time for reflection, the Vatican jumped in with an ill-judged post-referendum intervention when the Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Paralan described the outcome as “a defeat for humanity”. So much for reality checks.

Much was made during the referendum of the ‘law of unintended consequences’ and there will undoubtedly be some. The no campaign put significant emphasis on the possible impact on family life. That cut little ice in a country that has seen at first had the effects of dysfunctional families headed by fathers and mothers.

The unintended consequences are as likely to be positive as negative. I am prepared to bet that Ireland will be a better place as a result of the vote. If the Church in Ireland finds a way of responding positively too, it might well end up in a better place too.

As a member of a ‘universal Church’, that might not be easy. The Church in Africa is in a very different place with regard to human sexuality. The Vatican is all over the place, with its clumsy handling of the French ambassadorial appointment somewhat at variance with the Pope’s public pronouncements on homosexuality.

During the referendum Archbishop Martin said he would be voting no, but he was not going to dictate how anyone else should vote. His predecessor John Charles McQuaid, who wrote most of the constitution the voters have now amended, would have been less circumspect.

The big question now is whether or not the archbishop, and his brother archbishop in Armagh, Eamon Martin – nominally leaders of the Church in Ireland – have the vision and leadership qualities needed to respond to a vote which presents an enormous Yes for equal rights and a rejection – by believers and non-believers alike – of the traditional teaching of the Church in Ireland.

Behind the times

Once again Northern Ireland politicians have shown themselves to be unequal to the challenges of government, with the rejection of a same sex marriage bill in the Northern Ireland assembly.

The bill, which had the support of the two main nationalist parties was brought down by an unholy alliance of the Catholic Church, evangelicals, and unionist politicians of all parties. With legislation passed in England, Wales and Scotland, this is further proof that the the phrase United Kingdom is a contradiction in terms.

It it cannot be right that people in one part of the UK are afforded equality under the law, while others are not.  This is an abuse of human rights, and unsustainable.

There is no evidence that the people of Northern Ireland are less enlightened than their counterparts in the rest of the UK. Attitudes have changed, but not among the political class. How is it than only a handful of unionists were brave enough to vote against the tribe?

With its roots in evangelical Protestantism, the opposition of the Democratic Unionist Party is not surprising. But the Ulster Unionists? Scared perhaps of it being used against them electorally, they appear to have taken the line of least resistance.

Nationalist politicians, whose roots are in conservative Catholicism, supported the bill. They have made a journey. It is difficult to comprehend why their Protestant/unionist counterparts have not been able to do so too. Ordinary unionist men and women have.

Northern Ireland’s regressive approach extends further than same sex marriage. Sexual health and women’s health are both areas where politicians have found it difficult to face up to their responsibilities.

This decision needs to be challenged, and if politicians cannot treat gay men and women with the dignity they deserve, the courts must ensure they have justice.