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

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

17 replies
  1. Fr Bernard Lynch
    Fr Bernard Lynch says:


    Father Bernárd Lynch
    Co-Chair of London Irish LGBT Network

    In the December 1918 election, the Irish republican party Sinn Féin won a landslide victory in Ireland. On 21 January 1919 they formed a breakaway government (Dáil Éireann) and declared independence from Great Britain. Today, by voting to open marriage to same sex couples, Ireland has chosen independence from the Roman Catholic Church.
    Although still Catholic, the majority of the Irish people have voted that the freedom to love transcends their deepest religious beliefs. This marks a seismic shift in the mind of the nation. This consciousness serves not only the LGBT community but the entire people of Ireland in their long and arduous struggle for justice and co-equality for all Irish citizens.
    As LGBT people we had been robbed of our birthright: Our absolute right to live and love as co-equals in our families, churches, towns, villages and the country of our birth. Many of us left our home land not for work and employment, or education — as the Irish have done for centuries in their millions — but simply because those of us who are LGBT were not welcome. Ireland up and until now failed to honour its own Constitution in not “cherishing all her children equally.” On Friday the 22nd of May 2015 this changed forever. 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. For freedom not happiness is the precious stone. One cannot cling to happiness . . . Happiness submits to no clinging . . . To be free, to live and love in your home land . . . This is the most precious stone into which all others fade by comparison . . .
    We now know, that whatever organised religion may say, that our way of loving is right. No holy communion is more holy than the human communion of two people in love. I believe that we can honestly assert that what we have learned first and foremost is that it is the oppression and repression of human sexual fulfilment that is the primary cause of sickness both in our human communities straight and gay.
    We know, in our heart of hearts, that our love sexually expressed is a great good. HIV/AIDS I have always believed (from my many years of work in New York and London, primarily with Gay men) was a disease contacted primarily in the search for Love, the search for touch. Our spiritual quest within how we love continues to present a radical challenge to religion and the State. We are right to declare that our responsible, non-exploitative explorations of these many possibilities and forms of relationship which constitute the full potential of loving are a gift we have to offer to human society at large. In our actions and sometimes our sufferings we give witness to the wrongness of the patriarchal heterosexist prescription of human erotic liberation.
    There are times in our own imperfect lives when the veil parts between the two worlds we contain – our inner desire for a more divine destiny and the hard reality of our present circumstances. In his poem “Postscript,” Seamus Heaney writes about the sideways breeze off the ocean that catches us off guard and blows our heart wide open.
    Such glimpses have an edge to them, marking us forever. Brian Friel’s play, “Dancing at Lughnasa,” for example, features five sexually frustrated sisters in their County Donegal cottage in 1936. It is the time of the annual Celtic harvest festival named after the pagan god Lugh. Things are not good. Disgrace and penury are killing their stifled souls. Dancing is the key metaphor of the play. In a most extraordinary burst of energy, the five women release their emotional and sexual suppression by dancing to a reel issuing from their new-fangled wireless (radio). It is a glimpse of unquenchable passions that comes from far beyond words.
    These almost subliminal but breathtaking glimpses are all tiny incarnations of heaven’s promise that love lived and enfleshed is the answer to our human quest for happiness. Without this most human and humanising experience we forget and lose the way, the way of “truly seeing” as Daniel Berrigan put it. R.S. Thomas calls it “the turning aside like Moses to the miracles of the burning bush, to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is a glimpse of the eternity of Love.”
    Whether it be the wild dance across the fields of Ballybeg in Friel’s play, the human communion made holy in the body of a lover, or any of the countless daily acts of friendship that enable us to see into and beyond the immediate reality–transcending and transforming it into a new creation–they are all sustained and intensified by us in the flesh and blood, sweat and semen of our attempts to love each other as LGBT and straight people.
    It is good to be a seeker. LGBT people have a particular penchant to seek the best, to go after the best, to give generously of their best. While seeking out the goodness of life and love is necessary, sooner or later we must become finders and give the gift we have found into the world.
    To my mind this is our moment to gift the world proudly with our love. As Henri Nouwen, a gay brother and theologian, so eloquently put it: “The real conversion is the un- covering of the truth that it is safe to love.”
    This is what binds us: Love. This is both sacred and playful for Love is above all playful like Lady Wisdom in the Hebrew scriptures. As a people with an in-depth awareness of our own spirituality we know it is safe for us to be vulnerable to each other, to be available to each other, to surrender to each other, to suffer with each other.
    “Love and do what you will,” Saint Augustine tells us. It is preposterous and an outrage against all of humanity that any two people have to ask to have their love recognised by the laws of the land. Our love for each other as couples is second to none. We are not better than heterosexual couples, but neither are we less than heterosexuals when we commit to live in covenants of love. Marriage and adoption are our right as a people co-equally made in the image and likeness of a loving creator. We are not asking for favours or special treatment. We are simply saying as Irish citizens our lives and our loves are as much part of what it is to be Irish, what it is to be human, as any and every person born in this land. Our fight for this right is a work of love not only for ourselves, but for all people who desire to live here in freedom, happiness and peace. We must wear our continued struggle for the freedom to love as a badge of honour and belongingness to the Earth from which we are made.
    Ireland, you have taken a giant step. It is my most fervent wish that soon the land of my Spiritual birth — the United States of America — will do the same.

  2. terryweldon
    terryweldon says:

    Once again, +Diarmuid is way ahead of his colleagues. His words are to be welcomed – but do not go far enough. He recognizes the need for the Church to reassess it’s hurtful and disordered language, but does not seem to understand that it is not the language that is the core problem, but the teaching itself.

    There are several internal contradictions inherent in Vatican doctrines on sexual ethics, and on same – sex relationships in particular. Attempting to square these circles is at the bottom of the mess that Swiss bishop Lovey got into, attempting to show “compassion and respect” for gay Catholics, while also trying to insist that our orientation is somehow a moral weakness.

    Reassessing the language is a necessary first step, which the synod may well address. But it is not sufficient. In the longer term. sooner or later the entire doctrinal house of cards must be tackled, too.

  3. Friends
    Friends says:

    And let the record show that this miracle of love and grace occurred on the very weekend of PENTECOST — which signifies the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles in Tongues of Fire, and empowered them to go forth and proclaim the GOOD NEWS of Jesus’ message of love and salvation for the entire world! A mere random coincidence? I think not.

  4. Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM
    Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM says:

    “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.” — Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

    My brother, Diarmuid, the challenge in front of the institutional church is to learn how to listen to the message of the young people and everyone else in the church. This must be done with humility knowing that in God’s Creation no one is lesser or greater. Indeed Pentecost is a good time to consider that the Holy Spirit inspired everyone in that upper room. No one considered themselves a greater authority than another failing to recognize the Paraclete in all. Yesterday was the beatification of Oscar Romero. It was when he listened and heard the message of Rutilio Grande concerning the humanity of the campesinos that he also heard and listened to the Holy Spirit. I pray that, through the intercession of Rutilio Grande, my brothers and sisters in the hierarchy and religious life may learn to listen.

  5. Tim MacGeorge
    Tim MacGeorge says:

    There’s no doubt that Archbishop Martin is well ahead of his colleagues and is a bright light in the discussion about the institutional Church’s need to be more open to the lives of LGBT people. However, Martin goes on to say this: “That doesn’t mean that we renounce our teaching on fundamental values on marriage and the family.”

    While the Irish YES vote doesn’t require “renouncing” teaching on fundamental values on marriage, it DOES require re-thinking and re-formulating those teachings to include God’s LGBT children. To support the desire of same-sex couples for public and Church recognition/blessing of their unions is hardly a renunciation; it’s simply a recognition that God’s plan for humanity is bigger than some had previously thought.


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