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

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”


10 replies
  1. terryweldon
    terryweldon says:

    Parolin’s stupidity has been widely reported in the English press. There’s been less coverage to rather more encouraging responses by others in the Vatican. Italian newspapers have also reported on Cardinals Bagnasco and Kasper.

    Cardinal Bagnasco has spoken in terms mostly similar to Parolin, but avoided the hysterical language, and added two important riders. First, while stating that the Church needed to engage in dialogue with the popular culture, he noted that “any dialogue must be clear, without ideologies”. Taken to logical conclusion, dialogue free of ideology, would include freedom from Vatican sexual ideology. Also, the core of his objection to Italy’s proposed civil unions appears to be that it would make such unions too similar in law to traditional marriage. That would seem to imply that he could be open to civil union legislation that confers more restricted rights to same – sex couples.

    More interesting still is the position of Cardinal Kasper, who will be influential at the family synod in October.
    He acknowledges that the Church must recognize the democratic decisions of voters, he says that “now is the time to discuss” these things, and that the Church must find a “new language” in doing so.

    The Irish result has galvanized Italian politicians, who have promised a civil unions bill “soon”. The political debate is likely to be played out precisely during, or immediately before, the October family synod. There will certainly not be any approval given to gay marriage, and even support for civil unions is unlikely, but we know that the possibility of some – form of recognition or valuing of same – sex couples has at least been discussed, for example by the gathering in Rome of bishops and theologians from Germany, Switzerland and France, called by the presidents of the respective bishops’ conferences. Coupled with the new emphasis on respectful dialogue, and the Kasper’s admission that democratic decisions must be respected, it seems probable that after the synod, responses to same – sex couples and their relationships will be substantially changed, in practice if not (yet) in actual teaching.

  2. Bob Zillich
    Bob Zillich says:

    In response to this blog entry I would introduce (if you have not already heard) the Church’s view of this vote as a part of the secularist movement. And the conservative wing of Catholicism is aware that the Irish politicians, gleeful of the landslide vote, would like to loosen the restrictions on intervening into the life of the unborn This linking of both these issues as secularist is unfortunate. For the politicians to view the Irish vote as a stepping stone (slippery slide?) to introducing secularist positions is sad. I hope that the Irish voters would not agree to this linkage.

    Bob Zillich


  3. freecatholic808
    freecatholic808 says:

    I am reminded as I visit the chillingly grand but empty churches of Vienna that being Catholic today is increasingly being on the side of justice and dignity for all. While Pope Francis has ushered in a refreshing humility and focus on the poor that is reminiscent of Vatican II, the establishment church, and its mitered princes remain largely out of touch and deaf to the voices in the pews. But the people in the pews will reclaim the church and help restore the primacy of Christ’s message to love your neighbor as yourself, and be done with the gaudy splendor that has too often passed for “piety” and “holiness.” Full acceptance of our LGBT brothers and sisters is a victory for humanity. Congratulations Ireland!

  4. freecatholic808
    freecatholic808 says:

    Reblogged this on Dawn Morais and commented:
    Recognizing and accepting our LGBT brothers and sisters is a VICTORY for humanity. Thank god for priests like Fr. Tony Flannery and his observation that “doctrinaire Catholicism is over in this country. The people are no longer willing to listen to speeches and sermons on morality from the church.” The people in the pews, not the bishops, are the church. Our challenge today is to bear witness to the Gospels not in the golden, stained glass splendor of cathedrals but in the struggle to live in inner cities, to raise families with a sense of the spiritual when all is awash in consumerism, and to care for each other as people who are all equally deserving of respect

  5. Memy's Meandering
    Memy's Meandering says:

    What does one expect of a religion based ironically in Rome, the birthplace of the government which tortured and killed that nice Jewish man 2K years ago? The mind boggles.
    But seriously, faith is what people believe in their hearts. Church is a pyramid growth business. Of course the church will be against LGBT marriage rights because most gays are not parents who perpetrate the growth model/ money spin.
    Evolve or die out.

  6. ChrisMorley
    ChrisMorley says:

    There’s a glancing mention of the vote this week in Greenland to allow marraige equality. It would be nice to think they were following Ireland’s example but it’s simple coincidence. They’ve (all 57,000 population, around 50 of whom are Catholic) been debating adopting Denmark’s laws on marriage equality / gay adoption since 2014, but it got delayed by an election and they had the first stage vote in March. The second vote was this week. First marriages possible from 1 October.


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  4. […] 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 […]

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