Politician Set to Become Catholic Ireland’s First Gay Prime Minister

The son of an Indian father and Irish mother is set to become Ireland’s first gay prime minister. Many observers suggest his election is a sign that Ireland is leaving its Catholic roots further behind, but just as with the passage of marriage equality, this interpretation may not be the most accurate.


Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar won a leadership contest in his political party last week. The Dail, Ireland’s lower house of parliament, is now set to elect him Taoiseach, or prime minister. The Los Angeles Times reported:

“Many observers see Varadkar’s rise in politics as a milestone that highlights changing attitudes in Ireland’s once religiously conservative population of 4.6 million people.

“Ireland decriminalized homosexuality in 1993 and overturned its ban on divorce two years later.

“The decline of the Catholic Church’s influence in Irish society over the last 20 years following revelations that some priests were sexually abusing children was a significant factor that has contributed to Varadkar’s rise in politics, said Henry Farrell, a political science professor at George Washington University.

“‘Young people are becoming less religious and more secular and the Catholic Church’s moral authority has diminished,’ Farrell said.”

There is no question that abuse and other ongoing scandals have gravely wounded Ireland’s Catholic Church and almost completely undermined the bishops’ moral credibility. The Irish church is in crisis.

This reality, however, is not, synonymous with a decline in the influence of the Catholic faith. The church is not the institution, but the people of God. Most Irish were raised Catholic, with many receiving their education at church-sponsored schools. Varadkar was himself raised Catholic, though he is no longer practicing, and attended a Catholic elementary school, reported The New York Times.

When marriage equality passed by popular referendum in 2015, some commentators said then it was the end of Catholic Ireland. But others objected, including pundit E.J. Dionne who wrote on Commonweal’s blog, “For advocates of gay marriage, the issue is about the equal dignity of human beings — a thoroughly Christian principle — far more than it is about a particular view of sexual morality.”

This remains true in the ascent of Leo Varadkar, who came out as a gay man during the debate over marriage equality and is credited, per the New York Times, with significantly helping the pro-equality campaign. He said at the time:

“I want to be honest with people, I don’t want anyone to think I’ve a hidden agenda…Whatever decisions are made on any issue, I’ll make them according to what I believe is in the public interest.”

It is precisely this honesty and authenticity, along with his moderate political views, which political observers say made him so attractive to the Irish public. Ultimately, when Varadkar soon becomes Taoiseach, it will not be a sign that Catholicism is ending in Ireland. It will be a sign that Catholic teachings on social justice, human dignity, and inclusion have so permeated Irish society that LGBT rights have become nearly undisputed goods.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 5, 2017


6 replies
  1. Jeannette
    Jeannette says:

    The Irish people are about to hire a gay man to lead them, unlike the Church, an institution that frequently fires gay people. This development is the result of the wholesale rejection of the Church in Ireland, an example of what people will do when they are free to think rationally, unencumbered by “teaching.”

  2. Barry Blackburn
    Barry Blackburn says:

    Bravo to Leo Varadkar and to Robert Shine whose last sentence captures the great Truth of our Catholic Tradition: social justice, human dignity and inclusion. Words to live by. We do not live in a Catholic world bubble of culture and structures over against “the world”. Perhaps this is what is meant by Taoiseach elect Leo Varadkar’s “not practicing”. Only hours before Thomas Merton died he gave a powerful speech in which he said we can not rely on “structures”. He posed the rhetorical question “where do you go from the top of a thirty foot pole?” “Everybody stands on his (sic) own feet” was his answer. “All is Grace”.

    • Loretta
      Loretta says:

      I want to second Mr. Blackburn’s affirmation of what is truly Catholic which Mr. Shine eloquently stated I his last comments.

    • Friends
      Friends says:

      There is an ominous but sadly credible back story regarding the mysterious death of Fr. Thomas Merton. Some investigative research has turned up evidence that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover — who absolutely detested Merton and everything he stood for — dispatched several of his covert agents to shadow Merton to this conference, and to “take care of this problem”. What happened is that, when Merton returned to his room after speaking, he was immediately electrocuted by an electric fan, when he attempted to adjust it. But it is more than passing strange that, when he had originally turned it on, upon occupying his assigned room, he was not shocked by it, and so there was no evidence of any electrical malfunction with the fan. Of course the evidence is merely circumstantial — but draw your own reasonable conclusions. Even more bizarre is the fact that Merton’s very last words to his audience, in ending his remarks, were: “And now I shall disappear”!

  3. Thomas Smith
    Thomas Smith says:

    My 93% Irish yes are smiling. Reminds me of when I thanked the US Supreme Court for Mrriage Equakity in 2015 in Prayer of the Faithful and was scolding later by the priest saying I was brining. ” gay agenda” to our parish. As pointed out here, human dignity and civil equality is not the gay agenda but the Christian agenda!

  4. Louise McGovern
    Louise McGovern says:

    Corrections to your article.
    Leo has v conservative political views – distaint for the poor and public hate campaign for welfare receipitants
    Leo was not elected by the public – only his party and only got 35% of party member
    Catholic Church in Ireland is waning and younger people under age of 40 can’t wait for it to die once the older priests and nuns die. They should have been jailed and closed down for their crimes.
    the RCC is only interested in money power and control.
    Usually non religious people are kinder compassionate and have a social justice conscience.


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