by Grania Spingies
Quite a lot of headlines around the world announced that Ireland’s voting for equality by endorsing same-sex marriage last week was the dawn of a new era for the position of the Catholic Church in Ireland. The truth of the matter is that it was really just the most recent and most public display of how things have already changed in the country. In spite of a comfortable 87% of the population self-identifying as Catholic and around 90% of Irish citizens having attended a Catholic school for 12 years; the referendum result on the 24th of May was undeniable evidence that the average Irish Catholic pays little to no attention to what the Vatican or its Bishops advise.
In itself, it isn’t really news. Regular church attendance in Ireland is poor (as low as 5% in some areas to 30-40% at best), and getting poorer amongst the younger generations; and has long been a cause for concern amongst Irish priests and bishops. So it is no surprise that whatever does influence the Irish electorate, it probably won’t be the Catholic Church.
In fact, even church-attending Catholics cannot be relied on to listen let alone endorse the official party line. When local parish priests were required to read their Bishop’s letter to their congregation urging them not to support equality for same-sex couples, some of the faithful walked out. One of the attendees said afterwards:
When he started speaking he talked about God and love and I thought it was going in the right direction and that they (the Church) were going to come into the 21st century, but then he read out the letter and I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t in all conscience sit there and listen to it. I never thought I’d be someone that would walk out of Mass but I had to leave. I couldn’t believe we were being told what way to vote. I got into such a temper I couldn’t even stay and listen to it all.
When even the faithful are prepared to publicly shun the Church, it is worth noting. The Archbishop of Ireland, Diarmuid Martin said much the same:
I ask myself, most of these young people who voted yes are products of our Catholic school system for 12 years. I’m saying there’s a big challenge there to see how we get across the message of the Church.
It appears that as many as a third of Irish Catholic clergy may have also voted Yes in the referendum. The Association of Catholic Priests consists of liberal clergy who frequently butt heads with the traditional Church hierarchy on issues that have long been sticking points in the Church such as celibacy, the ordination of women etc. The Irish talk show radio station NewsTalk surveyed 100 priests to poll their views on this.
Clearly, there is certainly no unanimous agreement on the issue.
In spite of promising sounds from the pope last year on the subject of homosexuality, as well as the apparent crisis within the Church’s own ranks – or at least the European parts of it; the Vatican appears to be standing by their position and have called the Irish referendum results a “defeat for humanity”.
The Church never ceases to amaze me as an ex-Catholic, at its dogged insistence of ignoring the concerns and interests of its own people as well as the advances in secular morality in the society in which it exists. But it appears that if there is going to be any change, it is not going to happen in the foreseeable future. Talking may happen. Change is going to be a lot less likely. At least the Vatican can find a small measure of support in the lunatic fringe group Westboro Baptist Church, who would no doubt at least agree in principle with their verdict on the referendum. On the other hand, the Church may not really want support from a group that clearly does not get out much, as this exchange with writer J.K. Rowling demonstrates.
I would almost pay money to see that, cos that would be awesome ¹.
1. Yes, I am using the word awesome, because watching two of the world’s most famousest of wizards take on a grubby band of haters would be, well, thing.