c. 2015 USA Today
How is it possible that Ireland, one of the most Catholic countries in the world, voted overwhelmingly to legalize gay marriage in an historic vote on May 22?
Throughout the world, the Roman Catholic Church has made opposition to gay marriage its hallmark for the past few years, even as the momentum for “marriage equality” has grown in leaps and bounds. One reason that this stunning two-to-one approval has taken place in Ireland, the first country on the world to do so, is precisely because Ireland is so overwhelmingly Catholic.
Ireland, the source of Catholic missionaries throughout the word for hundreds of years, has suffered a drastic exodus of people from its church-going ranks since the sexual abuse scandal broke into public view during the past decade. The majority of Irish men and women may still call themselves Catholic, but they no longer accept the hierarchy as believable, particularly in matters of sexual morality. Thus, the stunning rejection of the church’s view of gay marriage as an invalid relationship in the eyes of God and the church. What the church teaches about sexuality is rejected almost as a duty. The church has no credibility in matters of sexuality in Ireland.
The Irish have been brought up by the Catholic Church to view marriage as a sacrament and that’s the reason they can shift sideways to see a same-sex relationship in the same God-blessed way. Because marriage is a beautiful commitment of love, taught to them by the church, the Irish can make the connection to two people of the same sex loving each other with a similar commitment. It is the love commitment they value, and have come to see in their friends and family members who are gay and lesbian as well. Love conquers. The Irish are lovers. It doesn’t matter who the partners are—“I promise to love you all the days of my life, so help me God.”
If one is a leader of the Catholic Church, what can be done? Maybe it is a wake-up call that is necessary. If the Catholic Church wants to be taken seriously in any conversation about sexuality, especially to young people, it needs to be honest about the sexual abuse crisis first, including the cover up by its bishops. It also needs to be honest in its dialogue about sexual morality issues with the laity, and to invite them to speak out of their experience as Pope Francis has encouraged. This is not to say that “whatever goes” as the practice of sexual relations by someone is to be accepted, but any teachings by a church that do not have the experience of its people taken into consideration is like a mind without a body, a set of laws without a basis in people’s actual lived experience.
The Catholic Church has much to offer the world in terms of our beliefs on sexuality, loving commitment, sacraments, procreation and family, but we remove ourselves from the conversation when we present ourselves as having all the answers before the conversation begins.
If the Catholic Church in the United States does not want to lose its entire younger generation, not to mention the older ones who are still trying to hold on and be faithful, we will take this vote for gay marriage in Ireland as a call to open up a discussion in our country about sexuality and where God is calling us now.
Why Ireland? It’s because of their faith in God, which is bigger and deeper than the Catholic Church, especially when many believe the church has betrayed them.
(Paul F. Morrissey is an ordained Roman Catholic priest and author of the recently published novel, The Black Wall of Silence. This commentary first appeared in USA Today.)