Last Friday, the Republic of Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage via popular referendum. It wasn’t even close: Backed by a strong “Yes” campaign, which framed the issue simply as equality vs. bigotry, the proposition swept to a 62 percent victory, backed by every powerful interest in the country save the Catholic Church. All the major political parties were in favor, as was the media. By the time the vote finally rolled around, the only folks who could have possibly voted against it were the old farmers and their long-suffering wives.
In short, the “Yes” campaign had everything going for it except thousands of years of human history, but what was that in the face of the emotional moment? The media in both Ireland and Britain celebrated the #HometoVote travels of Irishmen and -women living all over the world, who hopped planes and boats to get back to Erin and cast an affirmative ballot. The “No” side was routinely depicted as composed of narrow-minded homophobes, alarum-spreaders, and crackpots trying to frighten the populace by bringing up such issues as surrogacy and child-rearing, when in fact all you need is love. If anyone under the age of 30 voted No, it would be a miracle.
The Vatican immediately called the vote “a defeat for humanity,”
“I was deeply saddened by the result,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, said at a conference in Rome on Tuesday night. “The church must take account of this reality, but in the sense that it must strengthen its commitment to evangelisation. I think that you cannot just talk of a defeat for Christian principles, but of a defeat for humanity.”
The archbishop of Dublin was more reflective, noting, “if this referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people . . . [then the church needs] a reality check.”
The Church doesn’t need a reality check — it just got one. With the Yes vote, the entire sordid mess of the sex-abuse scandals came crashing down in the most Catholic country in Europe. Given the nationwide revulsion against the Vatican’s mishandling, it was easy to tag the Church with the topmost of the modern Seven Deadly Sins — hypocrisy, especially in matters of sexual morality. For the prelates of the Church in Ireland (the Catholic Church I mean, not the “Church of Ireland,” which, along with the country’s ruined monasteries, is one of the legacies of Henry VIII), already easily caricatured as condemnatory sexual prudes, it was the worst blow since the Penal Laws, and self-inflicted at that.
Indeed, argued Father Paul F. Morrissey in USA Today, Ireland voted in favor of gay marriage because it’s Catholic — maybe more Catholic than the Pope:
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 . . .
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.
I suspect Father Morrissey and I would disagree on the reasoning but come to the same conclusion.