MORE interesting news from Ireland, where I have just spent the
weekend. The place is buzzing with the aftermath of the world's
first popular vote to enshrine same-sex marriage in the
constitution. Last week, I noted the striking shift in rhetoric in
the debate. This week, the marked development has been the opening
up of a distinct gap between the reaction to the vote in Rome and
among the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Ireland.
The 62-per-cent "Yes" vote was greeted by one of Rome's most
senior cardinals, Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State,
as "not only a defeat for Christian principles, but also something
of a defeat for humanity". This was not the kind of language many
might have expected from the man who, when he was appointed by Pope
Francis, was described as something of a reformer, and certainly a
deal more open-minded than the average curial conservative. The
Pope himself has used the phrase "a defeat for humanity", but he
was talking about war rather than gay marriage.
Underlying the Cardinal's words was the acknowledgement "the
Church must take account of this reality", but, he added, "in the
sense that it must strengthen its commitment to
The reaction in Rome contrasts sharply with that in Ireland,
where the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Diarmuid Martin,
described the vote as "a silent revolution", and said that the
Roman Catholic Church needed "a reality check". The Archbishop of
Armagh, the Most Revd Eamon Martin, was similarly measured and
conciliatory. "Among the many lessons that we as Church can learn
from the referendum debate is to re-commit ourselves to the
pastoral care of anyone in society who experiences victimisation
and stigmatisation," he said.
What explains this divergence between Rome and Ireland? In Rome,
the bottom line seems to be that the Church needs to explain its
existing teaching better. In Ireland, there seem to be signs of a
recognition of a new reality.
This was made clear by one heterosexual Catholic woman who told
me the other day: "It's not that we don't understand what the
Church is saying. We disagree with it. The gospel carries a message
of love and the inclusion of the marginalised which church leaders
seem to be denying. That's what this vote was about. We've stopped
voting Catholic and started voting Christian. And if gay people
marry, that doesn't undermine the value of my marriage, as the
Church seems to suggest. It underscores the value of it."
It is clear that the Irish Bishops have picked up some inkling
of this. But the message has yet to filter through to Rome. It may
have implications for the Church of England, too, given this week's
dramatic figures of decline in the number of people in the UK who
describe their beliefs as Anglican.
Perhaps they, too, are no less Christian, but simply feel that a
Church - with its own reluctance about the acceptance of gay
people, and its decades of foot-dragging over acknowledging the
part women have to play - does not speak for their understanding of
the gospel message. Food for thought.
Paul Vallely is Visiting Professor in Public Ethics and
Media at the University of Chester.