An American Catholic View of the Irish Referendum

Ireland’s ‘Social Revolution’ – An Updated Brand of Traditionalism?

  1. J. Dionne Jr. May 28, 2015 – Commonweal Catholic magazine

BOSTON — Consider the stunned disbelief, perhaps of a somewhat aggressive sort, that would have greeted anyone who might have told a tavern crowd in Dorchester or Southie three decades ago that Ireland would be the first nation in the world to approve gay marriage by popular vote.

It is a mark of how much has changed in such a short time that Ireland’s vote for gay marriage last week was, in the end, the expected outcome — even if the breadth of marriage equality’s victory was breathtaking.

The referendum carried 62 percent of the vote. Only one of the nation’s 43 parliamentary constituencies, Roscommon-South Leitrim, voted “no,” and even there, supporters won nearly 49 percent of the vote. The rural-urban split many anticipated did not materialize. Socially conservative areas that had opposed liberalizing Ireland’s abortion and divorce laws in the past voted to allow gays and lesbians to marry.

The different outcome this time says something about why social liberalism finds its strongest expression these days around gay rights questions. If politics is often polarized because social changes can leave behind both winners and losers, it is far harder to make a case that there are any losers in the effort to provide for equality around sexual orientation. Ireland, a heartland of Catholicism that did so much to shape the Catholic Church in the United States, seemed to see things exactly this way.

But it’s also true that Ireland has undergone a sweeping cultural transformation in a very short time. Irish faith in the church was badly shaken by the hierarchy’s cover-up of the sex-abuse crisis even as the island was overtaken by a raucous materialism during the economic boom between 1995 and 2008. It was the era of the “Celtic tiger,” a prime example of how good things could be under capitalism.

Yet if God receded from Irish life, mammon received its comeuppance when the financial bubble burst, wreaking havoc. Ireland has since had to rebuild not only its economy but also its sense of meaning.

It’s striking that Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, one of Ireland’s most candid prelates in facing up to the costs and the shame of the abuse scandal, used the referendum outcome not as an occasion for an angry jeremiad but as an opportunity for an examination of conscience.

In words that echoed around the world, he told RTE News that “the church needs to do a reality check, a reality check right across the board.”

He also went out of his way to acknowledge the elation felt by those who had been forced into the shadows of Irish life. “I appreciate how gay and lesbian men and women feel on this day,” he said. “That they feel this is something that is enriching the way they live. I think it is a social revolution.”

And the archbishop specifically focused on the imperative “to look at the areas where we really have to start and say, ‘Look, have we drifted away completely from young people?'”

______________________________________________________________

I received this article, written by the American  Roman Catholic ‘Commonweal’ publication contributor, J. Dionne Jnr., from a Christchurch friend, who, as an ex-Jesuit student in the USA, believes it shows a marked difference in attitudes from those of his Roman Catholic schooling. The difference in the outlook of Irish Roman Catholics is expressed in this way:

“It is a mark of how much has changed in such a short time that Ireland’s vote for gay marriage last week was, in the end, the expected outcome — even if the breadth of marriage equality’s victory was breathtaking”.

The author’s reflection on the Irish Archbishop of Dublin’s (Diarmuid Martin) statement on the issue of the Church’s treatment of Gay people, shown here, bears thinking about:

the church needs to do a reality check, a reality check right across the board.”

He also went out of his way to acknowledge the elation felt by those who had been forced into the shadows of Irish life. “I appreciate how gay and lesbian men and women feel on this day,” he said. “That they feel this is something that is enriching the way they live. I think it is a social revolution.”

And the archbishop specifically focused on the imperative “to look at the areas where we really have to start and say, ‘Look, have we drifted away completely from young people?'”

If this is a problem for the Roman Catholic Church; it is no less a problem for other Christians – such as we in ACANZP, who need to carefully negotiate the terms of Motion 30 at our next General Synod

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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