Joan Burton and I agree on very little, but her words on the hopes of some for the introduction of a so-called conscience clause into the Marriage Equality Bill are most welcome. She is perfectly right that such a clause would not work, and the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin has not asked for the introduction of such a clause. Conservatives within right-wing Catholic groups such as the Iona Institute have questioned why their right to conscience is to be side-lined when the clergy, as religious solemnisers, will have the right to act in accordance with their consciences, but what they are asking for is something quite different. Priests will not be permitted to act according to their consciences as the conservatives suggest. At ordination the priest makes an oath of perfect obedience to his bishop and his successors, effectively subjugating his individual conscience on many matters to the teaching of the Church. Whether this is good or bad is a discussion for another post. What the right-wing in the laity are asking for is the right to discriminate against people in secular industry; in the commerce of goods and services. Here the right of the clergy and that of the laity are different things entirely.

Christian life and faith affords no room for bigotry or discrimination, and the request to be granted some special dispensation to single out people on the grounds of their sexual orientation is an affront to the Christian proclamation of radical and indiscriminate love. Refusing another human being comfort or respect because of their sexuality is, to the Christian, unconscionable and deeply sinful. The upcoming Marriage Equality referendum will raise questions of conscience, and it would be wrong of people to simply ignore the demands that conscience places upon them. It is a categorical imperative that a Christian obeys the dictates of his or her conscience – this obedience is an absolute requirement in all circumstances. To do otherwise is to commit a serious sin, even if that means disobeying the Church. Likewise the command to love is an equal imperative. Our world – the world of our lived lives – is a world of subjective individual opinion, and our consciences reflect this reality. Yet this does not negate the reality of objective Truth, and it is of this that we must ever strive to inform our consciences. It is the informed conscience – not merely conscience – that cannot err.

People within the Iona Institute would do well to understand that Christianity, our common faith, demands that conscience must be always informed by love. Discrimination, a wilful assault on the dignity of another person made in the image of God, is always and without exception a crime against love. Such actions cannot ever form the moral basis for an informed conscience. Their conscience clause which would only lead to a dubious subversion of our duty to love cannot be a legitimate Christian action. My conservative sisters and brothers in Christ would do well to reflect on this most conservative and fundamental teaching of the Gospel.


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