Christians in Ireland are in the midst of a massive crisis. Be they Catholic, Anglican, Methodist or any other denomination of the faith they are finding themselves at a point where as individuals they are being asked to translate their religious convictions to the world around them. Certainly this is not unique to Christians, or people of any religious faith; our whole society has to do the same. Greater access to information through social media and the internet has radically democratised how people engage with society and politics. No more is it the case that the vast majority simply delegate authority to hierarchies and politicians. We are all reading the materials for ourselves and making up our own minds regardless of the positions held by political or religious leaders. Christians, for the first time since the 1960s and 70s, are openly challenging the often rigid and doctrinal teachings of their churches, and they do not see this as a contradiction of their personal religious beliefs.
The vast majority of Irish Christians are lovely people. They form a large chunk of that 74%. It's important to remember that. #MarRef—
Fintan O'Toolbox (@FintanOToolbox) April 08, 2015
Ùr-Fhàsaidh (@UrFhasaidh) April 09, 2015
Christians are overwhelmingly appalled by the behaviour of their hierarchies over the numerous historical abuse scandals, and over their treatment of LGBT people, but they see all of this as a structural problem and not a challenge to the essence of their faith. In fact, if anything, it is their faith that drives them to seek change within their congregations and in the wider Church. Let’s not think that the Church hierarchy is not acutely aware of this force from below. As ancient as the Christian faith is, it still acts organically as a type of democracy; the consensus of the faithful informs the official teachings of the Church. Over time, as the opinions of the majority of Christians change (and today they are changing fast), the social teachings develop to address the attitudes of the modern Church. Christians believe the Holy Spirit speaks through the consensus of the majority or the sensus fidelium. The Church is also aware that if this majority opinion is ignored the majority simply cast a vote with their feet.
Within the Roman Catholic Church, since the death of John Paul II, there has been what is described as a defrosting in the hierarchy of the Church. John Paul did not like dissent from the party line, and his papacy was responsible for the silencing of many theologians, priests, and bishops. Yes, things are not perfect (that is to everyone’s liking – but what is?), but this relaxation of the censure has permitted many to speak out without fear of their careers being derailed. Now we have priests in Dublin like the Jesuit Peter McVerry and parish priest on Francis Street Martin Dolan speaking up for a Yes vote in the Marriage Equality referendum and receiving applause from the Catholics in the pews. My fear is that continued general condemnation of Christians on this and other issues will simply force too many back into the box – and, in fairness, every vote counts.