After a long career as a parish priest, a spiritual director, and a spell as the provincial of the Jesuit religious order in the African missions, Dominic [name has been altered] is a man of considerable pastoral experience, and a colleague I trust. Now in semi-retirement he attends Sunday Mass in a number of churches around the city, and actually pays attention to the homilies. On Monday afternoons in the adult education program where we volunteer he’ll quite often comment on what he experienced the previous morning. This week he hands me a piece of A4 paper, printed on both sides, that was handed to him as he left the church in Ballybrack on Freedom of Conscience and The Meaning of Marriage. “They’re really pushing this stuff in some parishes,” he says, “and it’s all very confused.” Sad to say, but it is all very standard stuff; a transcript of the Archbishop’s address from the previous week, and a cut-and-paste job of the House of Bishop’s statement on marriage prepared by the curate. It’s all very party-line stuff, but not even recent party-line stuff! Dominic adds that “the sermon was out of touch. All on this marriage referendum, and the priest never even prefaced it with Pope Francis’ words, ‘Who am I to judge?’”

Of course Archbishop Diarmuid Martin opened his comments with the classic Reductio ad Hitlerum: comparing our democratic referendum to the threats to freedom of conscience posed by totalitarian regimes. That’s all well and good, and for as many problems as I have with the present Taoiseach (and most of his predecessors) – Mr. Kenny is hardly Pol Pot. It is impressive that some clergy still feel that they can get away with this behaviour. As this was for the consumption of an educated and reasonably affluent congregation it wasn’t exactly what you’d call a critical examination of the issues. Not in the least. To be perfectly honest it was monkey-see-monkey-do theology. The right-wing of the Church is entitled to its position, but it can surely do better than this.

Giving this parish priest and the Archbishop the benefit of the doubt, I decided to rattle off an email to the National Catholic Bioethics Centre in Philadelphia (NCBC) – initials with all the cadence of the National Centre for Disease Control (I digress). Assuming me to be a Roman Catholic priest, no less a personage than the Director of Bioethics and Public Policy, Dr. Marie T. Hilliard, MS (Maternal Child Health Nursing), MA (Religious Studies), JCL (Canon Lawyer), PhD, RN [her words not mine], wrote back to me with the finest example of undue reverence for those in the clerical state I have ever read:

Thank you for your concern and for seeking more information.  Also thank you for your priesthood – I have a brother a priest – now deceased – and a brother a permanent deacon.  I hope you know what a gift you are to all of us.  Confession alone is such a phenomenal gift, as is Anointing and the Apostolic Pardon, all at your hands.  Thank you!

We’ll put that down to excessive American politeness. Attached to her reply was a 42 page document outlining the ethics of same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting, in which there was a summery in bullet points. What struck me the most was the conclusion to the section on same-sex marriages:

Legal recognition of same-sex marriage would be based on the understanding of marriage as only the fulfilment of a mutual desire for companionship, without any implied or expected responsibilities for child-rearing. Such ‘companionship’ could take many forms, opening the door to polygamy, incest, pederasty, and other forms of deviance.

A loving, life-long relationship reduced to simple companionship? Really?! How very Edwardian of them. With or without children can we say that a Christian marriage is ever just companionship? The suggestion that any healthy relationship between mature, consenting adults can lead to “other forms of deviance;” to pederasty, to incest is disgusting. Just who do these people think they are?! It is high time that there was a true and honest ethical examination of these Catholic institutions.

Ùr-Fhàsaidh is a Christian social justice blogger who is committed to a Yes vote in the upcoming Marriage Equality referendum, and to helping other Christians see the good sense in a Yes vote. Please take the time to sign up to his social media feeds and share his work.




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