Dublin’s Catholic Archbishop, Diarmuid Martin, spoke to the Irish Times after the people of Ireland went to the polls and voted resoundingly in favour of same-sex marriage. He was perfectly right in his assessment that it is time the Catholic Church in Ireland has a “reality check.” In fact the Church in Ireland, and around the world, needs a massive reality check. In the totality of his interview this was the only thing that he managed to get right. He acknowledged that what we witnessed is the fruit of a social revolution that has been brewing for decades in Ireland, and that this was a decision taken by the young people of Ireland who have spent twelve years in a Catholic education system, but he completely failed to grasp that their opinion may be a Christian opinion. Instead he sees that the Church’s mission now is to find a way to win them back:
It’s very clear that if this referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people, then the church has a huge task in front of it to find the language to be able to talk to and to get its message across to young people, not just on this issue, but in general.
‘Diarmuid Martin: Catholic Church needs reality check,’ Irish Times, 23 May 2015
Martin’s major malfunction here is that he has forgotten to read his own instruction manual. He is correct that the vast majority of the young people who voted are at least nominally Catholic, and so at least 90% of the 62% vote in favour of marriage equality was a Christian opinion. This would lead a good theologian to see the agency of the Holy Spirit working through the voice of the faithful. Yes, that’s right – God does speak through ordinary Christians, and the Church understands this as the Sensus Fidelium (‘the sense of the faithful’). In fact the Vatican only last year spelt this out to its bishops and priests:
The Sensus Fidei Fidelis is a sort of spiritual instinct that enables the believer to judge spontaneously whether a particular teaching or practice is or is not in conformity with the Gospel and with apostolic faith. It is intrinsically linked to the virtue of faith itself; it flows from, and is a property of, faith. It is compared to an instinct because it is not primarily the result of rational deliberation, but is rather a form of spontaneous and natural knowledge, a sort of perception.
Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church, 49
Perhaps, just perhaps, the Christian ethos in Ireland’s Catholic schools is brushing off on the young people of Ireland, and they are able, with this spiritual instinct, to make a rational decision through the lens of an in-cultured sense of the Gospel and their natural knowledge that does not entirely conform to the teachings of the clerical Church. This is what the Archbishop of Dublin seems incapable of seeing. He may have found himself on the wrong side of the fence once again, but maybe his Church has sown the seeds of this spontaneous outburst of goodness and progress.