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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 29, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 22
Irish landslide rocks Catholic Church
Section One
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Irish landslide rocks Catholic Church

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Ireland's landslide vote for marriage equality has rocked church leaders in what was once the most Catholic country in Europe, and the shock waves have reached as far as the Vatican.

Sixty-two percent of Irish voters agreed to amend the country's constitution to provide for same-sex marriage, with Yes votes leading in all but one voting district.

Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said his church had been shaken by nothing less than 'social revolution.'

'We [the Church] have to stop and have a reality check, not move into denial of the realities,' he told RTE broadcasting.

'We won't begin again with a sense of renewal, with a sense of denial.

'I appreciate how gay and lesbian men and women feel on this day. That they feel this is something that is enriching the way they live. I think it is a social revolution.'

'I ask myself, most of these young people who voted yes are products of our Catholic school system for 12 years. I'm saying there's a big challenge there to see how we get across the message of the Church,' he added.

Martin was part of what could be described as a 'moderate' faction of Catholic officials who urged recognition of LGBT rights but 'without changing the definition of marriage.'

The Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin - who the Vatican recognizes as Primate of All Ireland, the top bishop in the country - took a much more aggressive stand against same-sex marriage, campaigning actively for a No vote.

Archbishop Martin of Armagh is not related to Archbishop Martin of Dublin. Martin of Armagh went into seclusion after the overwhelming Yes vote.

Meanwhile, the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said he was 'very saddened' by the vote. The Catholic Church must do better at getting its message across, he concluded.

'The Church must take account of this reality, but in the sense of reinforcing its commitment to evangelization,' he told the Italian news agency ANSA.

'I think that you cannot just talk of a defeat for Christian principles, but of a defeat for humanity. The family remains at the centre and we have to do everything to defend it and promote it. Hitting it would be like taking the foundations away from the building of the future.'

Ailing church
While 84% of the people of the Republic of Ireland still identify as Catholic, church attendance has dropped precipitously from 91% in 1973 to only 30% in 2011. Forty-four percent of the Irish respondents to a 2012 WIN-Gallup International poll said they were 'not a religious person.'

The authority of the Catholic Church has declined so much that Ireland's Association of Catholic Priests felt the need to warn against overheated rhetoric in the referendum campaign.

'If as priests we are speaking on this matter,' the group said, 'we need to remember that the use of intemperate language can cause deep hurt among gay people and their families, as well as doing further damage to an already ailing church.'

Ireland's Catholic Church has been 'ailing' for many years, with most of the damage being self-inflicted.

'The people have changed their relationship with the Catholic Church, because they've been disappointed and let down,' Christina Breen told Reuters news service.

Breen added she was at Dublin Castle as the results of the referendum were coming in May 23 as a show of support for her Gay son.

Once, the Catholic Church had hegemony over Ireland's political and social life. In the 1930s, then-Monsignor John Charles McQuaid helped draft Ireland's constitution. As Archbishop of Dublin he remained a central figure in Ireland's political affairs till his death in 1973.

In 2009, however, an Irish government report revealed that McQuaid had covered up multiple child abuse charges involving Catholic priests. By 2011 allegations surfaced that McQuaid himself had molested young boys.

The sex abuse charges are not the only quarrel Irish Catholics have with their church. For many women, the church's dogged resistance to any form of contraception was the decisive factor turning them against Catholic dogma.

As early as 1971, women's rights activists organized a 'condom train,' going over the border to Belfast, in the United Kingdom, and bringing back condoms to a country that outlawed contraception.

In 1983, an anti-abortion referendum was put on the ballot and passed by a two-to-one vote. But signs of resistance to Catholic doctrine were already surfacing. According to former priest Tony Flannery, contraception was the defining political issue for the generation that became the parents of today's young voters.

The new generation of Irish
The abortion referendum 'was the first time that Irish Catholics first questioned church teaching,' Flannery said. 'That opened the door, and after that they increasingly began to question a whole raft of Catholic sexual teaching, and then the child sexual abuse scandal came along which destroyed church credibility in the whole area of sexuality.'

Flannery was suspended from the priesthood in 2012 because of his criticism of the church's views on women and homosexuality.

The youngest generation of Irish voters were raised in an environment where the Catholic Church was increasingly isolated and its doctrines rejected even by those who continued to identify as 'Catholic' culturally.

'The biggest change I see is the young people,' Dublin resident Annie Dillon told the New York Times.

'I'm thinking of my 20-year-old nephew, it was like a no-brainer for him,' she said. 'He was like 'Of course, why wouldn't we want to be including everybody?' That seems to be the prevailing attitude.'

Ms. Dillon said that when she came out, at the age of 21, 'you had to have a dual existence almost.'

'It was easy to be out when you're with other people who were gay, but I came out to my brothers and sisters gradually,' she said, adding, 'I never talked about it much to my parents.'

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