What has happened to the Irish and their Church?

I was surprised at the interest shown by other countries in what was happening in Ireland (Referendum). Journalists from Australia, Canada, UK and the USA wanted comments. I hadn’t seen it as a major story but I clearly was wrong. Their questioning wasn’t just about the Referendum but rather about the changing Ireland and the changing role of Religion and Church in Ireland. This is probably a good area for discussion among us.
Yes. The Referendum returned a YES.
A comment:
I delighted in seeing the young engaged (it reminded me of Scotland).
There is always a self-righteousness and a certainty in younger people (which is fine) and they clearly could only see that this was the right thing to do: Say YES.
They would also know in their own lives many gay people. It is popular and fashionable ‘to come out’ nowadays. The reality of the battle to be ‘normalised’ and ‘accepted’ (for gay people) is quite immediate to most young people.
I am happy that people voted. I am happy that young people voted. I would have difficulty with the ’emotion’ involved on both sides. I think it was necessary to stand back and look at the issue. A NO vote was not anti-gay. It simply said – Marriage (as understood) is about a man and woman and consequently about children. Could we not ensure and respect legally what Civil Partnership meant? The Legislature could have ensured this. It was very crude to tamper with the Constitution. The Legislature was the place to make equality certain. Gilmore’s flamboyant populism was dramatic but hardly sensible.
It seems to me that we as a nation are trying to hard to catch up; to show our maturity; to show our concern for others; to show our modernity. It is as if, we are apologetic for treating people so badly in the past (and we did). We must now make up for our failures.
It is also good that Church people had their say and that it wasn’t done in a strident manner. Diarmuid Martin was a model in this regard – of balance and delicacy. (Only a few were otherwise!) It was good that among the ACP (association of catholic priests) we split down the middle. Some were for the YES. Some were for the NO. Both views were understandable and acceptable.
The Church has faded from the consciousness of the population. It is no longer important what church people say. The Church is very old. Those who attend are very old. It is most likely that the young ones who voted are not church goers generally. That is neither a fault or a problem but a reality. (I meander back to my hobby horse: thinking of those First Communions; those Confirmations; those Weddings – our rituals and our language has drifted out of their world completely. We are useful accoutrements for the occasion but very unimportant – poor God and especially our way of celebrating God, is really a side-issue).
For the Church – it is good to listen to what has happened in this case. We have been disgraceful in how we treated gay people. We have been very heavy-handed in so many ways (obviously in sexual issues; obviously in the use of authority etc). We corrupted Confession by our obsessions. We need to be very humble. We need to learn. We need to live the Gospel. We need to pay attention to the words of Francis or much more importantly – listen to Jesus Christ. He mixed with everyone. He accepted people as they were. He sat at Table with everyone. He didn’t condemn. He understood the mess that is life and is the life of most of us. Simplicity or rigidity or certainty is never the lot of humanity. It cannot be the view of a living Christian. We had spoon-fed people and left them so passive and captive. We were the custodians of the ‘mystery.’ Our holy certainties have lost the people. We can but hope that the Synod is not taken over by people such as Cardinals Burke, Muller et alia, focusing on the purity of those who can sit at Table.
In conclusion:
Well done Ireland on the discussion. Well done young people for taking part. Well done Church people for speaking openly and gently and without certainty. Well done to all. However, we can still point out the grandiosity involved in the emotional arguments. We can point out the inadequacies of how things were done and how the politicians hadn’t the gumption to sort out the legal consequences of what was needed. We don’t make up for the mistakes of the past by making a mistake now. As a nation, we are probably stirring into adolescence rather than maturity! We like the independence of dumping the past and showing how modern we are.
The sun still shines. The rain still comes. We all go about our business. We make our arguments and then accept what has happened. No one has died. It isn’t the death of life or family or marriage as we know it. And Church people can take part in a reflection and argument by adding their thoughts and then leaving the outcome to the decisions made. That all seems right and much better than it used to be. We win people by the force or obvious sense in our arguments and not because of who we are.   I’m leaving this country. I can take no more. (By the way – it isn’t because of the Referendum!)
Seamus Ahearne osa (Rivermount)

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  1. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is quoted by Alison Healy in the Irish Times as saying that the Catholic Church needs reality check:
    The Catholic Church needs “a reality check” in the wake of the same-sex marriage referendum and needs to ask if it has drifted away from young people, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said.
    “I think really that the church needs to do a reality check, a reality check right across the board, to look at the things it’s doing well, to look at the areas where we really have to start and say, ‘Look, have we drifted away completely from young people?’ ” he told RTÉ News.
    He said the referendum result was “an overwhelming vote in one direction” and he appreciated how gay men and lesbian women felt after the endorsement of same-sex marriage – “that they feel this is something which is enriching the way they live”, he said.
    “I think it’s a social revolution… It’s a social revolution that didn’t begin today,” he said. “It’s a social revolution that’s been going on, and perhaps in the church people have not been as clear in understanding what that involved.
    “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.”
    Dr Martin said it was important that the church must not move into denial of the realities. “We won’t begin again with a sense of renewal by simply denying,” he said.
    When he met Pope Benedict after he became archbishop, the pope asked him where were the points of contact between the Catholic Church and the places where the future of Irish culture was being formed, he said.
    “And that’s a question the church has to ask itself here in Ireland,” Dr Martin said.
    ‘Big challenge’
    “Most of these young people who voted Yes are products of our Catholic schools for 12 years,” he said. “There’s a big challenge there to see how we get across the message of the church…We need to sit down and say ‘are we reaching out at all to young people?’ … We’re becoming a church of the like-minded, and a sort of a safe space for the like-minded,” he said.
    “That doesn’t mean that we renounce our teaching on fundamental values on marriage and the family. Nor does it mean that we dig into the trenches.
    “We need to find…a new language which is fundamentally ours, that speaks to, is understood and becomes appreciated by others.”
    Dr Martin added that “we tend to think in black and white but most of us live in the area of grey, and if the church has a harsh teaching, it seems to be condemning those who are not in line with it.
    “But all of us live in the grey area. All of us fail. All of us are intolerant. All of us make mistakes. All of us sin and all of us pick ourselves up again with the help of that institution which should be there to do that.
    “The church’s teaching, if it isn’t expressed in terms of love – then it’s got it wrong,” he said.

  2. Heed Seamus’s words…”We are useful accoutrements for the occasion…but, very unimportant”

  3. Mary Vallely says:

    “It is popular and fashionable ‘to come out’ nowadays.”
    Really, Seamus?! That’s not written tongue in cheek either, is it? You really believe that? It wasn’t JUST young people who voted YES either. I do wish you would read over this article and reconsider if it might come across as a wee bit patronising. e.g. “As a nation, we are probably stirring into adolescence rather than maturity! We like the independence of dumping the past and showing how modern we are.”
    To cheer you up, try a taste of Ulster Fry.

  4. Joe O'Leary says:

    All this patronising talk about young people suggests that the Archbishop has not got the message at all. It is not “grandiosity” but clarity, indeed the clearest message the Irish have delivered since 1916 (also of course dismissed as grandiose).
    It is not that the people have not heard the church’s message — it is that they have wrestled with it and come to their own conclusion — and in the majority of cases their reasoning is Catholic. The charter for their action can be found in Gaudium et Spes 26.
    Securus iudicat orbis terrarum.

  5. Dr. Henry says:

    Ireland has become a land of hope for many people around the world. However, many other ‘de fide’ doctrines must be reexamined if there is to be a happy Catholic church of the future. Let’s bring Purgatory and Indugences up on the front burner. That is just to open up the debate. A reality check on these two ‘doctrines’ may be a good place to start. The good Archbishop and a team of theologians, male and female are well qualified to do this kind of ‘reality check’. May God Bless you on your journey. There is no need for anyone to leave. Francis may go right along with you, provided most of the curia go for a long vacation to Ostia.

  6. This result is as much a reaction to the failures of the church in regards to sexual abuse AND the way abuse was handled it, as it is the wanting to stand by homosexual women and men. What was a problem is that the two were not maturely separated enough, not that they can be in another way. I am well and truly over the church blaming society for becoming less church centered when the reality is that the church itself is and has almost always been the main cause of society drifting away from it. This is no devil having a field day as many of my conservative and frightened Catholic family and friends continually assert – this is the result of a church that has turned away from the Gospel, and armed it with business men and politicians, fronted by “pastoral” covers.

  7. Joe O'Leary says:

    I don’t think the Yes vote is a reaction to clerical sexual abuse and how it was handled. The thousands of young people who came back to Ireland to vote, sometimes spending their last penny, had a positive vision of freedom, equality, and a fraternal society which really had nothing to do with ecclesiastical issues of any kind.
    The specific warmth and decency of the Irish process has a lot to do with our Catholic culture. The Yes voters were enacting Vatican II.
    Purgatory? Indulgences? Really, is this what we should be talking about? Reality check has been done quite well by Karl Rahner — I do not think people are particularly troubled by these matters.
    Perhaps we should be wondering if the church should be in the business of defining morality at all. It is basically a secular discipline. The church does enough if it communicates the Double Commandment of love. In the case of the referendum, the double commandment was much in evidence in fact.

  8. Fair enough Joe. I think you are right. But you’ve got to admit that what happened in the inquiries in Ireland must have had some influence in releasing people to start to think about what it meant to be a Catholic country, the image the rest of the world has had of you for centuries. The Royal Commission here in Australia is having a similar effect – how can we ever submit to some hierarchical moral high ground after all we’ve been hearing, not just about the horrendous abuses but even more so about the way the representatives of Christ and the Catholic church have dealt with it.
    But yes, I will totally agree with you that the young don’t really give a toss about such things anymore and they just wanted to stand up for their brothers and sisters ‘in life’, as opposed to ‘in Christ’ and sometimes both.

  9. Mícheál says:

    In one sense, this referendum had nothing to do with the church. It was a civil matter and the majority of voters recognised it as such. In a different sense, this referendum hs a lot to do with the church as it is clear proof that the church no longer holds sway over most people in Ireland.
    The post-referendum comments from Diarmuid Martin suggest he sees the outcome as a failure to indoctrinate school children over the years, in that the products of our Catholic schools are not automatic adherents to church teaching.
    Therein lies the nub. The Catholic church teaches that gay people are intrinsically disordered. I did not hear any voice from the no campaign reject this teaching. While assuring voters that they cherished gay people, the no campaigners were quite hapy to allow this vile appellation go unchallenged.
    It is clear, then, that the church (meaning in this instance its hierarchy) still doesn’t get it. While not as strident as in previous referendum campaigns, the slew of episcopal statements that dominated church services on the Sunday before the referendum shows the level of disconect between the bishops and the laity. The civil influence of the bishops is thankfully over, but that message does not appear to have sunk home as yet. Unfortunately, they still, for historical reasons, control much of our primary and secondary level education systems. The sooner this ends, the better. If the bishops are serious about wanting to respond properly, they should seek a full and complete separation of church and state. The evidence of cooperation this far in the transfer of schools is beyond disgraceful.

  10. I remember a few years ago I attended a “Listening Meeting” in a local church .it was attended by parishioners from around the district. From the start it became apparent that we had been invited to listen to what the clergy had to say. I remember thinking ,now if only they would listen to what we had to say we might actually achieve something. There was no follow up. I also remember about thirty years ago the Bishop paid a visit to our parish. After the final Mass the teenagers made a special request . They asked the Bishop to speak to them on their own in the Parish Hall because they wanted to ask him questions. He agreed. The parents went home. They had hardly parked their cars when the teenagers were ringing them to come and collect them. The Bishop more or less said hello, goodbye to them as he was rushing back in to the Parochial House where he spent the whole afternoon with several of the clergy. The teenagers felt rejected. The reason I tell this little story is that the teenager whose idea it was to request a meeting with the Bishop is now very prominent and influential figure in Irish life and was a leading campaigner in the Referendum on Samesex Marraige on the Yes side.
    On the other hand I think that today’s young people are brilliant, they are not afraid to speak thieir minds and they supported the Gay community for all the right reasons. Even though they may think otherwise many of them do get thier sense of justice from their Catholic upbringing. I see it all around me ,the younger generation are not going to Mass but they are all involved in various ways in the community as I did when I was younger. We had a Mission here about five years ago, it was brilliant. We invited every voluntary organisation in the Parish to send a representative to the Community night . We were amazed at the diversity of all the groups who were working quietly away to make life a better place for everyone. Each representative carried a symbol of what the group stood for ,they were called out by name and came up around the altar to form a half circle.
    In all there was about thirty five groups in one way or another contributing to the health and well being of others. It’s not all about Mass attendance. The ACP has been trying to get the Hierarchy and Rome to listen for years. The older generation of priests are tired like me they were brought up in a comlpletely different era , the church needs young clergy and women to renew it .

  11. I reject the notion that a ‘yes’ vote is based on emotion or sympathy. There is a ‘knowing’ that cannot be gleaned from books, theological, legal or political manuals. It is the kind of knowing that is acquired by the hundreds of thousands of hours of watching and gazing that parents do with their children. Our children are completely different in their personalities, in their strengths and weaknesses. But they were and still are all treated equally. They are all whole and wholesome human beings. They left home with the knowledge that they are loved and equal. That is how they will engage the world. That is how they are raising their children. I believe it is fear and lack of trust that made people vote no.

  12. Joe O'Leary says:

    Nuala, perfectly right. The human intelligence of the electorate shows up the sad and tawdry and unintelligent world of clericalism.

  13. Roy Donovan says:

    (this was written last Monday but I was unable to send it until now)
    Seamus, I enjoy your reflections but some parts of this one left me uneasy.
    Many gay people I know relate that it is the first time they feel they belong in Ireland. Imagine for a moment what it is like to feel that you don’t belong to your place of birth or your country. For so long, gay people have experienced Ireland as a place of exclusion which concurs with the experiences of many Catholics – they don’t belong to the Church ie divorced, gays, ex-priests/sisters.
    How can this represent Christ at the centre – the Christ whom you put across so well as keeping an open table of welcome to all. How can Rome justify who is accepted at the table and who is not?
    The majority voted ‘yes’. In my mind talk of better legislation etc is totally past tense and to the ‘yes’ voters was not the answer. It is significant that this took place on the eve of Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit on everybody – beyond all kinds of boundaries – of a ‘social revolution’ in the making.
    It wasn’t only young people who voted ‘yes’. An elderly parishioner after Mass before the Referendum said to me – ‘let’s go with it’ – confirming that people of all age groups voted ‘yes’ last Friday. It is wrong of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin to imply that the ‘yes’ vote was carried by young people when people of all ages voted ‘yes’.
    I want to compliment Eamon Gilmore; without him and the support of the Labour Party and Fine Gael this ‘social revolution’ would not be possible.
    I take issue with your negative take on adolescence. I am glad that last Friday the Irish people were adolescent; rebelling against the domineering Parent and unfairness. For too long the Church in Rome with the Bishops as their mouth-piece have been the dominant ‘father’ in Ireland. The Church of Rome is like an old style family run paternalistically. The household of the Church in Ireland is revolting – saying – no more domination. We want a fairer inclusive family system. Are any of those taking part in the October synod adolescent!
    The unconscious creed of the Catholic Church is the untouchable belief in a male celibate priesthood as the glue that holds the Church together – not the Holy Spirit! So are all Synods and ‘listening’ sessions doomed? As from the outset the agenda is largely set with those in authority wanting to hold on to power and thereby putting impossible limits on the Holy Spirit.
    Given all the pre-referendum pastorals; how come there has been no pastoral on Social Justice over the past 10 years to support the struggles of so many on the ground who are trying to pay the next bill against the ‘fat cats’ at the top of all systems who are paid unbelievable salaries, bonuses and pensions? In Ireland, we have become a smug Church listening to Rome instead of the pain and suffering of ordinary people. The Irish Church had an opportunity to truly lead the way and fobbed it.
    For 100s of years we have sent missionaries (priests, sisters, laypeople) all over the world bringing hope, consolation and practical help to people on the ground. They bring a Christ-like experience to the poor and marginalised. How much we have lost that focus in Ireland with some exceptions.
    It is beyond belief that the Church in Ireland can say that Christ is our centre. Truly people are waking up from their slumber. The Irish have not given up on Christ but they are giving up on the Church – a Church that at its core is judgemental and selective.
    More and more Irish people are not going to cross the door of a Church with its ‘man made rules’ not related to Christ. To cross the door of a Church is to demand of people to compromise their belief in the unconditional love, acceptance and welcome of Christ. Many people are walking away from the Church today not that Irish society has become secular but because people are living their Christianity outside of Church doors.
    We should be eternally grateful to those who do cross the door of our churches for their faith and generosity. Maybe their presence might contribute to changes they would like to see.
    I celebrated last Saturday nite. It truly was Irish people living out their Christian values and that is worth celebrating.

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