Belfast Telegraph

Same sex marriage vote shows Churches have lost hold of nation's conscience in Republic of Ireland

Clergy of whatever hue left reeling by State with a new moral focus, writes Malachi O'Doherty

It is sinking in with a few people now how much more radical the Yes vote on Same Sex Marriage is, and it changes their world more profoundly than the debate anticipated.

The difficulty with grasping how shocking this is for the Churches is that they are usually dishonest about what is really bothering them. Like when people campaign against condoms on the grounds that they leak, when actually their motivation is a theological objection to artificial contraception.

That grasping for a practical argument against gay marriage characterised the No case, because theology hasn't the confidence to say what it means.

So, what would the Churches be saying now if they were declaring their anxiety honestly?

They would be admitting, as Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin has, that they have lost hold of the Irish conscience.

And yet the irony is that those Yes voters, including the young, were mostly educated in Irish Catholic schools. Voting as they have done, they have said a lot more than that they want their gay friends and siblings to be happy; they have said that they don't give a fig for the Catholic Church's view on the matter.

Many of them go to church, but to access its comforts, not to be instructed in how to think and feel. They don't take that from a Church which has already disgraced itself.

Some bishops might have thought the Catholic Church was recovering from the era of scandal. Clearly it hasn't.

This is a crisis for those parishes, because the a la carte occasional Catholics aren't going to be paying much in towards church maintenance.

They might want to be married or buried or have their children baptised in church, but they will have little other use for the clergy. And yet even that isn't the worst of it.

The real shock for all the Christian Churches in Ireland is that they now function inside a State which has a different moral focus.

They have never had that before, except in the foreign missions. They have always assumed that they and the Irish State shared the same basic vision of right and wrong, and now they have parted from each other in that.

As a consequence of that shock, they are reeling.

Dr Martin wants a "reality check". It will just tell him how much his Church has lost.

Norman Hamilton, Convener of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland's Council for Church in Society, fears that those who hold the traditional view of marriage will be "marginalised or demeaned" and urges them to "turn the other cheek".

This is the language of people who fear they are now vulnerable in a society that has left them behind.

They may get used to being factional interests within the State now, and give up the fantasy that they speak for the people.

Further Reading

Why I'm proud to reveal my true self after the historic Yes vote over the border

Public vote will not change our stance, say the Churches

Yes vote shows Churches have lost hold of nation's conscience

Pressure growing for a referendum to take place in Northern Ireland 

  Irish gay marriage referendum: Pressure to build on Northern Ireland's politicians to allow vote on gay marriage

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