Ireland's Bishops urge the country to think before voting in referendum
Last weekend, Bishops across Ireland addressed the country in their pastoral letters, preaching and urging voters to think about the implications a constitutional change could have on the role of marriage, family and society.
With the forthcoming referendum on same-sex marriage just over a week away, the Bishops of Ireland have invited the country to reflect before amending the constitution on 22nd May. Five Bishops from the Dioceses of Kerry, Clonfert, Waterford & Lismore, Kilmore and Limerick issued their pastoral letters last weekend.
The Bishop of Kerry, Ray Browne expressed the importance of marriage and family in society and called for the union of same-sex couples to be developed independently under a different name. He reminded everyone that civil partnership has been introduced to the country in recent years. ‘It is important that everyone who votes be aware of the full implications of the proposed change to our Constitution. This can be done in a spirit that respects and honours every person and their personal viewpoint’, Bishop Browne said.
He explained how up to recent years society has said that “couples exchange the right to have children where possible” as part of their marriage vows. He raises the concern that many campaigners in current debates have said “openness to children” is not a part of marriage. If the referendum is passed Bishop Browne worries that there will be strong arguments that children are not part of the Constitution’s implied definition of marriage.
‘“Between a man and a woman”, “openness to children”, along with “a lifelong, loving and sharing of their whole lives” are the three most important elements of marriage’, Bishop Browne said.
The Bishop of Clonfert, John Kirby agrees with Bishop Browne’s comments as he said: ‘Marriage should be reserved for the unique and complementary relationship between a man and a woman from which the generation and upbringing of children is uniquely possible. He also regards ‘the family based on marriage as the single most important institution in any society’.
Bishop Kirby has claimed that some people have stated the referendum is about civil marriage and not church marriages. Asking if Church people have no right to speak, he explained that currently 70% of weddings occur in a church with Catholic weddings having civil effect when the standard civil document is signed.
He explained that there should be zero tolerance for any form of intimidation and it is totally opposed to Jesus’ message: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Lk 6:31) and the primary commandment laid down by Christ: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 19:19). Bishop Kirby condemned discrimination of any kind but insisted: ‘the coming referendum is not about equality’.
‘The differences between a man and a woman are not accidental to marriage but are fundamentally part of it’, he continued, ‘Children have a natural right to a mother and a father and this is the best environment for them when it is possible. Clearly there are situations when this is not possible, but that does not change the ideal. Male-female complementarity is intrinsic to marriage. It is naturally ordered to sexual union in a faithful committed relationship as a basis for new life.’
The recently ordained Bishop of Waterford & Lismore, Phonsie Cullinan also pointed out the topic of equality: ‘The message we are bombarded with is that we are all equal. This is true – we are all equal in dignity but we are not all the same.’ Bishop Cullinan made clear that men are different to women as children are different to adults. He added that the union of a man and woman is different to any kind of relationship between two men or two women as a man and woman join in bringing new life into the world and every child has a right to a mother and father.
Again agreeing with Bishops Browne and Kirby, Bishop Cullinan said: ‘Please do not think I am in any way critical of homosexual people whom I care for as I do everyone. Christ calls us to love everyone and treat all with equal compassion and respect.’ He made clear that there are many homosexual people who do not agree with the proposed amendment.
He said that common sense tells us that every child should have its ‘mammy and daddy’, which has been the way since the dawn of civilisation in every culture and on every continent. ‘Neither the Church nor the State invented marriage and neither can change its nature’ he added, ‘It is like removing concrete foundations under a house and saying that any material will do.’
Bishop Cullinan raises concerns over the nature of the family. An amendment to the constitution would give constitutional approval to the recent Children and Family Relationships Act which proposes to remove all mention of terms like ‘father’ and ‘mother’ and make all ‘family’ types the same. ‘This goes against nature itself and against God’s plan for humanity who “made them male and female”, and Jesus adds: “this is why a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and the two shall become one body”’, the Bishop said.
The Bishop of Kilmore, Leo O’Reilly pointed out that the referendum is a ‘sensitive issue’. He expressed that while he hopes not to offend anybody, it is a very important decision that deserves attention and careful thought. He said that during his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis faced a similar referendum in Argentina. Pope Francis’ advice on the matter was: “A marriage (made up of man and woman) is not the same as the union of two people of the same sex. To distinguish is not to discriminate but to respect differences … At a time when we place emphasis on the richness of pluralism and social and cultural diversity, it is a contradiction to minimise human differences. A father is not the same as a mother.”
Leading back to Bishop Cullinan’s concerns over the nature of the family, Bishop O’Reilly said: ‘It is surely a fundamental right of a child that he or she should have the right to know and enjoy the companionship of its natural mother and father, where that is possible. Sometimes, through death or for other reasons this is not possible, and that is always painful and regrettable. This referendum, if passed, taken together with the provisions of the Children and Family Relationships Act, will deny the fundamental right of some children to a mother and a father.’ The Bishop added: ‘The referendum on same-sex marriage would put the wishes of adults ahead of the rights of children.’
The Bishop of Limerick, Brendan Leahy, in agreement with Bishop Cullinan said: “The issue before us is not a specifically Catholic Question. Marriage and family existed before the Church and before the State.’ He said the Irish State should be able to find a way to protect the civil rights of homosexual people without undermining the meaning of marriage, which is ‘as old as the hills’.
He has asked that voters consider whether the amendment is actually about equality. He points out that if the amendment is passed, the traditional marriage will lose its unique identity and that the Constitutional and Irish case-law understanding of family will change radically. Bishop Leahy has called the removal of the terms ‘mother’ and ‘father’ from previous legislation under the Children and Family Relationships Act ‘unfortunate’ as there was very little public debate concerning a major issue. ‘This referendum, if passed, will copper-fasten it. But don’t words matter, especially words like mother and father, which have existed for millennia and for a reason?’ He asked.
As the Bishops of Ireland ask the country to carefully consider what exactly is best for society and for children, Bishop Cullinan reiterates: ‘We are all equal but we are not all the same’. Bishop O’Reilly reminds those voting in the referedum that this month, ‘May is a month of special devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and I ask you to pray to her for all our families and for the renewal and strengthening of family life’.