How Could You Possibly Vote No? A Parish Priest Reflects

Having at times been critical of a lack of leadership, I feel it is important to speak on the upcoming referendum. You know me well enough to know I will not be advising you on how to vote. Hopefully you would resist that. I would however, urge you to spend time in prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to give us the gifts of right judgement and courage. I was tempted to keep quiet. I believe our moral voice, as a Church, was weakened, yes, by the abuse itself, but particularly by the appalling way it was handled. Today as well as the beautiful Church, in which Jesus is visible and active, we still glimpse an abusive Church. This is evident in intemperate language, often mirrored in a lack of compassion. I am amazed at how people have bought the equality argument, seemingly without question. I genuinely wish it were as simple as that. Given my upbringing in Northern Ireland I abhor all forms of discrimination, indeed, from my student days I have been active against it, my only arrest as a result of taking part in anti-apartheid activities. However after prayer and reflection I cannot see how we can reduce this referendum to being simply about equality. It is more complex than that.

I do not trust the government. It has an anti-Church bias and a secular agenda which shows scant regard for faith. I believe we have entered a post-Christian Era during which Ireland will struggle to retain her soul. I am not saying the government is responsible for all this, but it certainly has not helped. At times politicians have indulged in populist Church bashing. Evidence of the loss of Ireland’s soul is found in our drug and alcohol sub-cultures, in the over-sexualisation of young people, in clothes, language and behaviour. There is an erosion of respect for the sacred. We have become strong on rights and weak on responsibility. I am disappointed that, for all our intelligence, we have not had the imagination to come up with a new term honouring the permanency of same-sex unions and at the same time not denying the sacred marriage between a man and a woman.

Indeed, to my mind, it is a complex issue, at the heart of which is a simple truth, namely that two men, or two women cannot have a baby, without recourse to a third party. It is disingenuous to say this is the same as, a man and woman. Plainly it is not. This referendum asks us to broaden and fundamentally change what we mean by marriage. The complementarity of a man and a woman is central to what we mean by marriage. The relationship that exists between man and woman is unique and is uniquely expressed in its fruitfulness. This relationship is different to all others. I would have more respect for the yes campaign if it was more honest about this. The impending change in how we define marriage makes me nervous. I wonder where this is going. I am mainly concerned for children. Not I hasten to add do I wonder whether they will be loved and cherished within a same sex union. I have no doubt well loved. No, what concerns me is the unbridled drive for one’s rights, usually coming without a mention of responsibility. I would like to hear more about the children’s rights, especially with regard to knowing their biological parents and their desire, sometimes their need, to know their genetic background.

I have met gay men and women in the course of my ministry and found them to be the best. Kind,courageous and loving. Often they have been hurt, usually through prejudice, sometimes by Church. I hope I made them welcome and feel respected. The last thing I would want, would be to cause further hurt. Many of them tell me their hopes, and dreams were largely recognised in the civil-partnership legislation. This was an important step forward in Ireland’s growing up. My friends, on the present proposal I believe we need to be very cautious. There is much at stake. However we vote let’s not be unduly influenced by the desire to be popular, the cult of celebrity, or the manipulation of our emotions, especially through guilt.

Fr Joe McDonald, PP, St. Matthew’s, Ballyfermot, May 11th 2015

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