Catholic Church Ponders Future After Same-Sex Marriage Vote in Ireland

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from The New York Times,


The morning after Ireland learned it had become the first nation to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote, Diarmuid Martin, the archbishop of Dublin, looked out at the future of the Roman Catholic Church.

It could be found at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral here, in downtown Dublin, as two rows of children awaited confirmation before him in the lofty, column-lined church.

“Boys and girls, I made my confirmation 60 years ago,” he told them, adding, “Your world is different from mine.”

Not far away, the streets were quiet after a long night of celebrating. Revelers filled the bars, beeped horns, waved rainbow flags and drank Guinness after the result was announced on Saturday. The size of the victory energized supporters, with the referendum affirmed by 62 percent of the electorate and passed in all but one of Ireland’s 43 districts.

After the votes were counted, the carefully planned and executed campaign by activist groups seemed as much about putting behind a past entrenched in theocracy and tradition as it was about marriage for gays and lesbians. And it underscored how different Ireland is today for the young, who turned out in droves to vote. In a little more than a generation, Ireland has both distanced itself from the church and sharpened its secular identity.

At St. Mary’s, the results of the referendum, as one might expect, did not come up — the archbishop instead quipped about his first experience with a cellphone. But afterward, speaking at a house next to the church, he conceded that much had changed.

“The church needs to take a reality check,” Archbishop Martin said after the Mass, repeating a comment he had made Saturday. “It’s very clear there’s a growing gap between Irish young people and the church, and there’s a growing gap between the culture of Ireland that’s developing and the church.”

The country’s cultural evolution reflects a blend of disaffection with the church, and Ireland’s willingness to embrace a wider vision of itself in the world. As the church lost many people in its scandals and its unwillingness to yield to sexual freedoms, the European Union found itself with a willing and eager member.

The shift didn’t happen overnight. After Ireland broke from Britain in 1922, it was a virtual colony to the Vatican, a theocracy in all but name.

John Charles McQuaid, the longtime archbishop of Dublin, played a central role in drafting Ireland’s Constitution before he became archbishop, hewing to conservative church doctrine and closely involving himself in details as small as the placement of commas in the document. That kind of unchecked dominance by the church continued for decades.

In 1979, more than one million people turned out for Pope John Paul II’s visit to Dublin, a staggering crowd in a country with a population of about 3.4 million at the time. In 1983, by a two-thirds majority, Ireland hewed to church teachings and passed a referendum outlawing abortion except in cases where a mother’s life was at risk, after a divisive campaign.

But signs of resistance had already been showing. In 1971, women’s rights activists organized a “condom train,” going over the border to Belfast and bringing back condoms to a country that outlawed contraception.

Tony Flannery, a priest who was suspended in 2012 because of his criticism of the church’s views on women and homosexuality, said contraception was a seminal issue for a generation that became the parents of today’s youngest voters.

And it “was the first time that Irish Catholics first questioned church teaching,” Mr. 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.”

“The people have changed their relationship with the Catholic Church because they’ve been disappointed and let down,” said Christina Breen, 54, who visited Dublin Castle on Saturday to see the results of the vote, a show of support because one of her sons is gay.

Or, as Mr. Flannery put it, “The day when the church had the power to influence social debate in Ireland, or to swing it, is gone.”

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