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Bishop Leahy draws lessons from Referendum result

By Susan Gately - 30 May, 2015

Bishop Brendan Leahy

Bishop Brendan Leahy

The time of excitement over the same sex referendum will pass, but it would be remiss not to take lessons from it Bishop Brendan Leahy has said.

“Clearly it tells us we can’t continue with ‘business as usual’. I believe we have to make preferential options in all our pastoral planning – opting for young people, for outreach to people on the peripheries, for dialogue with people who hold different opinions, for witness to genuine community life, for creativity in our catechesis.”

The Bishop of Limerick said that the referendum also put marriage back centre stage and the Church must build on that.

Speaking to CatholicIreland.net, Bishop Leahy described his feelings as the result of the referendum became apparent.

Initial reports suggested a landslide. In the end almost 40% of the public rejected the amendment, but “there is no doubting whatsoever the will of the people in relation to this matter,” he said.

Dr Leahy appreciated the exuberance of the Yes side and their “genuine delight at the triumph of equality, compassion and generosity”.

There was a certain paradox in this, he said, “in the sense that the values proclaimed by the ‘Yes’ campaign are also central to the Church’s own teaching in recent decades, about being respectful towards all in society, to love everyone.”

It was central to the ‘Yes’ side of the argument but also to the ‘No’ side, he said.

“On the other hand I began to think about how we haven’t perhaps communicated sufficiently the art of critical discernment in the light of the Gospel and faith. That is a lesson we need to learn from.”

As a person of faith, the Bishop said he found himself renewing his belief “in the love of God to be found in all things, including when something does not go the way you want. God knows how to draw good out of everything. The challenge is to tune into what God is doing in all of this.”

Bishop Leahy said the Church had a great Gospel message to communicate, “but the ‘how’ to do so had to be discovered in a new way.”

Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” also applied to the Church as a community, he said.

“The challenge is to rediscover and re-propose the Church as a community of authentic love, freedom and truth.” It’s not enough to do so in words, he said, we also need “new platforms of life and witness” especially for young people.

On the plus side, the Referendum had put marriage back centre stage, he said.

“The Church needs to build on that. What vision of marriage do we propose? How do we best prepare for it? How can the Church best accompany families not just as individuals but as families?”

Asked about criticisms levelled against the hierarchy that they had not been strong enough in their support of the No side, the Bishop of Limerick admitted that the tone of Bishops’ interventions were “not particularly strident” but “rather respectful and pastorally sensitive”.

This was because of their “pastoral concern for everyone” knowing that their words would be heard by people who were gay themselves or had gay family members.

Asked if the the result represented another nail in the coffin of the influence of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Bishop Leahy said although the Church had faced “huge challenges” in Ireland over recent decades, it was not “going away”.

“It will take quite some time to turn things around but that will come about.  Sure, we would prefer if it were more popular now but religion is not a popularity contest,” he said.

“I have respect for all beliefs even if I disagree with them and I hope that when the dust settles on this referendum, our beliefs on this will be equally respected and we move on and move on together.”

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