By Sarah Mac Donald - 01 June, 2015
The Primate of All Ireland has defended the Church’s involvement in the marriage referendum indicating that those commentators who suggested that the Irish Church has lost its way are wrong.
Speaking at the annual Armagh diocesan pilgrimage to Knock on Sunday, Archbishop Eamon Martin said he had received many messages and letters about the referendum.
“Some accuse the Church of not doing enough to stop the amendment; others take the opposite view, criticising the Church for trying to stridently present a message that, they say, was out of touch with the people,” he explained.
He told the congregation gathered for Mass at the Co Mayo shrine that the discussions around the referendum had helped people become more aware of the “alienation and isolation often experienced by gay people”.
In his homily, Archbishop Martin said that among the many lessons that the Church could learn from the referendum debate was to re-commit itself to the pastoral care of anyone in society experiencing “victimisation and stigmatisation”.
The bishops, he explained, undertook to inform voters both nationally and locally by explaining, from faith and from reason, the Church’s position on marriage and why they disagreed with changing the meaning of marriage in the Constitution.
“At the same time we emphasised that gay people should always be treated with respect and sensitivity,” he said.
Affirming those who spoke up courageously and chose to vote in support of the unique union of marriage between a man and a woman and the dignity of difference between male and female, the Archbishop said he was also conscious, from the correspondence that he had received, that many people were conflicted about how to vote.
“It is clear from the reaction to the referendum result that many people voted in favour of the amendment believing it to be a way of showing tolerance and respect towards gay people, including family members and friends,” he said.
He suggested that the changed social and political climate in Ireland brings new pastoral realities for the Catholic Church and fresh challenges.
“We need not be daunted by these challenges, nor stand around like the first disciples staring into the sky. There is work to be done! We must get on with it!” he exhorted.
In post-referendum Ireland, the Church had a duty to proclaim the ‘Gospel of the Family’ and care for the ‘covenant of marriage’ and this fell to every member of the Church – lay, ordained or consecrated.
“With the help of the Holy Spirit, and strengthened by prayer, we can face squarely today’s pastoral realities, neither giving in to despondency, nor opting for simple vilification of those who disagree with us,” the Primate of All Ireland stated.
Dr Martin expressed the hope that the Catholic Church would continue to have an important voice in discussions in the public square on matters relating to human life, the dignity of the person, the family, care for the poor and marginalised, the environment, justice and peace.
Speaking after Mass to RTE News in Knock, he said the bishops had not yet decided whether priests would continue solemnising marriages for the State ad he said the issue would be discussed at the bishops’ meeting in Maynooth in June.