Reeling from its recent defeat in a referendum to legalize “gay marriage” in Ireland, the Roman Catholic Church is on the defensive in a country once defined by its adherence to the faith.
Eamon Martin, archbishop of Armagh and head of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, called for a period of reflection Sunday in his first public comments following the defeat.
Martin stated the church must “recommit ourselves to the pastoral care of anyone in society who experiences victimization or stigmatization.”
However, the church may also have to change its role in more fundamental ways in Irish society, as it may cease solemnizing marriages for the state, depending on the specifics of pending “gay marriage” legislation.
The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Matin, had called for the church to do a “reality check” after the vote amid criticism the institution had failed to communicate its message to young people.
Church officials continue to frame the problem as an issue of messaging, and there is no indication the church will change its core doctrines on sexual morality.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, has described the vote as a “defeat for humanity.”
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Former presidential candidate, legendary conservative activist and bestselling author Pat Buchanan sees little hope for the Roman Catholic Church to turn the tide.
In an interview with WND, the author of “The Death of the West” said: “Ireland appears to be going the way of Europe and America. Christianity is everywhere in retreat before the onslaught of secularism, materialism, and hedonism, especially among the young. And I think it holds.”
Buchanan criticized “gay marriage” proponents for assuming Ireland can be sustained once it has been stripped of the faith that built the country.
“When the faith dies, the culture it produced begins to die, then the civilization goes, and, then, the population,” he warned.
And despite the best efforts of Catholic clergy, teachers, and religious orders, Buchanan is pessimistic the church can reconnect with young people.
“As for the Catholic schools, I am sure that many of the priests, nuns and lay teachers are doing their best, but in the 21st century, the devil has all the best tunes,” he said.
“And, clearly, St. Patrick did not drive all the snakes out of Ireland,” said Buchanan, alluding to the popular legend.
Professor Paul Kengor, author of “Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage,” agrees the changes in Ireland are likely to be permanent.
“This is not your grandfather’s Ireland – it isn’t Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan or Bing Crosby as Father O’Malley,” he said.
More importantly, said Kengor, Ireland is simply joining the larger trend towards the secularism already dominant in Europe.
“Ireland is simply following the secular-moral decay of neighbors like Scotland and, basically, all of Europe. In fact, if anything, Ireland’s longtime solid Roman Catholic roots have kept it on a pro-family path longer the rest of Europe – in favor of traditional-natural-biblical marriage and generally pro-life on the abortion issue. Unfortunately, as Ireland has slowly but surely broken from those roots, it’s fallen into the cultural morass that both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis described as a continent awash in a dictatorship of relativism.”
Kengor believes the image of “Catholic Ireland” had already faded before the referendum.
“Even before gay marriage was approved, the Irish were practicing all sorts of things contrary to their church’s sacred teachings and undermining the traditional Irish family. High levels of contraception and very low birth rates and family sizes are among those practices.”
A 2012 study showed less than half of the population considered themselves religious.
Kengor blames the Roman Catholic Church itself for failing to teach its values to children and allowing priests to endanger those under their care.
“Decade after decade of failed religious catechesis in Ireland, as well as the nation’s own wretched and terrible priest scandal – marked by an alarmingly high number of pedophile priests – have pushed the nation away from its spiritual underpinnings. There has been a vocations crisis there for quite a while, where Ireland is no longer generating priests – once a staple of Irish culture, and even one of Ireland’s most appealing ‘exports’ to the United States.
“Thus, it isn’t a surprise to see the Irish going down the road of redefining marriage in whatever way the cultural of the moment deems fit. As religion and religious influence declines, so does any semblance of moral absolutes. Ireland and Europe today, America tomorrow.”
Tom Piatak, president of the Rockford Institute, which publishes Chronicles magazine, and a self-described Catholic conservative, says the cultural changes in Ireland in just have few years have been “profoundly shocking.”
“It’s one thing to have gay marriage foisted on an unwilling citizenry by tyrannical judges; it’s another for the people to freely choose it,” he said.
Piatak believes what is most shocking is how the “gay marriage” referendum contrasts with the strong social conservatism expressed by Irish voters only a few decades ago.
He noted: “In 1983, the Irish people voted two to one to give constitutional protection to the unborn and in 1986, the Irish voted two to one against legalizing divorce. A referendum to allow gay marriage in the 1980s would have lost by an even more lopsided margin.
“And even though Ireland now allows divorce and even abortion in some cases, those changes in the law were not brought about by a widespread public rejection of church teaching. The 1995 referendum legalizing divorce passed by the narrowest of margins and abortion became legal in some cases only because the courts have repeatedly undermined the 1983 referendum and the major Irish parties connived to push a liberal abortion law through the Dáil in 2013.”
Piatak says the Catholic mentality of Ireland, exemplified in the 1937 constitution which begins “In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity,” is on the defensive today.
And while Piatak concedes the church has some things to apologize for, he believes the vote was the predictable result of a long media campaign against Christians.
“In recent decades, fashionable opinion in Ireland has begun to treat the Catholic church the way Irish opinion used to regard the British. Every ill in Irish society is now blamed on the church,” he said.
Piatak believes even non-Catholics and non-Irish should be deeply concerned about what is happening in the Emerald Isle.
“No conservative should be indifferent to what is now happening in Ireland. And each victory for gay marriage will be trumpeted by a media that wants Americans opposed to gay marriage to give up the fight,” he said.