Reading the Results

Rod Dreher has a Roman Catholic friend who says, “There is nothing more depressing than people who say ‘things are great, couldn’t be better,’ when it’s so obvious that the opposite is true.” In that spirit and for the edification of non-Protestant Western Christians who hang around Old Life, I run down some of the pertinent reflections on Ireland’s approval of same-sex marriage.

Tim Stanley thinks (thanks to our southern correspondent) the church needs to reform herself — especially Irish Roman Catholicism — before tackling the world (maybe even the world’s climate):

And yet there certainly is confusion and muddle – and that’s the second, perhaps bigger thing that Catholics ought to worry about. The mission of Catholicism itself is obviously in need of renewal. Otherwise the Church wouldn’t have lost that referendum.

When I wrote that Ireland had rejected Catholicism, I got a lot of angry replies. Half said, “Good!” (which proved my point). The other half said, “But I’m Catholic and I voted for gay marriage.” This poses an interesting question. Is someone who calls themselves a Catholic yet who publicly rejects Catholic teaching still a Catholic? It’s not just lay Irish who were doing this but priests, too. And across the Western world there are clerics who are actively working to shift Church teaching in a new direction. One liberal Catholic wrote a strong rebuff of my piece for Time Magazine from which I infer the view that Catholicism is something more than just its doctrines – that 4 + 4 can equal 5 under certain special circumstances. What are the roots of this contrarian religious stance?

Ireland offers an interesting answer. There are two stories of the Irish Church. One is the powerful institution that became unhealthily entwined with the state – a state dominated by a single party that used populism, nationalism and corruption to stay in power. It was a Catholic consensus that was conservative in the worst sense: authoritarian, entrenched, out of touch with the real needs. Covering up paedophile abuse was the sickest manifestation of its fascism.

But the other story of the Church in Ireland is of an institution that disregarded a great deal of its teachings and majesty to lurch towards progressivism. A man raised in the Irish Church explained to me that congregants had been told since birth that Catholicism is all about equality, socialism, community, inclusiveness, family. Its liturgical style is represented in exaggerated form by the famous singing priest who broke with the formal Mass to give his rendition of a Leonard Cohen song at a wedding. This is the Church of motherhood: the Church that gives and gives and gives without asking anything of its congregants. It doesn’t really treat them as mature souls who can be spoken to honestly about the facts. It is a faith almost stripped of the less cosy aspects of its teachings.

Michael Sean Winters follows Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s line about the referendum functioning as a reality check and describes what that check should involve:

What does a reality check look like? The first thing the hierarchy – in Ireland and in the United States – should do is have some long listening sessions with young people. Ask them why they support same sex marriage. They are not trying to destroy Western civilization. Most of them are not gay or lesbian themselves. To them, society must be first and foremost about mutual respect and religion should learn to be more tolerant. They are not wrong to think that. It is good Catholic theology. Bishops and pastors and lay leaders should ask them how they seek to follow the Lord Jesus in their romantic and sexual lives. Do they keep religion and sex separate? Do they think God has something to say about the subject? Before preaching to the next generation of Catholics, Church leaders are well advised to listen to them first, and not just to the choir a la Mrs. Clinton, but a real listening session with people who are not hand-picked for their docility.

The second thing the leaders of the Church must do is stop using phrases like “intrinsically disordered” which have been a disaster pastorally and misunderstood theologically. They should have the courage to admit in public what many will admit in private, that the Church’s theology on homosexuality is woefully inadequate. They must stop acting as if knowing this one discrete fact about a person, the fact that he or she is gay, is enough to form a judgment about the whole person. We don’t think our society is justified in sentencing Dzohkar Tsarnaev to death on account of his one, truly terrible act; We should not justify societal exclusion based on one characteristic. The Church at Her best never ceases proclaiming the integrity and dignity of the human person, the whole human person, no matter their choices and their preferences, still less something over which they have no choice whatsoever.

Frank Bruni at the New York Times connects the dots between Ireland and the rest of the Roman Catholic West:

Take a look at this list of countries: Belgium, Canada, Spain, Argentina, Portugal, Brazil, France, Uruguay, Luxembourg and Ireland. Name two things that they have in common.

They don’t share a continent, obviously. Or a language.

But in all of them, the Roman Catholic Church has more adherents, at least nominally, than any other religious denomination does.

And all of them belong to the vanguard of 20 nations that have decided to make same-sex marriage legal.

In fact, countries with a Catholic majority or plurality make up half of those where two men or two women can now wed or will soon be able to.

Ireland, obviously, is the freshest addition to the list. It’s also, in some ways, the most remarkable one. It’s the first country to approve same-sex marriage by a popular referendum. The margin wasn’t even close. About 62 percent of voters embraced marriage equality.

And they did so despite a past of great fealty to the Catholic Church’s official teachings on, for example, contraception, which was outlawed in Ireland until 1980, and abortion, which remains illegal in most circumstances.

Irish voters nonetheless rejected the church’s formal opposition to same-sex marriage. This act of defiance was described, accurately, as an illustration of church leaders’ loosening grip on the country.

Finally, the folks at Commonweal explain gay-friendly Roman Catholicism in the wake of Ireland’s referendum and the recent Pew report:

So what other answers might there be to the question of why American Catholics are so supportive? I have three suggestions and I hope that readers will add more. First, perhaps the fact that Catholics have a celibate clergy that includes a large number of gay men means that the fear bred from ignorance is less likely to be operative than in other traditions. Second, could it be that a natural law approach to ethical questions, that is, that reason should guide our thinking and our conclusions, is bred into the Catholic bone? Third, might Catholics be so imbued with the sacramental principle that they recognize any expression of genuine love to be evidence of God’s presence in the world, and hence to be cherished rather than condemned? In Ireland or here or elsewhere, the actual principal difference between leaders and people, on same-sex issues or birth control or religious freedom or perhaps many other issues, is that the leadership thinks deductively while the rank and file think inductively. Experience trumps ideology, which—strangely enough—is Pope Francis’s consistent message!

Meanwhile, the one with the power to interpret has not spoken, as Stanley notes, “Pope Francis remained silent on the Irish vote during his Pentecost Sunday address.” Bryan and the Jasons are in good company. Perhaps Pope Francis’ silence owes to his residence in Vatican City which is encircled by Italy:

Many people were taken aback this week when Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, called Ireland’s referendum to allow gay marriage “not only a defeat for Christian principles, but also somewhat a defeat for humanity.”­ The reason for the surprise is because the 60-year-old cardinal has been portrayed as being more open-minded than the stereotypical Vatican bureaucrat or the average Church conservative.

“I was deeply saddened by the result,” Cardinal Parolin told the press. “Certainly, as the Archbishop of Dublin said, the Church needs to do a reality check, but in my opinion it must do so in the sense that it has to actually strengthen its entire commitment (to marriage) and also make an effort to evangelize our culture,” he said.

The cardinal’s comments turned the heads of those that believed (perhaps a bit too naively) that Pope Francis had led the Church to adopt a more conciliatory tone in dealing with the so-called culture wars. But it is precisely culture—and Italian culture in particular—that is the key to understanding Cardinal Parolin’s strong reaction.

Italy has remained the most conservative country in all of Europe when it comes to social conventions and customs. At least up to now. It does not allow stem-cell research and has some of the most restrictive legislation concerning other bioethical issues. It does not even recognize so-called “living wills” that allow individuals to refuse life support in cases when they are left comatose.


23 thoughts on “Reading the Results

  1. I look forward to reading this. Updated tally sheet for number of blogposts and comments in the are the CTCers paying attention? category, included for the reader’s perusal.

    Blessings to all you non-Protestant Western Christians who can’t get enough DGH! We understand.


  2. In that spirit and for the edification of non-Protestant Western Christians who hang around Old Life, I run down some of the pertinent reflections on Ireland’s approval of same-sex marriage.

    Scarcely able to conceal his glee that the Catholic Church might be half as incoherent as Protestantism, Dr. Hart’s usual Murderer’s Row of “experts” on Catholicism from the secular press and liberal Catholic dissidents.

    “Pope Francis remained silent on the Irish vote during his Pentecost Sunday address.”

    Quite. When you’re in a hole, stop digging. The historic corruption of the Catholic Church in Ireland, coupled with the Irish people’s disdain for their culture since embracing the European Union, made this a lost battle.

    What does it mean? No one knows. In a church with a 2000-year history, these currents come and go. Still, the threat to all Christianity–including the dozens or hundreds of Protestant sects–is modernity. Radical egalitarianism, specifically the Sexual Revolution, clears everything in its path.


  3. TVD,

    Since you seem to care so much, why should I listen to your opinion of Roman Catholicism over theirs?

    They actually practice that religion. You are a pundit, and we have no idea where your allegiances stand.

    Just sayin


  4. Andrew Buckingham
    Posted May 28, 2015 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Since you seem to care so much, why should I listen to your opinion of Roman Catholicism over theirs?

    You don’t listen to either their opinion or mine, you just type. So what’s the difference?

    If you feel you must “help” Darryl by poisoning the well on every single comment I make, then do what you must.


  5. <blockquote cite="".You don’t listen to either their opinion or mine, you just type. So what’s the difference?

    Great, you’ve got the floor then, man. The blog is yours. That’s all your really after, isn’t it? For your voice to be heard? We understand, and we hear you, Tom. Now I would ask that you please try on this thread not to swear or call people names. It’s not nice, and it makes our religion look bad. We actually work hard to promote it, in our real lives. Try to understand where we are coming from, those of us who work day in and day out in the church. But now I’ve just typed more and taken up more of your time. Mea culpa, truly.



  6. D. G. Hart
    Posted May 28, 2015 at 4:21 pm | Permalink
    vd, t, but remember, before Vatican 2 the magisterium was agin modernity. Then the bishops opened the window — good and hard.

    The Catholic Church is still against modernity, Dr. Hart. It just got lazy in its arguments and arrogant in its communication, much like The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

    “Because the Church says so” is as useless as “Because the Bible says so.”

    As the Summa Contra Gentiles notes:

    Thus, against the Jews we are able to argue by means of the Old Testament, while against heretics we are able to argue by means of the New Testament. But the Mohammedans and Pagans accept neither the one nor the other. We must, therefore, have recourse to natural reason, to which all men are forced to give their assent.

    Even more pressing in this modern age, the arguments for “liberalizing” the Bible are very clever, and even Christians of good will can fall for them. “Recourse to natural reason” is needed everywhere, indeed in every quarter of the Christian world, not just “against the Gentiles.”

    IOW, that goes for you, too. There is no difference between what happened in Ireland and what happened in the PCUSA, except the latter may be even worse: Ireland is a country, not a church.


  7. TVD:
    Radical egalitarianism, specifically the Sexual Revolution, clears everything in its path.>>>>

    Yes, it does. It will eventually destroy itself, since it is not based on truth. However, it will continue to do a tremendous amount of damage before it runs its course.


  8. Tom, one other minor nit, one thing I’ve noticed about our host since talking with him out here:

    As kind as Dr. Hart is, I think he prefers to go by his first name, Darryl, in these informal situations such as blog discussions.

    Take care.


  9. Mrs. Webfoot,

    Tom cusses in his songs, part of that

    arrogant in its communication

    in society that he decries may be due to his public jams on the YouTube channel? hmm?!?!


  10. Mrs. Webfoot
    Posted May 28, 2015 at 4:55 pm | Permalink
    Radical egalitarianism, specifically the Sexual Revolution, clears everything in its path.>>>>

    Yes, it does. It will eventually destroy itself, since it is not based on truth. However, it will continue to do a tremendous amount of damage before it runs its course.

    Slouching Towards Gomorrah.

    “The ideological triumph of liberalism among American elites, far from bringing the individual and social enlightenment it promised, has produced unprecedented decay. The principal victims of this decay are the poorest and most vulnerable among us, those most in need of a healthy culture. Bork courageously and boldly states these truths. A judge as wise as Solomon has become a prophet as powerful as Isaiah.”


  11. TVD
    Posted May 28, 2015 at 6:25 pm | Permalink
    Mrs. Webfoot
    Posted May 28, 2015 at 4:55 pm | Permalink



  12. No, we’re discussing. You’re mocking and harassing. You must think everyone here is stupid.

    But do what you must.


  13. But do what you must.

    Thanks for your permission. If you wish to explain how I am mocking and harrassing, please elaborate. As it stands, baseless, and unsupported. But do what you must.

    contraception, which was outlawed in Ireland until 1980

    That’s new for me. People always come back to OLTS because there is learning here. And who doesn’t want to see Tom and Mrs. Webfoot discuss their theological thoughts here in public on a reformed website? They must not be getting the kind of oversight at their own church that they so desparately need, tsk tsk.

    Contraception in the Republic of Ireland
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Contraception was illegal in Ireland from 1935 until 1980, when it was legalised with strong restrictions, later loosened. This reflected Catholic teachings on sexual morality.


  14. RSC, what DGH has helped me to understand is to view the RC church much like the Protestant Mainline (especially in light of VatII). I don’t think RCism is quite that bad, but it seems clear to me it’s taking its cues from the old mainline denominations have done. We can pray for the RC church, but more importantly, prayer for the church I find myself in, after all, it’s got ME in it (emoticon).

    Glad to see you around here and are keeping an eye on things. Grace and peace.


  15. If Irish exceptionalism can ruin Roman Catholicism, what will American exceptionalism do to Protestantism?

    Irish society never fully recovered from the Civil War that humiliated it in 1922-23. The internecine conflict was, as Thomas MacGreevy once wrote, a last humiliation by the British Empire, disillusioning Irish nationalism just at the moment when it had achieved something like victory—a modest independence called “home rule.” In the subsequent decades, Irish politics was marked by a persistence of nationalist ambition to make Ireland in actuality what it has long been regarded as being: a distinctively Catholic republic that would stand outside the main tendencies of western Europe toward secularization, economic liberalization, and, later, the welfare state.

    In this ambition, they succeeded. The Church enjoyed a central place in Irish public life; its charitable institutions served as a non-state agent to educate, heal, and care for the Irish people in lieu of public schools, hospitals, and other social services. The long-reigning Eamonn De Valera attempted a third-way economy—one founded on agriculture and autarchy, especially in regards to its powerful neighbor. This last was not a great achievement, though it was more successful than it would have been had the ranks of Ireland’s lower classes not already been emigrating in a continuous flow for most of the previous century.

    The persistence of these nationalist ambitions should not surprise us, given the tremendous symbolic power generated in the decades before independence. Nonetheless, it was a waning influence from the beginning. In the 1950s, the Irish economy was liberalized and increasingly opened to the European market. That was sufficient to make most Irish conclude that their country was nothing special; it should rightly assume its place as a marginal junior player in the global economy. Economic liberalization led to secularization, or might have, were it not for a string of public controversies, including votes on abortion and divorce, that reminded many Irish of their distinctive self-image as a Catholic nation—much to the anguish of liberals, including the literati, who sought to show that the only thing distinctive about Ireland was that it was much worse than other countries.

    It was the expansion of the Irish economy and the sex scandals in the Church in the 1990s that brought this long developing contempt for Irish exceptionalism to a head. It seemed to vindicate every accusation of Ireland as a backward backwater of hypocrisy. But this contempt for the past was softened by the unprecedented prosperity of the Celtic Tiger. The young were too busy earning money and spending it to have children much less to attend to the dissolution of Ireland’s Catholic culture.

    When the global economy collapsed in 2008, Ireland was among the handful of worst-hit small countries. Emigration increased to highs not seen for decades. The time had come for reprisals. Their hopes for prosperity dashed, the Irish had few political options, and a future of bailouts and austerity imposed from abroad. Enda Kenny was elected Prime Minister on a European liberal economic platform, but it soon became clear that his power could only be enhanced by taking Irish society in a leftward direction. Every confrontation he staged with the Church, he won. He was called brave for taking on such a venerable but hidebound institution in the name of truth and progress; but, indeed, how much bravery could it require to fight a battle he could not lose? The disappointments of Irish society were increasingly expressed as contempt for the Church.

    Year by year, government inquiries into sexual abuse within Church-run institutions, the physical abuses of those in the care of nuns and priests, and finally the supposed unearthing of mass graves of children on the properties of homes for unwed mothers. The stories themselves were increasingly distorted in the press, but nobody cared; the outrage and contempt only increased. To present oneself as a faithful Catholic in contemporary Ireland would require far more bravery than, say, to present oneself as a practitioner of sodomy.


  16. Imagine that, all that teaching on the theology of the body by a celebrity pope and no one was listening:

    Dublin’s archbishop described the result as a “social revolution.”
    “It’s a social revolution that didn’t begin today,” he said. “It’s a social revolution that’s been going on, and perhaps in the Church people have not been as clear in understanding what that involved.

    “It’s very clear that if this referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people, then the Church has a huge task in front of it to find the language to be able to talk to and to get its message across to young people, not just on this issue, but in general.”

    David Quinn, director of the pro-marriage Iona Institute and de factor leader of the referendum ‘No’ campaign believes the Church does need a “reality check.”

    “The reality check is that the Church has done almost no catechesis in the area of marriage for years and years. It has done lots of pastoral counseling, but it has not taught on a systematic basis what marriage is and why it is so important to society and why it can only be between a man and a woman by its very nature,” he told the Register.

    Quinn believes this failure of catechesis “is why many Catholics were bowled over when the referendum came, especially as they have been subjected by the media to such relentless propaganda in favor of gay marriage for years.”


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