Dublin, Ireland, May 7, 2015 / 02:01 am
Both Pope Francis' clear affirmation of marriage as a union of a man and a woman and his efforts to reach out to those who reject this are vital for Christians in the gay marriage debate, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said on Wednesday.
"We are all struck by the manner in which Pope Francis seems to be able to speak clearly about doctrine, and yet respect and embrace those who cannot find their way to follow that doctrine," the archbishop said May 6 in a speech to diocesan communications officers at a gathering at All Hallows College, Dublin.
"In the debates around same-sex marriage in Argentina, Pope Francis was unequivocal in his judgment about its non-admissibility, yet he consistently told people not to judge any individual."
The archbishop said many on both sides of the debate about marriage find this approach to be "untenable: certain things, they say, are simply wrong and to be condemned and there is no way in which we can countenance any response except repentance and change of life style. Others will say that the only way in which the Church can show mercy is by changing its teaching."
"Pope Francis espouses neither of these positions in isolation."
The Dublin archbishop's comments come ahead of the Republic of Ireland's May 22 referendum to consider whether to amend the country's constitution to define marriage as a contract for "two persons without distinction as to their sex," allowing the legal recognition of same-sex unions as marriages.
Civil partnerships for same-sex couples were introduced in Ireland in 2010.
The Republic of Ireland's four main political parties all support the referendum, and polls suggest the referendum could win a majority of voters.
Referendum opponents have said redefining marriage would neglect the best interests of children in having both a mother and a father and would neglect the unique nature of motherhood and fatherhood. They have also warned that there are no appropriate conscience protections for people with religious and moral objections to assisting in same-sex ceremonies or otherwise recognizing such unions.
Archbishop Martin affirmed his intention to vote against the referendum.
He cited Pope Francis' April 15 general audience remarks that man and woman are "made in the likeness of God." The difference between man and woman is not meant to be a difference of opposition or of subordination. Rather, this difference is "for the sake of communion and generation, always in the image and likeness of God," the Pope said.
Archbishop Martin said the principle of human equality should be understood in a wider context that includes the complementarity of the sexes, and other relationships in society.
"That we exist as male and female is not a marginal dimension of being human," he said, again noting the significance of the relationship between man and woman in conceiving and nurturing children.
The archbishop made an understated criticism of referendum supporters who cite the Pope as a justification for their vote.
"I find it interesting that many of those supporting the yes campaign object to the use of religious language, but they are not shy in quoting Pope Francis in support of their arguments, although I feel that their knowledge of Pope Francis' repertoire is somewhat restricted."
Archbishop Martin also considered the future for the Church regardless of the referendum outcome.
"The referendum will come and go," he said. "A yes vote will approve fundamental changes to the understanding of marriage with the consequences that this would involve. But the Church's teaching on marriage and the family and its relevance to social ethics will remain the same, no matter the referendum result."
The archbishop stressed the need to acknowledge problems in the Church's past and present actions. "The Church has been negligent in presenting more effectively its own teaching, " he reflected. "The Church in Ireland for far too long started out from the position that the majority of Irish men and women understood and accepted the Church's teaching on the nature of marriage."
"For too long Catholics felt that the fact that Catholicism was the majority faith in Ireland and thus numbers were on their side and were their strength. As time went on and the culture of Ireland changed, the numbers decreased and the cultural factors which affect all western countries are just as active in Ireland as elsewhere," he said.
"The problem in many ways is that the Church has often in the past presented its message poorly. What is a message of love was presented in language that was harsh. What was rational argument was presented as a dogma which all should accept," the archbishop continued.
He encouraged ongoing "rational societal debate" rather than dogmatism and a reliance on soundbites.
Archbishop Martin said that the Synod of Bishops' October meeting on the family will be "a crucial moment in the renewal of the Church's teaching, especially to young people who aspire to a happy and fulfilled marriage and family life as one of the most vital dimensions of their lives."