Vatican: Irish Gay Marriage Referendum a ‘Defeat for Humanity’

The Irish referendum on same-sex marriage was the first time such rights were granted by popular vote.


It was probably too much to expect that the Vatican would react positively to the news that Irish voters cast their ballots by overwhelming margins to legalize gay marriage, or that it would simply say nothing at all. But when the church, which had until now remained silent on Saturday’s results, finally did comment on the issue on Tuesday, Cardinal Pietro Parolin really did not mince his words.

“I believe that we are talking here not just about a defeat for Christian principles but also about a defeat for humanity,” Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Rome.

The referendum in Ireland, in which voters approved gay marriage by a 62.1 to 37.9 percent margin, was the first time such a right has been granted by popular national vote (in America, it has been legalized in some individual states by both referendum and court decision). It’s a huge defeat for the Catholic Church in a country where some 84 percent of the country is at least in theory an adherent to the faith, though the church has grown markedly less popular because of its handling of child sexual abuse by its priests and its hardline anti-abortion and anti-gay rights positions.

Following the vote, Irish church officials said its outcome should prompt a round of soul searching. “This is a social revolution,” the archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, told RTE Television. “The church has a huge task in front of it get its message across to young people … The church needs to do a reality check.”

“We tend to think of black and white but most of us live our lives in grey,” Martin added.

Parolin’s comments were particularly striking because they came from a senior aide to Pope Francis, who took the helm of the church in 2013 and has since tried to steer it away from divisive sexual questions and refocus its attention on the world’s poor.

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” Francis said in 2013.

So far, however, Francis has failed to gain approval of more liberal church doctrine on a series of social and sexual issues, including abortion and same-sex marriage. The gulf between Francis’s rhetoric and official church policy has been particularly striking at the United Nations, where the Holy See’s diplomats at the United Nations continue to work hard to block progressive policies on sexual and reproductive rights that they see as being in conflict with traditional church teachings.

Photo credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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