I’m talking about religion, so if you’re easily offended, look away now

In Ireland today there were jubilations and probably quite a few sore heads from last night’s party. Same-sex marriage was voted in by 62% of the people, with a massive turnout of 60%, voters coming home from the UK and even further afield to make their voices heard and drag Ireland into the twenty-first century as a country where gay people are just like other people – entitled to love and announce their love in public.

In Ireland today there were also Confirmations and First Holy Communions – lots of families celebrating traditional rites of passage for their children with parties and lunches and dinners and posh frocks. In the 2011 census, 84.2% of the population identified themselves as Roman Catholic, so I’m talking about a lot of people, not one or two.

Statue of Mary above Irish road signs

Not my photo (click for source)

This means, unsurprisingly, that many people who are bringing their children up in the Catholic faith also voted for gay marriage. A lot of them probably didn’t even think twice about their Yes vote: it was a no-brainer. That might be a bit hard for the rest of the world, and especially others of the Catholic faith, to understand, though.

When I came to the US I was still a card-carrying, Mass-going Catholic. But I discovered that the Church in America was different from the Church in Ireland. I didn’t like it so much. It wasn’t so tolerant. It seemed to think its members should keep all its rules, not just the ones they liked the sound of. It didn’t just let you brush under the carpet the things you disagreed with. It implied, in fact, that if you didn’t want to do Catholicism the way it was intended, the way the Pope said, then you were welcome to go off and be something else instead. A Lutheran, a Methodist, an Anglican, a Unitarian, even. The Unitarians take everyone, even atheists.

So I stopped going to Mass, because things like the plaque outside the church saying we should pray for babies who died from abortions offended my sensibilities. I didn’t agree with everything – I never had; but in Ireland that didn’t really matter, they were always happy to have you. In Ireland my churchgoing was motivated by the comfort of ritual and tradition, but I wasn’t going to show up every Sunday just to be made feel guilty or to be pissed off by all the things I disagreed with that the US Catholic Church seemed determined to throw in my face.

Some time after that I sort of became an atheist, so maybe it had been coming all along.

My point is that the Irish in Ireland for the most part see no contradiction, no difficulty with the fact that on Friday they voted to let gay people get married – in civil ceremonies of course, not in the church – and on Saturday they went to Mass and watched their kids receive a sacrament, helping them make promises to honour the laws of the Church. Even though the Catholic Church officially views homosexuality as disordered and gay sex as contrary to the natural law. It cannot possibly condone gay marriage.

I don’t think the Church in Ireland is in crisis, exactly. The number of people who continue to identify as Catholic shows that. But what they mean is not, perhaps, what the Church might think they mean. They’re cultural Catholics, the way many Jewish people are non-orthodox. (If this is a terrible, awful, insulting, heretical parallel to draw, I apologise. I don’t mean it that way.)

In Ireland, something can be two things at once. It’s one of the beauties of the place. You can have two opposing viewpoints and vehemently believe in both of them. You can be a devout Catholic and also support – no, more than that, be thrilled to tears for – the cause of same-sex marriage. It’s okay.

YES - Thank you


As always when I write about religion, this is just my opinion. I have no intention of disrespecting anyone’s beliefs.

Photo credit: Thesis statues via photopin (license)

12 thoughts on “I’m talking about religion, so if you’re easily offended, look away now

    1. Maud Post author

      That’s interesting – I don’t think it occurred to me that I could shop around for a church that was still Catholic but suited me better. That seems like cheating somehow.

      1. nicoleandmaggie

        It isn’t though– there’s even official differences, like the Jesuits or Newman Centers being far more liberal on social differences. I have an aunt and uncle who think they’re Catholic but really aren’t because they belong to some nutty sect. https://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/my-catholic-relatives-arent-really-catholic-a-rant/

        A comment below on the Lutherans– we sent of a nasty letter to the Missouri Synod (and the church minister) when we had to sit through the minister asking the congregation to pray against gay marriage because our son was in a Lutheran daycare and his class was performing in church that day. The next time my son performed we left right after the performance.

        The Catholic church in the same city focused its prayers of the people on the poor *and* had GLBT night on Thursdays.

      2. Maud Post author

        I think Ireland’s just too small to have “officially” different types of Catholic. You might be lucky and have a priest who was unusually liberal, or be unlucky and stuck with a dinosaur, but your parish is the one you live in and you don’t really get to change – I mean, you can attend mass wherever you want, but your kids are going to have to be baptised, communioned, confirmed, etc. in your parish church. [Correct me if I’m wrong, current Ireland-dwellers.]

      3. Maud Post author

        That’s true. I knew that. But you don’t get a parish priest who’s a Jesuit. They stick to other stuff.

  1. apluseffort

    You know, I didn’t even think about the dichotomy of being Catholic and voting in favor of it! I guess I’m well-versed in divorcing what you hear on Sunday from how you vote. There’s more than one kind of Lutheran, but I grew up the more conservative kind. It used to be that my church didn’t preach about anything that could also be considered political like gay marriage (and abortions were discussed only once a year in January, which was predictable enough to skip), so it was easy to be a Lutheran and still believe whatever you wanted the rest of the week. It’s not that way any longer, and so I am at last no longer a Lutheran.

  2. tendernessontheblock

    Great post.

    Diarmuid Martin’s response to the result was yet another resignation that the Catholic hierarchy needs a reality check. Tony Flannery and some of the other Redemptorists are attacking the inconsistencies between traditional out-dated teaching with modern life. There has been an internal tug o’war between the idealogues going on for years but this isn’t given much media coverage. The weakness of the national broadcast doesn’t help in provoking debate either.

    For years I’ve defended the freedom of folk to participate in cultural Catholic practices. Rituals are powerful. The term A la carte Catholicism is thrown about like it’s a dirty word when it’s a more honest attempt at reconciling life with spiritual flux. Now I’m really keen to see if the energy from this campaign can be sustained into discussions on the remaining school patronage that is unsustainable in a diverse society. I understand the struggle to provide practical education for children while the same parents know full well the majority, including teachers, are spoofing and winging it spiritually. But I’m getting tired of the corresponding shrugged shoulders and silence. It’s primarily a state obligation, and folk are busy contending with modern life, but as we’ve just witnessed – 140 characters of support from the comfort of our arses isn’t an unreasonable ask. Having a child hasn’t eroded my tolerance, but it had made me less tolerant of allowing the fear of offence a front-row seat in the debate.

  3. Helen O'Keeffe

    Yup on this one. This was the first time friends who are practicing Catholics actually canvassed for something and they were very comfortable doing it too. I think it’ll be a harder task to tackle the next obvious MASSIVE inequality – repealling the 8th and giving women reproductive choices, but hopefully there’s an energy around now to replace the apathy of the past.
    I disagree with you on the level of crisis in the church though (I had to consciously uncapital that C!). I think it is in crisis but purely because it doesn’t see the strength in the ‘a la carte’ nature of Irish Catholica. While the powers that be should rejoice in the fact its members are people of conscience who make up their own mindson social issues, they are too busy trying to wedge everyone into their definition of everything. They are on a hiding to nothing with that approach but – of course, they won’t listen and won’t learn.
    Meantime I’m chuffed silly we have marriage equality. What a clever bunch of people we are!

    1. Maud Post author

      I know – it’s a crisis if you think the church should be “smaller and purer” (was it Pope Benedict who wanted that?) but not if you’re a welcoming church who wants all-comers. I think the Church in Ireland (I’m capitalizing it because I mean the whole entity, not the building) needs to decide which it wants to be.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *