To the Catholic People of the Diocese of Clogher
And to Christians and people of good-will
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ and people of good-will,
I am very conscious this weekend that you are gathering your thoughts before making a final decision on how you respond to the government proposals in the Referendum on Marriage. We are all more than a bit anxious knowing that what is at stake is the core issue of how we define marriage, which we believe is a fundamental building block for society.
Major decisions should always be made in a calm and respectful state of mind and, as far as is practical, with a fully informed conscience. There is nothing to be gained from angry and aggressive words and actions. The calm words of Jesus Christ will save us from adding to the disharmony in our world. He has told us to love God, our neighbour and ourselves. Gay people should not have to depend entirely on their parents, family and friends for love and affection. It is our responsibility and our privilege, as followers of Jesus, to accept and to share our love with all people.
With our world as full of variety as it is, we should still to be able to accept and live in harmony with others who bring to it a plurality of values, beliefs, customs and practices. Where boundaries have to be established for the common good, we entrust that responsibility to our civil leaders – the government, judiciary and law enforcement agencies. It is inevitable that tensions and difficulties will arise in defining these boundaries. Members of the Catholic Church in general do accept the right of gay people to form their own relationships and to have the rights and responsibilities inherent in these relationships enshrined in law. In this way, human rights are acknowledged and we can live together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance.
Christians of course believe in God as the source and giver of life. To them God is Alpha and Omega and it is to God that they turn for guidance and to find their meaning for life, their values and their norms of behaviour. The vast majority of our people are baptised Christians. Their beliefs, rituals, laws and practices relating to marriage and the family are drawn from the Word of God and the teaching of their Church and have a basis in Reason. We are moving beyond the boundaries of the purely human here and when we enter the Temple we may be requested to take off our shoes in recognition of the existence and presence of a being or power beyond ourselves.
Our civil leaders may be reluctant to take their shoes off as they enter this sacred space. They are exercising major responsibilities in proposing to reshape marriage and the family. They are asking the people of Ireland to accept that the union of same sex couples is essentially the same as the marriage of a man and a woman and, in expectation of approval by those who vote in Friday’s Referendum, are already preparing a sheaf of legislative changes to take account of the situation which they expect to emerge. In the Children and Family Relationship Act 2015, for example, it is proposed to remove all mention of mothers and fathers from a whole raft of previous legislation.
Getting things right in this fundamental area of people’s lives would require the Wisdom of Solomon. Getting it wrong will almost inevitably further destabilise the family and society; it will pose major problems for legislation and enforcement in a society where a rich understanding of marriage and family is already in place and rooted over centuries. To appreciate the kind of difficulties that will arise we need only ask ourselves – in the proposed new dispensation what will we be expected to teach our children in school about marriage and the family?
When the referendum has been held and results analysed, the majority of our people will continue to live their lives on the foundation of the traditional Christian understanding of marriage and its ideal of being a living complementary union for life of man and woman and the best environment in which to bring up children, who can in the process benefit from the mutual gifts of man and woman. They will understandably look to government and society for a support and stability which they contend is vital for the well-being of their families. Many good-living and responsible people have grave misgivings about the capacity of our own or any civil government to make provision for all the needs that would have to be catered for if same sex unions and our traditional Christian understanding of marriage and the family are treated as essentially the same. Many would forcefully and legitimately contend that there are other ways, still to be fully explored, where the rights and needs of same sex unions could be respected and protected while the traditional Christian ideal could be accorded its rightful place as the choice of the clear majority of our people.
Many fair minded people acknowledge the courage of the present government in tackling this challenge even as they question the wisdom of the proposals they are offering. Our people know we cannot afford to get it wrong. The family has, in many people’s views, taken quite a bashing in recent years and needs more than anything else support and stability from all sides. If we have serious reservations about what is proposed, we have a responsibility to say so to our government. There are many who, while supportive of what the government is trying to achieve in giving acceptance and rights to same sex unions, believe that a great deal more careful thinking and analysis will have to be done if we are to avoid making further problems and difficulties for families and society. Marriage and the family are too important an area to tamper and to experiment with. The Constitution of Ireland is too important a document to allow major changes to its articles, with serious consequential outcomes, to be introduced lightly in this vital area. Before we make any major changes, further reflection will be needed. I believe this to be a responsible stance. Do use your vote on 22 May; one way or the other, it will shape our future.
May God direct you all in finalising your position,
and may we live lovingly and in mutual respect.
May He help us avoid the mistakes of the past
and build a better future for all.
+Liam S. MacDaid
Bishop of Clogher
17 May 2015