Pastoral Letter on the marriage referendum to the people of Clonfert Diocese by Bishop John Kirby

09 May 2015

God created humankind in his image, male and female he created them. (Gen 1:27)

By this, you are probably getting a bit tired of talk on the coming referendum on same sex marriage. However, this referendum is coming upon us and it is important that I outline the position of the Catholic Church on Christian Marriage for the people of Clonfert
The Catholic Church and indeed all Christians regard the family based on marriage as the single most important institution in any society. To seek to redefine marriage is to undermine it as a fundamental building block of society. Marriage should be reserved for the unique and complementary relationship between a man and a woman from which the generation and upbringing of children is uniquely possible.

I am conscious that gay and lesbian people have for long felt discriminated against in Ireland, as elsewhere. Serious anti-gay bullying is still a factor in many aspects of life including schools and workplaces. There should be zero tolerance for any form of conduct or intimidation of this sort. It is totally opposed to the message of Jesus Christ, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Lk 6:31) We respect the dignity of every human person, as demanded by the primary commandment laid down by Jesus Christ “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. (Matt 19:19) However, it is not lacking in sensitivity to point out that same sex relationships are fundamentally different from opposite sex relationships. Society values the complementary roles of mothers and fathers in the generation and upbringing of children.

The coming referendum is not about equality. The differences between a man and a woman are not accidental to marriage but are fundamentally part of it. Children have a natural right to a mother and a father and this is the best environment for them when it is possible. Clearly there are situations when this is not possible, but that does not change the ideal. Male-female complementarity is intrinsic to marriage. It is naturally ordered to sexual union in a faithful committed relationship as a basis for new life.

Some people have stated that this referendum is about civil marriage and not about church or ‘faith-based’ marriages. Does this mean that church people have no right to speak or to offer opinions on the subject? Catholic weddings have civil effect when the standard civil document is signed. Currently, 70% of weddings are performed in church and we have genuine interests in the whole understanding of marriage. Any changes in this will have huge implications for everyone. As well as being church people, we are citizens of the Irish state and we rightly play our part in the democratic decision-making process. Marriage is too precious a component of society to allow it to be changed without a clear understanding of what we are doing.

Pope Francis has shown great sensitivity to gay and lesbian people. Very early on in his ministry as Pope, he asked the question, “Who am I to judge?” However, he is very clear on the importance of marriage and the union of one man and one woman in a permanent exclusive relationship. Recently he spoke about marriage, “The maternity of women and the paternity of men should be recognised as a richness that remains valid especially for the benefit of children”. (Gen Audience 22 – 04 – 15). The official teaching of the Catholic Church was reiterated at the special synod in Rome last October, “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and the family”

Please make it an important priority to cast your vote in this referendum. I am not saying which way you should cast it. As the recent document from the Irish Bishops has said, “Marriage is Important – Reflect before you change it.”

Bishop John Kirby
Clonfert Diocese
May 2015