I write this letter – my first as bishop of the archdiocese of Cashel and Emly – at a moment of singular importance for our country. In a few days those eligible to vote will have the opportunity to express their preferences in two referendums on Marriage and the age for Presidential Candidates.
Earlier this year the Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral statement titled “The Meaning of Marriage”. As in all modern societies there are varying and different opinions about every important issue. Ireland is no different. However, to change a fundamental article of our constitution is a serious and significant event. For that reason we have urged that all people reflect carefully on how they vote.
Marriage as understood by the great religious traditions of the world is that of the union between a man and a woman. This is enshrined I believe in the natural order. As Catholics our understanding of marriage is taken from human experience but also from the Word of God as revealed in the Bible and the tradition of the Church.
There is no desire, on my part or that of the bishops, to alienate or denigrate any person or group of persons in our society. We uphold the dignity of each person. And we also hold faithfully to what we have received. We believe that marriage between a man and a woman is an institution that is fundamental to human life and the well-being of society.
This referendum on marriage is an opportunity for every person to reflect and perhaps to rediscover the richness and uniqueness of marriage based on the union of a man and a woman created to complement each other. It is an opportunity for catholic married couples to strengthen their witness to a life based on the sacrament of marriage. In the first chapter of the Book of Genesis we read that from the beginning, God created human beings in His own image – ‘male and female’ – and commissioned them to ‘be fruitful’. Marriage is willed by God, and instituted and sanctified by God, to be the way in which God’s work of creation continues in the world. The gift of life, which flows from the intimate union of a man and woman in marriage, is a gift from God Himself.
Pope Francis reminded us that marriage is a ‘noble vocation’ and he urged all of us to care for the ‘covenant’ of marriage between man and woman.
Should this amendment be passed it will be difficult to speak about marriage as it has been traditionally understood. This proposal, if it is incorporated into Art. 41 of the Constitution, will introduce a profound change to our understanding of marriage, of the family and of parenthood. That is why it is important to reflect very carefully on what is the best response to the proposal of the referendum.
The referendum will be held just a few days before the Church celebrates the Feast of Pentecost. I ask those who are concerned about our country and the importance of her institutions to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as the people discern how they will vote.
The second Referendum – to reduce the age at which candidates are eligible for election to the office of President from 35 to 21also merits careful consideration.
Our young people are our future. They are the generation that we look to for energy, initiative and ideas for our country. Young people contribute much to our society many are particularly concerned for the less well-off and for the care of the created world. They are called on to make important decisions from early on in their lives and show themselves very capable in many areas. They are an invaluable part of our society.
On 22 May, I urge all those with the right to vote to exercise it. Both referendums are important and I urge you to participate fully in the democratic process. Our right to vote in a constitutional referendum is at the heart of democracy and a right that we should cherish, guard and exercise.
May the Holy Spirit guide each one of us as we come to a decision on what way to vote.
Prayer for married couples
We thank you, O God,
for the love you have implanted in our hearts.
May it inspire us to be kind in our words and actions,
considerate of feelings and concerned with each other’s feelings and wishes.
Help us to be understanding and forgiving of human weakness and failings.
Bless our marriage, O God, with peace and happiness,
and make our love fruitful for your glory and our joy both here and in eternity.
(The Family Prayer Book)
Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly