Bishop John Fleming: Pastoral Letter ‘Reflect on the Meaning of Marriage’

16 May 2015

My dear priests and people,

Reflect on the meaning of marriage

This week, you will be asked to vote in a referendum which will change the meaning of marriage in the Constitution of Ireland. During the coming days I encourage you to think about the issues involved, to pray for guidance and to vote on May 22nd.  The effects of this proposed amendment will be far-reaching for this and for future generations.  As the Irish bishops have said; ‘Marriage is important – Reflect before you change it’.

The Church’s vision for marriage and the family is based on faith and reason. It is shared by other faith traditions and by people who have no religious belief. Since time immemorial, both Church and State have recognised the marriage of a man and a woman to be of fundamental importance for children, for mothers and fathers, for the family and for society. To interfere with the definition of marriage is not a simple or a trivial matter. The Irish bishops have said that they cannot support an amendment to the Constitution which redefines marriage and effectively places the union of two men, or two women, on a par with the marriage relationship between a husband and wife. Indeed, the proposed amendment not only redefines marriage in the Constitution but it also, as a result, changes the understanding of the family as outlined in the Constitution.

Father, mother and children

During the debate which has taken place in recent weeks, many people have expressed the view that the Government has chosen to deal with an issue that is exceptionally complex, both legally and morally, in a simplistic manner and with a lightweight approach. It has chosen to ignore the legal and moral issues which have implications for family life and law, for accepted values in society and for recent developments in medical technology which stretch ethics to their very limits, and perhaps beyond. This is not about equality; it is about changing the definition of marriage and the family as we know it. The question each voter must ask is: will the proposed change in our Constitution make our marriages and our family life in the future more secure?

During the past forty to fifty years a great change has taken place with regard to the home environment in which children are raised in Ireland. In this regard, it must be acknowledged that single parents and, in recent years, same-sex parents provide children with a loving home environment. But all of this does not take away from the fact that it is the firm belief of the bishops that the traditional family environment of a father, mother and children is in fact the best environment in which to raise children. And this is despite the fact that family life as we know it is not without its problems and difficulties.

Vote for the common good

Parents love their children unconditionally. Some live with family members who are gay or lesbian. As committed Catholics their head pulls them one way and their heart pulls them in another direction.  I believe that part of the unconditional love of parents for their children must include the creation of the best environment within which not only their children but all children can grow up.

Our duty as Christians and as citizens, is to care for the common good and this means the good of everyone in our society. Everyone, including gay and lesbian people, together with their parents and family members, must think carefully on all the issues involved and vote accordingly. Together we share a responsibility to create a society in which we can all live and benefit from the best possible human and social conditions.

Future generations

If the referendum is carried, Ireland will be the only jurisdiction in the world providing explicitly for same-sex marriage in its Constitution. Indeed, at present, only seventeen of the one hundred and ninety three states recognised by the United Nations, provides for same-sex partnerships in their legislation. If the referendum is carried, it will deeply affect married and family life in this country, and possibly lead ultimately to ethically questionable approaches to the birth and development of children.

I encourage everyone to pray and reflect upon these issues and to vote on May 22nd.  The effects of this proposed amendment will be far-reaching for this and for future generations.  As the bishops have said to all voters: “Marriage is important – Reflect before you change it.”

+ John Fleming
Bishop of Killala