By Jennifer O’Connell
I suspect it was the Vows section of The Irish Times that did it.
This latest American-style import by the newspaper is a two or three page spread in the magazine section, featuring reports from the frontline of a number of readers’ weddings. The attention to detail lavished on these nuptials is such that it makes Peter Kelly of Weddings by Franc look positively slapdash. (Sample quote: “The flower children carried wildflowers that were picked by the bride that morning while walking the dog.”)
Personally, I find it compulsive reading, though I can see how it might not be to every consumer of the paper of record’s taste.
But if the Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, happened on those pages last weekend, he’ll have seen something that might have caused him to choke on his scrambled eggs.
Nestled alongside a report of an eco wedding was an article about the recent civil marriage of Niamh and Jessica, photographed on their wedding day, resplendent in acres of ivory tulle, and clutching matching purple bouquets.
Within hours, Dr Brady had taken to the pulpit to deliver another searing homily on the wrongs of civil partnership. In the past, he has spoken of the need to “pursue all avenues of legal and democratic challenge to the published legislation”, and condemned the government for undermining marriage and failing to “promote the common good”.
Now it is the registrars of marriages he’s worried about: last weekend, he pointed out that if they, in conscience, were to decline to officiate at same-sex 'weddings', they would be guilty of an offence.
Soon, he added, all the people of Ireland would have to choose to “stand clearly on the side of Christ or depart from Him.”
Looking at the photographs of the two grinning brides and their beaming extended families (taken during the reception at the Beaufield Mews in Stillorgan, for all the closet VIP readers out there), it’s hard to imagine them taking a stance against Christ.
Part of me feels that - in the wake of the Ryan Report and the global paedophile scandals - we shouldn’t take the views of the Catholic Church on this issue any more seriously than we would take the views of, say, Tim Horton’s coffee chain. (For the record, the US coffee franchise is now officially okay with gay marriage, and has withdrawn its sponsorship of a controversial ‘Marriage and Family Day’ in the US.)
But the reality is that, for all of us who decided long ago that the Catholic Church is so divorced from the reality of our lives as to be utterly irrelevant, there are many more who do care still deeply what it thinks.
As news of this latest attack on the admittedly imperfect Civil Partnership Bill filtered out last week, one young gay man put the problem – actually, one of the many problems - with the Church’s constant pronouncements on the issue succinctly.
“I’m consistently surprised at how much sway the Catholic Church still holds among certain generations of people - people like my mother, for example. If she hears this, I know it will be mentioned and will only serve to justify the antiquated anti-gay views she has. Personally I don’t care what he says, he could say he hated me individually and I wouldn’t care. It's just I do think such public promotion of hatred has repercussions for those towards whom the hate is directed – i.e., us.”
But for every young man and woman who has the poise and the self-assuredness to shrug off the hatred, there are many more who don’t: the evidence of their vulnerability is lowered into the ground into cemeteries in Tralee or Tramore or Tullamore every week.
This is part of the reason why the Cardinal’s incendiary language on the topic is so damaging; it’s the reason why his leader Pope Benedict’s homily last Christmas, in which he likened homosexuality to climate change on the scale of imminent threats to our civilization, was more than just hilariously off-beat.
Because, as far as the Church is concerned, it wasn’t off-beat at all.
For at least the last twenty years – notably beginning with a statement by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in October 1986, which ended what had been seen by some as a period of tolerance - it has issued regular statements denouncing homosexuality as “an intrinsic moral evil”; “objectively disordered”; “an ideology of evil”; and has offered dire warnings that “the practice of homosexuality may seriously threaten the lives and well-being of a large number of people”.
Just so we’re clear: it’s not the persecution of gays that seriously threatens lives and well-beings you understand, but homosexuality itself.
Frankly, it’s perplexing and not a little unhealthy, this fascination of the Catholic Church with the question of what other people do when they’re alone with the people they love.
And even the things they don’t do. Last October, for instance, the Vatican issued a statement declaring that even chaste gay men should be barred from the priesthood, and went on to urge seminaries to enlist the aid of psychologists in screening candidates for homosexuality and other “psychic disturbances.”
It may be that this bizarre strategy of employing psychologists to ‘out’ prospective priests was an attempt to formulate a response to the child abuse crisis in the church: if that’s the case, it merely demonstrates how lamentably poor the Church’s understanding is of the issues on which it insists on lecturing the rest of us.
You would imagine that, by now, this point no longer needs repeating, but just in case the Vatican is reading, here it goes again: homosexuality is [itals]not the same[itals] as paedophilia.
But perhaps the greatest issue at stake is the question of why, in what was – last time I checked - a republic, the Church should feel the need to comment on such legislative matters at all?
As the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (Glen) said last week: “While churches are entitled to marry who they wish, civil marriage and civil partnership are to do with the state.”