The Irish Vote -- a New Pentecost for the Church?

06/08/2015 04:32 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2016

I have been reading many responses to the significant news that Ireland is now the first country where gay marriage has been approved -- and approved overwhelmingly by a 2-1 margin -- by a popular vote. I think it matters that this vote came on the weekend of Pentecost, the feast day commemorated as the birth of the Christian movement when the Holy Spirit gave the early Christians courage and wisdom to break good news to the world.

Needless to say, this vote is a sea change in Irish consciousness which up to 1993 had criminalized homosexuality and up to 10 years ago was very much a theocracy under the thumb of the Catholic Church hierarchy.

What has changed? Well, of course the revelations of priestly pedophilia and its cover-up by the hierarchy and by the Vatican has played a prominent role in turning many Irish -- and especially the young -- away from institutional religion. But so too the revelations of abuse of girls in an orphanage run by Catholic sisters that was exposed some years back, about which a movie was made. But more has happened as well: A change of consciousness; a growing up; a coming of age; a refusal to let "Father so and so" or "Pope so and so" do your thinking for you. The Punitive Father God of Irish Jansenism has been buried.

One response to the vote came to me in an e-mail this morning from an Irish woman living in the Boston area, who is very active in speaking out on the low self-esteem and the alcoholism and the cover up that dominates much of Irish culture. She wrote: "Oh, I think it is so fabulous as it represents a whole shift in thinking! Rather than the usual Irish judgmental, (thus shaming) view, the people opened their hearts and voted with Compassion!!!! In many ways it is a terrific act of self-actualization. They are no longer controlled by a system."

Yes! That says a lot. The Irish have taken their souls back from a system, a ruling Ideology, a Religion that has flunked many tests of authenticity. Religion is not primarily about institutions after all. It is about the human heart and hands and our capacity for justice and compassion and gratitude. The Irish vote was a vote by a majority (heterosexuals) voting with a minority to recognize the rights of a minority (homosexuals). Thus it was a celebration of justice and intelligence and co-operation and caring over bigotry and homophobia.

But there have been other responses to the vote as well. The Secretary of State of the Vatican, Cardinal Pietro Paralov, called the vote a "defeat for Christian principles" and "a defeat for humanity." Where does he get such extreme ideas? Isn't justice and recognition of diversity a Christian principle? Is not truth a Christian principle? Then we should seek out science to tell us the truth about human nature and sexuality. Isn't a sense of fairness a foundation for humanity?

Has the good cardinal read any science on the subject of homosexuality? Or is he as out of touch with science on this subject as were the previous two popes, who relied on neurotic St Augustine's sexual teachings that all love making must be justified by having babies? These popes preached diatribes against gay and lesbian people without bothering to research what science has to tell us on the subject.

I have been saying for years and I will put it in bold italics here because obviously centuries have passed with no new Church thinking on this topic: The question of homosexuality is the Galileo case of our day.. Why? Because science has spoken (and many church men choose to hide their heads in the sand and refuse to listen). Homosexuality is perfectly natural for homosexuals and homosexuals constitute about 8-10 percent of the human race. And we have counted 464 other species with homosexual populations. So get over it.

Listen to St Thomas Aquinas, a doctor of the church, who says "a mistake about nature results in a mistake about God." Doesn't science teach us about nature? Why ignore science so blatantly then?

This Cardinal is responding just as his Italian counterparts did to Galileo's findings 500 years ago. Shame on him! Has he learned nothing from that ridiculous church episode of hiding heads in sand when science spoke of the earth moving about the sun?

A wiser response came from a churchman closer to the scene, Diarmond Martin the archbishop of Dublin, who said following the vote: "It is very clear that if the referendum is an affirmation of the vision of young people... [then the church needs] a reality check."(1) Yes, a reality check is very much in order in the church.

And it is not just about young people (who are quite wise about sexual and moral issues including hypocrisy); it is not just about homosexuality. It is about those teachings, bequeathed from the fourth century onwards by the neurotic St. Augustine, about sexuality in general. The church hierarchy have lost their way in the moral labyrinth of sad and bad teachings on human sexuality.

The homosexual issue, which has come forward in our time, is just one example about that. Birth control is another and even more far-reaching issue since human population explosion is contributing significantly to the destruction of the planet. But both teachings -- birth control and homosexuality -- derive from the same patriarchal ideology: That sex must always legitimize itself by making babies.

This is nonsense. It is killing the planet. One can imagine how it was important in ancient days for a tribe's existence that children be encouraged. That is obviously not the issue today. Today we have to care better for the children we have and that includes caring for the planet that will house, feed, nurture, delight and embrace them and their grandchildren and great grandchildren.

That nature chooses to celebrate sexual diversity by birthing homosexuals everywhere and usually from heterosexual parents is quite marvelous. It should give us room for thought and meditation -- indeed for a reality check. It could, if church prelates cared to learn something, spark a New Pentecost, a great awakening, a new day and a new language. Are there any in the hierarchy who have ears to hear and hearts and minds open enough to learn? If not, the tired old senex that the church represents will sink still further into denial, hypocrisy and irrelevance.

Speaking of denial and hypocrisy, the former cardinal of St Louis, Raymond Leo Burke (demoted last year by Pope Francis from head of the highest court at the Vatican to being chaplain to the Military Order of Malta) as is his habit, weighed in on the issue of the Irish vote. This is the same churchman who equated homosexuals with murderers a few months ago(2). Saith Burke in a speech in Oxford: "This is a defiance of God...Pagans may have tolerated homosexual behaviors, [but] they never dared to say this was marriage."(3)

In an interview in 2013 he proclaimed that homosexual marriage "is a work of deceit, a lie about the most fundamental aspect of our human nature, our human sexuality, which, after life itself, defines us" and it "comes from...Satan."(4) So I think we know where Burke stands on the subject. Too bad he didn't get so worked up over the sin of pedophilia as he gets over the celebration of love and marriage. Too bad that he is still waging war against "pagans" too and invoking them to support his very menacing homophobia. Too bad that while admitting that sexuality defines us he refuses a minority their basic human rights to love and be loved. Too bad he ignores science on the subject. Good luck to the members of the Military Order of Malta having Burke as a chaplain.

Reality check anyone?

A Pentecost vote for the rights of a minority -- something to celebrate! The Holy Spirit is not dead even if many religious institutions are striving to be.