An Open Letter to the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference on The Meaning of Marriage

To all your graces of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference,

Last weekend you distributed to over 1,300 Catholic parishes all over Ireland a document to base your argument in opposition to the upcoming referendum on Marriage Equality entitled ‘The Meaning of Marriage’. Subsequent to this many practising Catholics would have heard from the pews, eulogies from careerists for the hierarchy singing the chorus of what this document justify as ‘God’s Plan for Marriage’ and the Church’s position on the matter. All this following the documents announcement last Wednesday which included the statement that made the headlines that “if same-sex marriage would be a reality it would be a grave injustice”.

I am sincerely disheartened to hear these unfortunate actions but expected actions and hurt to read the content of your Pastoral Statement, like so many in Ireland. It shows the severe disconnect between the Church’s Hierarchy with its members and even many in the Catholic clergy. You are supposed to be a beacon of hope, compassion, spirituality and first and foremost love however you are now seen as dogmatic, hypocritical and out of touch.

Firstly I would like explain that the marriage equality referendum is on civil marriage in the Republic of Ireland not on religious blessed marriage ceremonies (which do end with the civil marriage register being signed by the happy couple). Civil marriage has always been a secular, cultural and legal institution even before the existence of the Church and must be respected by all religious organisations. The upcoming referendum could potentially bring both equitable and reciprocal legal obligations, rights and protections for all couples, families and future generations.

Furthermore your rational that the “upbringing of children is uniquely possible” through only functional, church endorsed marriages. This is not only a grievous and backwards insult to LGBT* parents, single parents, un-married couples or divorcees but implicitly suggests that they are incapable and void of raising children. Your pastoral statement that a marriage based on procreation provides that most suitable environment for children is completely misguided. Your view of marriage as being essentially about procreation rather being primarily a loving stable relationship is contrary to many couples’ understandings of their own marriages. Children surrounded by a loving, stable and happy environment growing up have the greatest wellbeing and development. Combined and consistent research shows that children of LGBT* parents develop psychologically and socially in a similar way to other children which they were compared and that no differences emerged from research between the ability of homosexual and heterosexual parents to offer children good nurturing and care.

Your document also incites that a redefining of the meaning or purpose of marriage is a major treat to this institution and our society. Well I hate to call out hypocrisy but marriage has been redefined before in meaning and purpose for the better thanks to you and other Christians Churches. As I mentioned before civil marriage is a secular, cultural and legal institution which predates the Church itself. Marriage is essentially a contract at the end of the day and back in ancient times marriage was viewed only as a contract joining or trading property, assets and business ventures by joining two people and there were under society’s legal protections. Love was not a factor in marriage and was seen as materialistic investment where dividends could be produced and titles, genetics or house names may be continued. But they did like having culturally religious/spiritual blessings on the marriage for good fortunate on this contract and from that religious marriage ceremonies were developed. This continued for many centuries, this notion that marriage was an equity contract with legal protections and love and individual choice were never considered.

But in the last few centuries because Churches began to teach that marriage should be based on love then the meaning and purpose had changed to create loving and committed marriages ridding the notion that marriage was only a legally binding contract for materialistic reasons. So further redefining of marriage is needed to include all loving couples. By extending civil marriage to all couples it only strengthens marriage as an institution and the place and status in society it holds.

What is highly evident by your document is that the disconnect between the Church’s hierarchy and its member grows larger and larger. Many view you as becoming spiritually hollow and inert. This even amounts to contemplation and questions the Church’s ability as an adequate facilitator of spirituality. Many Catholics don’t resonate with the Church’s out of touch teachings and this document. For instance only 18% of practising Irish Catholics in 2012 agree with your teachings on homosexuality. This is similar in all Western European countries and the Americas which accounts for over 70% of the Churches 1.2 billion membership where the majority disagree with the teachings on homosexuality. This is one issue of many that Catholic members see an immense disconnect with the Church. With church attendance and membership on the decline, you’d think greater measures would be taken to ensure that all members of faith feel accepted, supported and their spirituality facilitated for. It would be of huge benefit to re-examining your priorities and spend more time spreading a message of love, not prejudice, intolerance and hate.

The Church Synod in October was a great opportunity to build bridges and reconcile. However the once progressive document proposed in the Synod on “pastoral attention towards persons with homosexual orientations” was shot down and revised for a vague status quo worded document that LGB Catholic members “should be welcomed with respect and sensitivity” and that discrimination against gays “is to be avoided”. Your document ‘The Meaning of Marriage’ mentions this but in wrong context and motives. The earlier version of the document in the Synod spoke of the Church “accepting and valuing sexual orientations” and giving LGBT members “a welcoming home”. So many LGBT* Catholics, their families, spiritual advocates fighting for spiritual equality and affirming inclusion in the Church and large proportion of the Churches membership were disillusioned by this. It was nothing more than same ‘love the sinner, not the sin’; a policy of tolerating LGBT* persons not showing equitable love, compassion, respect and human dignity.

The heart of all spiritual teachings is simple. Be love, be compassion, be peace, be harmony, be forgiveness and be joy which culminates to true happiness. This happiness has fundamental importance to the human experience. It is an un-alienate right by all. Not to be imposed or selective to a few or to be excluded to another if they do match your ideal qualities based on prejudice.

Many people regardless of sexual orientation and gender resonate spiritually with Catholicism for whatever number of reasons and find happiness in their faith but are disillusioned by the Church teachings and actions such as this document ‘The Meaning of Marriage’. I would hope that each and every one of your graces spiritually, ethically and morally reflects on this. This document only does a disservice to you and a disregard of true spiritual teachings and respect. This is the true ‘injustice’ here.

The next few months the Republic of Ireland will start a discussion of extending marriage equality for all couples and families, the first country in the world to put it to a vote of people. This will lead to intense and heated debate and campaigning which would lead to intensifying of prejudice, intolerance, discrimination and hate onto the LGBT* community by a small minority.

As a final note I would implore you to be leaders of compassion, love, forgiveness and understanding to proactively advocate against this and to have a campaign on respect and void of hate and discrimination before, during and after the campaign. Thousands in the LGBT* community have experienced this already and the mental and physiological scares based on ill-founded prejudice and discrimination.

As one of your leading members said:

 “Anyone who doesn’t show love towards gay and lesbian people is insulting God. They are not just homophobic if they do that – they are actually Godophobic because God loves every one of those people.”

– Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin


For related Articles by Danny Pio Murphy you can click the following link: Danny Pio Murphy Archive (Spirituality

  • The views are of my own and not of this website and other contributing bloggers.

  1 comment for “An Open Letter to the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference on The Meaning of Marriage

  1. December 13, 2014 at 8:51 pm

    I believe that everyone should be allowed to discharge the functions of their office and discussion should be reasoned and to the point. The fact that many Catholics may not agree with the views of certain bishops does not absolve the bishops from faithfully teaching the doctrine of the Church. The civil changes to marriage introduced in the course of my lifetime have led to some very confused “family” relationships. I was told last week that some teachers in junior schools refrain from using the useful exercise in history of having the children prepare a family tree under parental guidance, due to the hazards of broken relationships etc. emerging in the responses. In preparing for the vote on the matter I would be grateful to have an answer to the following question: Precisely what benefits will the proposed change in marriage law deliver to those who will marry and to our society? say three clear points on each would suffice. Up to the point of reading this blog I had intended to vote in favour of same sex marriage- now I am not so sure but would welcome a concise statement of the benefits without reference to any religious authorities.

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