This morning I heard a landmark piece of radio.
Newly appointed bishop Kevin Doran was out batting for the Roman Catholic Church on the upcoming referendum on gay marriage.
As far as I am concerned, he put up as good a defence of the church's position as could be expected in all the circumstances. There were two problems though.
In the first place he was operating out of a defective brief, i.e. the church's official position on homosexuality and on the necessity for a marriage to be open to procreation, or according to some exponents, for that to be the aim of marriage. The church is on a sticky wicket in both these areas and it is hard to entirely blame the counsel for the defence if his brief is not up to scratch.
In the second place, Bishop Doran, seems to have approached this interview with a certain amount of hubris, no doubt carried over from his successful organisation of the 2012 International Eucharistic Congress. He started out confidently expounding the church's position but then got drawn into asserting that this position was not a purely religious one but was arrived at on the basis of consideration for human rights and the common good. This was in response to it being put to him that the referendum pertained purely to civil marriage and would still leave the church to manage its own sacramental marriage as it pleased.
He went on to say that he had nothing against homosexuals per se but that sexual activity should only be embarked on in the married state, which state he did not think should be permitted to them. Permanent enforced celibacy then (orthodox church line).
He also went on about same sex couples who had children not being parents. In this he seemed to be ignoring that at least one of the couple could be a child's biological parent and in the same breath he insulted all adoptive parents in the land.
In his chapter on nature versus nurture, he made the cardinal (pun intended) error of introducing Down Syndrome babies, insulting another segment of the population and their families. In fact he seemed a little vague, if not contradictory, on the extent to which his God intervened in human affairs. He certainly succeeded in giving the impression that God did not intend gays to be gay. The Good Lord must have been nodding then, and not for the first time either.
His coup de grace was to remind his audience that if the referendum was passed the church would have to reconsider its present dual role where it both celebrated the sacrament and also performed the function of civil registrar. I'm not sure if this threat was supposed to scare the shit out of the electorate or the government. In any event, he adduced a subtle justification for this: the church could not sign up to civil gay marriage; passing the referendum would change the nature of civil marriage for all; so the church could no longer collaborate in this travesty.
It struck me that this should not be relevant as the dual role only arose in the case of a church marriage and there was no way the church was going to facilitate a gay marriage in church. So those seeking a civil gay marriage would have to go direct to the civil authorities anyway. Perhaps he was looking further ahead and envisaging a case where the church, in refusing a religious gay marriage, could be brought before the courts in its civil registrar persona and accused of discrimination. I haven't quite worked that one through but it is an interesting thought.
There is, of course, something that the church may not have considered and it is this. If the church were to refuse to civilly register heterosexual marriages, not only would it cause huge inconvenience to those marrying in church who would have to arrange an additional civil procedure, but it would sever the bond between the church and civil marriage for all.
Now it is up to the church itself how it evaluates this, but it seems to me that if people have to have two procedures they might just drop the church one. Not my call.
Anyway, my feeling is that this was a bad outing (pun intended) for the bishop. He was clearly flustered and at the pin of his (roman) collar trying to sound sensible.
I don't think he approached this interview in the right frame of mind. He wasn't in his pulpit here and he was clearly not prepared for an interviewer of the calibre of Chris Donoghue.
I came across Chris way back when he was standing in for "the idiot", Marc Coleman. Chris was miles better and it was no surprise when he subsequently turned up on the flagship breakfast programme. He studies his brief, asks the hard questions and will not be put off by fluffy answers from saints or sinners. He certainly played a blinder in the interview with the bishop. Pure radio at its best.
You really should listen to the full interview, at the bottom of the page here. It would also be worth listening to Colm O'Gorman's take on the interview, further up the same page.
Brendan Hoban had already dealt with this issue in a very well written post on the website of the Association of Catholic Priests. Iggy O'Donovan has explained to Newstalk that he will be voting YES as a citizen of the Republic. Tony Flannery has tweeted that he will be voting YES and he has taken Bishop Doran and others to task on his blog.
Just a wee word of caution. I have praised Chris O'Donoghue above. I just hope he doesn't lose the run of himself like our friend from Dalkey.
I was a bit put out listening to his interviews during the referendum campaign with Nuala O'Loan and David Quinn. His tone was bullying and it really wasn't good enough to just keep insisting that what was at stake was simply a seven word addition to the Constitution without allowing all its implications to be teased out.
I'd hate it if he turned into one of those shock jocks. Waste of a good talent.]
Just to repeat what I said above. The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) is threatening to stop the solemnising of civil marriages if the referendum on same sex marriage is carried. At present, a couple getting married in a church sign the register in the church vestry after the ceremony. This is actually the civil register and the priest is a registered civil solemniser so no further action is required to register the marriage with the civil authorities. This has been the case for yonks.
The RCC is now arguing that if the referendum is carried this will change the nature of marriage into something to which the church cannot subscribe. It is therefore threatening to withdraw the current facility from all marriages (ie heterosexual marriages because that is all they do anyway). There are other angles which I mentioned above but so far they have not been advanced by the RCC. Just this one.
On the face of it, you can sort of see where they are coming from. Or so I thought until today, until I heard Judge Kevin Cross (of the High Court and Chair of the Referendum Commission) incidentally blowing that objection out of the water.
He simply pointed out that, since the introduction of divorce, the civil and church versions of marriage have not been the same anyway. [For the avoidance of doubt I should clarify that this is all the judge did - pointed out the existing difference. The teasing out of the implications of this below is all my own.]
So why, I ask myself, is the RCC only now discovering this when it's same sex marriage that's involved. A marriage which is entered into while allowing the possibility of divorce is not the same as the sacramental marriage entered into in the church sanctuary.
And that got me thinking further that there has always been a difference, albeit in the other direction, so to speak.
Before the introduction of divorce the Irish civil marriage was indissoluble. Not so the church marriage. That could be annulled under certain circumstances (unsound mind, deficient consent etc.). In the absence of holy divorce the concept of annullment has been extended ad absurdam and it had also become an avenue of pseudo divorce for the rich and famous. Still, all the while, the church solemnised civil marriages which were at variance, in one way or another, with church teaching.
So, if the RCC is only waking up to all this when same sex marriage comes along would it not be fair to say that people have a good case against it on discrimination grounds if the RCC now suddenly decides to withdraw a service it has been providing since time immemorial (well, the memory of many generations)?
The prosecution rests.
There is a good Q&A here, or if you get bounced by the paywall, here.
I understand from a colleague that, despite the introduction of same sex marriage in England and Wales early last year, RC priests there have continued to act as civil solemnisers of heterosexual marriages. The RC tradition in those countries has been as a minority one and they are probably more used to compromising with the state there.
As far as I'm concerned, this simply exposes the arrogance and emptiness of the Irish hierarchy's threat here. When will they ever learn. [Expletives deleted]
Just heard Archbishop Eamon Martin being interviewed by Seán Ó Rourke. I don't think they are going to carry out their threat. Eamon seemed to think they hadn't made one at all, though, of course, the matter falls to be considered by the bishops.
I hadn't heard him before - very plausable, but I don't think he's in the doctrinal change department.
I now see that the bishops have no intention of withdrawing solemnisers and it is clear that this was an empty threat that didn't work. Archbishop Eamon is still going on with his line of "Threat? What threat? Show me the word threat." What a crowd.