The Irish Catholic Church & the Civil Partnerships Bill: What’s ‘Morally Wrong?’

image Why are the Irish Catholic bishops complaining about the Civil Partnerships Bill, which is being debated this week in the Dáil?

The bishops’ criticisms have not been welcomed by government ministers, who say they have taken great pains to make sure it does not undermine marriage or the Irish constitution.

The knee jerk assumption is that the Catholic Church is officially opposed to homosexuality, so the bishops are opposing the bill because they want to make sure that homosexuality is not in any way promoted by the state.

Setting aside the fact that the Civil Partnership Bill merely tries to protect, not promote, the rights of people from the LGBT community – that’s not the line the bishops are taking.

In today’s Irish Times, Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin seems to say that the issue is not so much about homosexuality per se, but about the right of the church to criticise the government about anything that might affect the ‘common good.’

The Irish Times quotes from his homily at Knock shrine to St Joseph’s Young Priests’ Society, where he said the church had a,

“right and obligation to express concerns” about the way those with responsibility in politics, the economy and society “respond to the fundamental mandate of care for citizens and the common good. This is a non-negotiable for the church, even when that message might not meet with agreement and acceptance.

Listening recently to some comments which seemed to express unease at the fact the Irish bishops would address the political community on a fundamental question affecting society, I was struck to find in my diary just one year earlier, politicians complaining that the bishops had not been speaking publicly in support of a Yes vote on the Lisbon Treaty. True pluralism respects constructive voices whether they are welcome or not.”

In another article in the Irish Times, Fr Vincent Twomey, professor emeritus of moral theology at NUI Maynooth, complains that politicians,

effectively claimed that the church – in particular, in the wake of the Ferns, the Ryan and the Murphy reports – should remain silent.

Twomey goes on to say that,

This, of course, would leave the way free for that tiny but vocal minority of secularists to impose their views on the whole of society, views that are repugnant to the sincere convictions of most citizens. These same citizens are being increasingly intimidated by a media that has adopted these “liberal-progressive” views. Is this democracy, Irish style?

I had to read that paragraph twice. I am not sure if Twomey is saying that the bill – legislation that protects a minority within the Irish state – is ‘repugnant to the sincere convictions of most citizens’? Perhaps he is saying that a general secularist agenda is ‘repugnant to the sincere convictions of most citizens’?

Either way, these are claims for which he offers no empirical evidence. He also includes a rather over-the-top reference to the Nazis (who were not so fond of LGBT people either!).

Twomey bases many of his objections on an interpretation of the Bill that says it ‘deprives all citizens of their right of conscientious objection to the provisions of the Bill, should it become law.’ He continues,

Should the Bill become law, people such as registrars, photographers or those responsible for parish halls, etc, will be forced to co-operate in acts they consider in good conscience to be morally wrong.

I can agree with Martin’s point that churches – and any other civil society groups for that matter – should be able to make their thoughts known freely in the public sphere, without fear of being silenced.

In Ireland, that’s a public sphere where Christian voices will disagree on the Civil Partnerships Bill – take, for instance, the bold statement from the Evangelical Alliance in supporting it.

But I don’t think that the Irish bishops have been deliberately silenced by the Irish government or by the public.

An interesting question is:

Would Twomey, and others with similar views, welcome a public debate that questioned the Catholic Church’s interpretation of homosexuality as morally wrong?

Such a debate just might be conducted by Irish Catholics and people from other Christian denominations who equate ‘conscientious’ discrimination against LGBT people with ‘conscientious’ discrimination against people of other races.

There were, after all Christians in the US and other nations who opposed equal civil rights for ethnic minorities. They have had to be convinced that their position was ‘morally wrong,’ too.

(Image from

2 thoughts on “The Irish Catholic Church & the Civil Partnerships Bill: What’s ‘Morally Wrong?’”

  1. A few observations on this the Catholic Chuch in Ireland and the Civil Partnerships Bill:

    The Civil Partnerships Bill comes at a time when the Catholic Church has never commanded less authority over Irish society (and arguably Irish politics too). It has never mattered to people less whether Catholic leaders pronounce same-sex unions as right or wrong.

    I think Twomey confuses secularism with anti-religion. Secularism has and often continues to be the preserver of minority denominations and faith groups, particularly in the face of a dominant and authoritarian established religion.

    I also agree that a church or faith group should have the right to voice its opinion on issues affecting the “common good”, but some religious groups, especially the Catholic Church, have deployed this opportunity quite arbitrarily. One tends to hear religious groups speak out on issues of sexual morality a lot more than other issues that may affect the common good, such as conservation, poverty and business ethics. Cynically, perhaps, I would argue this is the case because those issues challenge the authority of our established churches much less than sexuality and marriage.

    Because of this, I don’t think Twomey would welcome a public debate questioning much of the Catholic Church’s moral teaching. More importantly, I doubt that many of today’s serving Catholic leaders would either, or even the leaders of other mainstream denominations. The Catholic hierarchy is certainly not enjoying the level of scrutiny it is under at the moment.

Leave a Reply