ROME — Ireland's resounding approval of same-sex marriage in last month's referendum has obviously rankled the Catholic Church. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who acts as "prime minister" to Pope Francis, went so far as to characterize the outcome as "a defeat for humanity."
Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin told La Stampa that the result represented a "cultural revolution," explaining that "the Church must ask itself when exactly this revolution began — because some on the inside have refused to see this change."
In an interview with Italian daily La Repubblica, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), spoke of the need for "serene dialogue, without ideologies" on such issues as same-sex marriage.
Bagnasco said the Irish vote "raises questions about our ability to pass on the values we believe in to new generations, and whether we are capable of a dialogue that takes into account real people's situations."
Viewpoints on the question of gay marriage come in many different shades, but everyone wants to know the thoughts of one person in particular: Pope Francis. After all, he said last summer, "If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and goodwill, who am I to judge?"
Ideological interpretations on both sides forget that the pope's welcoming of gay people in line with the Catechism of the Catholic Church is one thing, and that the approval of gay marriage is another.
Letters from the past
When he was the Archbishop in Buenos Aires, the man then known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio avoided public statements on the issue, but wrote two letters in 2010 that offered clues about his thinking. In the first, which he sent to cloistered nuns, he wrote that the issue wasn't "a mere political struggle," but that gay marriage represented "an alleged destruction of God's plan."
In the second, sent to the layman board chairman in the diocese, he encouraged the laity to stand up for Christian values. This letter was published with his consent, but the first letter was leaked, causing a sensation. The pope wrote repeatedly of "ideological colonization," and in light of the letter's contents, it seems difficult to present Pope Francis as a supporter of gay marriage.
But it's clear that the Pope wants to present the wonder of families created by men and women in a positive way, and to stress the need to sustain and protect them. He will aim to evangelize with positive examples, rather than simply repeating convictions the way many Catholic leaders do when oppose something.
Of course, the "cultural revolution" that the Irish referendum represents testifies to the difficulties the Church is facing even in countries that were considered "very Catholic" just a few short years ago.