Bishops differ over emphasis on civil unions


SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCES of emphasis among Ireland's Catholic bishops on the Civil Partnership Bill have emerged.

Yesterday, the Archbishop of Dublin Most Rev Diarmuid Martin said that, while he didn't feel any of his fellow bishops were opposed to what Cardinal Seán Brady said about the Bill at the recent Céifin conference in Ennis, they might have said it differently.

"We haven't expressed an opinion as an Episcopal Conference (on the Bill)," he said. "I don't think anyone in the conference is against what Cardinal Brady said, but they may have said it in different ways."

The Archbishop also said that while the Catholic Church favoured marriage, "it is not against other forms of intimacy".

Catholic teaching "is linked to the complementarity of the sexes", he said, "and this was not something it was possible for any individual to change. It is part of the order of things since Creation." He noted that while "the Catholic Church is in favour of marriage, it is not against other forms of intimacy". He added that "consistently, all Christian churches emphasise the uniqueness of marriage based on the complementarity of the sexes", but they addressed other forms of intimacy on other bases.

Archbishop Martin was speaking at a press conference in Maynooth yesterday which was also attended by the Bishop of Down and Connor, Most Rev Noel Traenor. It took place as the three-day winter meeting of the Irish Episcopal Conference was under way. It ends today.

In his address to the Céifin conference on November 4th, Cardinal Brady indicated that the Government could face a legal challenge if the Civil Partnership Bill became law. "Those who are committed to the probity of the Constitution, to the moral integrity of the word of God and to the precious human value of marriage between a man and a woman as the foundation of society may have to pursue all avenues of legal and democratic challenge to the published legislation if this is the case," he said.

The Bill was "perhaps the greatest revolution in the history of the Irish family" and the Government was obliged by the Constitution to guard the institution of marriage "with special care", he said.

The Civil Partnership Bill is expected to become law next year and will give greater protection to cohabiting and same-sex couples in areas such as pensions, inheritance and tax. Cardinal Brady said a complete assessment could not be made until the legislation was published, but that it appeared the Government was prepared to grant to cohabiting and same-sex couples the status of marriage in all but name. Apart from the restrictions on adoption by same-sex couples, "it is difficult to see how anything other than the introduction of de facto marriage for cohabiting and same-sex couples is envisaged", he said.

The cardinal said he found it "remarkable" that "Ireland looks set to repeat the mistakes of societies like Britain and the US by introducing legislation which will promote cohabitation, remove most incentives to marry and grant same-sex couples the same rights as marriage in all but adoption".

He said one in four children of cohabiting parents experienced family breakdown before they started school, compared to just one in 10 children of married parents. "Other studies in Britain and the US suggest that children born outside of marriage are more likely to do worse at school, suffer poorer health and are more likely to face problems of unemployment, drugs and crime," he said.