Bishops weigh up action on Civil Partnership Bill


IRELAND’S CATHOLIC bishops are “very concerned” about the Civil Partnership Bill and have discussed whether to take a Constitutional action should it become law, the Bishop of Elphin, Christopher Jones, told a press conference in Maynooth yesterday.

And in a statement, Why Marriage Matters, released by the bishops yesterday, they describe provisions in the Civil Partnership Bill as “an extraordinary and far-reaching attack on freedom of conscience and the free practices of religion – which are guaranteed to every citizen under the Constitution”.

Bishop Jones, who is chairman of the Bishops’ Committee for Family and Children, said: “As you know, marriage and the family are enshrined in the Constitution, and the State has an obligation to protect and promote marriage and family life.”

He continued: “We are really very concerned that the Civil Partnership Bill is going to undermine marriage by conferring all the rights on same-sex unions as marriage, equating same-sex union to marriage itself.”

On the refusal by Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern to allow an opt-out clause for people who had conscience problems when it came to association or involvement with same-sex ceremonies, he said the bishops were “very worried about that. Very worried.”

They had expressed these concerns to the secretary general of the Department of Justice and his officials, he said.

In the Why Marriage Mattersstatement, the bishop said anyone “who conscientiously refuses to carry out such a (same-sex) ceremony will face a fine and up to six months in prison”.

They said that “Christians, Jews and Muslims or anyone else who refuses to make halls and other facilities available for a celebration or reception connected with a same-sex partnership will face prosecution and fines.”

Same-sex unions were “incapable of realising the specific communion of persons that is marriage.” Marriage, they said, “means the union of a man and woman. A husband is a man who has a wife: a wife is a woman who has a husband.

“A same-sex couple cannot be husband and wife. A same-sex couple cannot procreate a child through the sexual act which expresses married love.

“Same-sex relationships, by their very nature, cannot be considered equal to marriage or almost equal to marriage.”

It was “a grave injustice if the State ignores the unique and proper place of husbands and wives, the place of mothers and fathers, and especially the rights of children, who deserve from society a clear understanding of marriage as they grow to sexual maturity.”

The Civil Partnership Bill “represents a fundamental revolution in our understanding of marriage and the family and cannot go unchallenged”, they said.

Speaking at the same press conference, the Bishop of Dromore, John McAreavey, welcomed Tuesday’s vote on devolution by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Now that this had happened, the bishops believed it was “vital that other outstanding areas of critical importance for Northern Ireland – particularly education issues – can and should be faced urgently in the interests of the common good”.

Bishop McAreavey referred to the “complete breakdown, stagnation, frustration”, in the education area. It was “creating a huge problem”.

The bishops also expressed concern for migrant workers who chose to remain in Ireland despite the recession. It was “essential, even in a time of decreased resources” that their rights were fully respected, they said.

Regarding the 2012 International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, they said “participation by anyone who shares our faith in Jesus” was welcome. It runs from June 10th to 17th and they thanked all who contributed to the €850,000 collected for the event.