We are Church Ireland is part of an international movement of Catholics committed to necessary reform of the Catholic Church to make it relevant to the people of God and all peoples of the world.
The leadership group of We are Church Ireland has given its full and unconditional support for the forthcoming Irish referendum on marriage equality. We realise our position is at variance with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church but we believe that we must respect and promote the rights of all our people, irrespective of sexual orientation, to enjoy the full protection of the Irish Constitution.
Everyone has the equal right to happiness and we believe that when it comes to marriage that people of faith should support the referendum wording that “marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex”.
Primacy of conscience
The followers of Jesus Christ from the beginning asserted the right of the primacy of conscience. It was articulated by Joseph Ratzinger in 1967: “Over the pope as expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there stands one’s own conscience which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority.”
We follow this fundamental principle of the primacy of conscience by asserting our conscientious view in supporting the marriage equality referendum even if it is at variance with “ecclesiastical authority”.
However, when we speak of the church’s opposition to marriage equality we should not limit the church to the hierarchy. In its broadest and most catholic sense the church is the entire people of God.
So, in forming our consciences we should not just be open to the teachings of the official teaching body of the church, the magisterium, but also to the insights of theologians and the experience of the entire people of God known as the sensus fidei.
Thus we have three levels within the Catholic Church: the hierarchy, theologians and the wisdom of the laity. All must be recognised as the three authentic sources of truth in the Catholic Church.
There can be conflict and disagreement within and between these three sources. The most notable conflict was and continues to be in the area of responsible parenthood, most famously in the use of artificial contraception in family planning.
After 50 years of the hierarchical church proclaiming a ban on all forms of artificial contraception, the vast proportion of Catholics think and act otherwise as it does not fit into their lived Christian experience of marriage.
Conflict and disagreement between the hierarchy and the other two sources of truth persists on homosexuality.
Pope John Paul in 1993 asserted “the intrinsic evil” of “the homosexual condition”, much to the consternation of a great part of the people of God.
To say to the mother or father of a homosexual person that somehow their son or daughter is evil is a grave insult and furthermore debases the God of the New Testament.
Jesus went out of his way to invite the marginalised of his society into his Kingdom. This Kingdom of God which he proclaimed was based on a vision of a new society based on equality, justice and love where everyone – irrespective of gender, economic status colour, ethnicity or sexual orientation – is welcomed as an equal.
Jesus of Nazareth challenged the skewed values and injustices of the religious and political elites of his day and their exploitation and marginalisation of their people.
We as followers of Jesus must also challenge the injustices of our Church and society.
This Kingdom of God is not confined to the Church but to the creation of a more just society in which all people are valued as equals.
This is a vision which We are Church Ireland proclaims. We wish and work for a society where a person’s sexual orientation is not a cause of discrimination or prejudice.
When it comes to marriage, Christians do not have the ownership of the institution and should invite gay, lesbian and transgender people to share in the joys of marriage if they so wish.
As a result of a yes vote in the referendum we will have a more just and inclusive society befitting the dignity of all people.
Brendan Butler is spokesperson for We are Church Ireland