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The Irish referendum: personal implications for Catholics’ public actions

May 24, 2015

That 40% of Irish voters bucked some of their own priests and bishops and nearly all of their politicians and major media to side with a true-marriage campaign that mustered hardly one euro for every ten spent by its opponents says something about the resiliency of natural law and Church teaching on marriage. But, silver linings aside, the outcome of the constitutional referendum on marriage in Ireland is a disaster.

“Same-sex marriage” has usually been imposed by activist judges; in Ireland it won by popular vote. “Same-sex marriage” is often insinuated into the legal landscape by blurring distinctions between it and “same-sex unions”; in Ireland marriage itself was expressly on the line. “Same-sex marriage” in most places set in only after decades of relentless secular media promotion; in Ireland it seems to have come about almost overnight.

But as the Church now tries to figure out how, for the umpteenth time in her history, she must go about teaching people how to be human, she must also explain to Catholics what it means to be Catholic. Specifically, she must be clear that some public actions carry personal consequences for Catholics especially when we are talking about Catholics who play a part in bringing about a repudiation of perennial natural law and a rejection of irrefutable Catholic doctrine. Obviously—and without reading souls, but considering things objectively—degrees of personal culpability for such acts will vary depending on two main factors: the specific actions taken by individuals and their places in the social or ecclesiastical order.

At the lower end of the responsibility scale are, I suppose, rank-and-file Catholics who cast a personal ballot securing, not just passage of the amendment, but its passage by a higher margin than would have occurred without their vote. At the higher end of the responsibility scale are, of course, Catholics who, from positions of political, social, or ecclesiastical prestige, lent their influence to the cause of “same-sex marriage”. But any Catholic who directly helped to bring about Ireland’s decision to treat as marriage unions of two persons of the same sex has, at a minimum, arrayed himself against the infallible doctrine of the Church and, quite possibly, has committed an act of heresy. (See my Primer of 27.III.2013). In either event, the technical term for such an action is “sin”; the consequences of sin are always spiritual and sometimes canonical; and the solution for sin is repentance and Confession.

May all Catholics, whether contributing to this disaster or grieving it (even from afar), set ourselves to righting it as soon as possible.

Note: As we sort out this latest mess, I urge Catholics to avoid running down the rabbit hole of wondering whether this supporter or that of “same-sex marriage” has been excommunicated for such support. Latae sententiae sanctions must be, in my opinion, eliminated from canon law but, in the meantime, debating latae sententiae penalties shifts attention away from the real problem at hand (the legalization of “same-sex marriage”) which all must address, and toward the intricacies of penal canon law which precious few are qualified to talk about.

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