The once all-powerful Catholic Church in Ireland was trying to come to terms Sunday with the country’s overwhelming vote to allow gay marriage and confront the “social revolution” behind it.
As jubilant “Yes” supporters nursed their hangovers after partying long into the night following Saturday’s referendum result announcement, the faithful were going to mass to hear their priests reflect on the new social landscape in Ireland.
Bishops spoke against changing the law and older and rural voters were thought to have accounted for much of the “No” vote.
Final results showed 62 percent of votes in favour and 38 percent against introducing gay marriage, in a country where being homosexual was a crime until 1993.
As Sunday’s newspapers celebrated the result with colourful pictures of partying “Yes” supporters, they noted the heavy blow to Church authority.
The Irish Sun on Sunday newspaper said in its editorial: “Ireland officially emerged from the shadow of the Catholic Church yesterday to show its love and respect to people who have suffered here for centuries.”
Niall O’Connor wrote in the Sunday Independent: “The once unshakable influence of the Catholic Church over Middle Ireland has been confronted.”
Ireland will become the 19th country in the world to legalise same-sex marriages once the necessary legislation is approved as expected in the coming months.
– ‘Reality check’ –
Adopting gay marriage is a seismic change in Ireland, where the Catholic Church has traditionally been hugely influential.
The majority of Irish people still identify themselves as Catholic and abortion is still banned except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger.
But the Church’s influence has waned in recent years amid growing secularisation and after a wave of child sex abuse scandals that discredited the clergy.
“I think the Church needs to do a reality check right across the board… Have we drifted away completely from young people?” Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin, told national broadcaster RTE Saturday.
He warned against the Church in Ireland becoming “a safe space for the like-minded rather than the Church which Pope Francis is talking about, which is reaching out.”
All of Ireland’s 43 constituencies except one voted in favour of the measure and the 60-percent turnout was far higher than in previous referendums, as thousands of expatriates returned home to cast their ballots.
It was the first time ever that gay marriage had been approved by popular vote.
The referendum asked voters whether or not they approved the statement: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”
Tony Flannery, co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, was stripped of his ministry in 2012 due to his outspoken liberal views on contraception and the ordination of female priests.
The Redemptorist priest, who voted Yes, said the Church needed to rethink how it approaches Ireland’s youth if it is to reverse its waning position in society.
“The last thing the Irish bishops should be doing is further alienating the young generation who the Church, to a fair degree, has lost already,” he told AFP.
Instead of relying on traditional rules and telling people how they should live, Irish bishops should instead “get back to the more fundamental tenets of the Christian faith which is about love and compassion and mercy, and Pope Francis is very much doing that,” he said.
“If they do they will begin to reconnect with the younger generation.”
– Mixed feelings –
Congratulations poured in to Ireland from around the world, including from British Prime Minister David Cameron and US Vice President Joe Biden.
In Australia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Sunday his country would not follow Ireland’s lead and hold a referendum on gay marriage, adding that any decisions would be made by parliament.
Gay marriage was explicitly outlawed in Australia under a 2004 revision of the national Marriage Act.
In Germany, Jens Spahn, a member of the executive committee of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, appeared open to change.
“One should think, what the Catholic Irish can do, we can too,” he was quoted by Welt Online as saying, adding: “The population is often more ahead in these matters than we think.”
Some citizens voiced mixed feelings as they went about their business in Dublin on Sunday.
“I’m saddened, because I don’t think it was a good idea. I think there are much more important things to be looked after in this country,” said one woman, Bernadette.
Another, Caroline, told AFP: “While I’m happy with the result, I don’t think we should be voting necessarily on something which should be a human right anyway.”