Reactions to the Irish vote

Last Friday voters in Ireland voted overwhelmingly to redefine marriage as to be between two people, regardless of their sex. Kevin Cullen, a columnist in the Boston Globe, asked in reaction, “Where’s Oscar Wilde when you need him?”

Well, given that Wilde received the Sacraments on his death bed, one would hope that he is either in Heaven or purgatory. 

Cullen wrote, “When the results became clear on Saturday, Stephen Fry, the actor, tweeted that ‘Oscar Wilde smiles from his grave.’ I don’t believe that for a minute. If anything, Wilde’s saying, ‘Get me out of here! It’s dark!’”

Having been entrusted to the mercy of God, Wilde would have a different opinion on the topic than Cullen and Fry. He would understand (better than he did in life) God’s love for people with same-sex attractions and also God’s plan for the family. It was hard for Wilde in life to grasp this, due to the harshness with which the Christian message was often presented (a harshness he bore in his own flesh when sent to prison for his sexual sins). 

Cullen rejoiced in the vote and commented, “Old Catholic Ireland is dead and gone. It’s in the grave, buried by the many abusive priests and nuns, the hypocritical bishops who protected them, the enslaved unwed mothers, and the institutionalized children who suffered at the hands of them all.”

Wilde became a Catholic before Ireland became independent of the British Empire, before the Catholic clergy (together with a complicit Irish lay government) could lead the country with much more of a “justice” approach than a “merciful” one. He had been fascinated with Catholicism throughout his life. A friend, who later became a priest, got him to visit Rome and meet Blessed Pius IX in a private audience, but Wilde did not convert at that time. He quipped, “To go over to Rome would be to sacrifice and give up my two great gods: Money and ambition.”

In his great work, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Wilde shows how sin corrupts the soul inwardly; even if the outward show fools others, it does not fool God and has a decaying effect of which the sinner is aware (in the book, by looking at the hidden portrait, which becomes hideous).

Wilde also wrote the play “Salome” about Herodias’ daughter whose dance got her stepfather (King Herod) to order the beheading of John the Baptist. Wilde depicts Salome as a virgin controlled by lust for the saint, whose chastity is unassailable. Ultimately, Wilde has even King Herod condemning her “monstrosity,” reflecting Wilde’s own personal battles. 

Cullen, in writing about the plebiscite, said, “In some ways, it is back to the future, a return to what Ireland was like before St. Patrick supposedly sailed over from Britain with a boatload of Christianity. Pagan Ireland was deeply Spiritual before it became deeply religious and Catholic.”

Ireland’s equalities minister, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, said about the vote, “This is our Republic — we’ve taken it back today.” From whom did they take it back? From St. Patrick? 

It is sad to read that someone would think that Ireland (and Europe and the rest of the world) would have been better off if Christianity (and the Catholic Church) would never have supplanted paganism. However, given the list of abuses that Cullen mentioned, one can understand why this thought is around (it is not a well-thought out one, since if the paganism of the Roman Empire had not ended, we would not have the respect for woman, for children, for human rights that Christianity ushered in — of course, a lot of that is going “out the window” in our world right now).

Reacting to the vote, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin told the television network RTE, “I ask myself, most of these young people who voted yes are products of our Catholic school system for 12 years. I’m saying there’s a big challenge there to see how we get across the message of the Church.”

In saying that, he was not saying that the Church just needs a better catechetical program. Expanding on his thought, he said, “I think really that the Church needs to do a reality check, a reality check right across the board, to look at the things it’s doing well, to look at the areas where we really have to start and say, ‘Look, have we drifted away completely from young people.’”

The archbishop, from a different ideological perspective than Cullen, is noticing the same reality. Our failure (and especially the failure of Catholic leaders) to live Christ’s teachings in some areas has led to the abandonment of His teachings in other areas. It truly is a problem of credibility.

The people for whom the Catholic Church is most “incredible” are young people. Archbishop Martin said, “It’s very clear that if this referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people, then the Church has a huge task in front of it to find the language to be able to talk to and to get its message across to young people, not just on this issue, but in general.”

What the archbishop stated here goes beyond the history of abuse. Even without that millstone around our necks, the Church has the challenge of showing how her teaching is a loving one. “The Church’s teaching, if it isn’t expressed in terms of love — then it’s got it wrong,” he said.

He said that because some of the public proponents (and not so public proponents, such as people at home) of the Church’s teaching make it look hateful and because the current popular approach is to appraise any criticism of homosexual conduct as being hateful.

This Tuesday, celebrating the feast of St. Philip Neri, Pope Francis sent a message to the Order of Oratorians, who continue his work, and wrote, “The perspective of his approach to his neighbor, so as to bear witness to all the love and the mercy of the Lord, can constitute a valid example for bishops, priests, consecrated people and lay faithful.  He exercised an apostolate of personal relationships and of friendship, which was the privileged way of opening [oneself] and encountering Jesus and the Gospel. He loved spontaneity, he fled from artifice, he chose the most entertaining means to educate in the Christian virtues, and at the same time promotes a healthy discipline. His deep conviction [was that] the way of holiness is based upon the grace of an encounter — that with the Lord — accessible to any person, of whatever state or condition.”

In the Western world we need that joyful, loving approach of St. Philip, to be reenergized in our own faith and so as to be able to bring a credible Christian message to our world. Even Oscar Wilde would have appreciated this approach — since it was his friends (almost all of whom had also converted) who helped bring him to Christ.

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