By Stephanie Kirchgaessner | 26 May 2015
A senior Vatican official has attacked the legalisation of gay marriage in Ireland. The referendum that overwhelmingly backed marriage equality last weekend was a “defeat for humanity”, he claimed.
“I was deeply saddened by the result,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, said at a conference in Rome on Tuesday night. “The church must take account of this reality, but in the sense that it must strengthen its commitment to evangelisation. I think that you cannot just talk of a defeat for Christian principles, but of a defeat for humanity.”
The remarks by the Vatican’s top diplomat, who is seen as second only to the pope in the church’s hierarchy, represent the most damning assessment of the Irish vote by a senior church official to date.
It was a far more critical response than the circumspect reaction offered by archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, who said: “It is very clear that if this referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people … [then the church needs] a reality check.”
Ireland became the first country to legalise gay marriage by popular vote after a referendum found that 62% of voters were in favour of changing the constitution to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.
While the results were celebrated by advocates of gay rights in Ireland and around the world, it was also seen as a stark symbol of how wide the chasm has grown between young people in what has traditionally been a staunchly Catholic country and the church itself, which says that homosexual acts are a sin and vehemently opposes gay marriage.
Parolin’s comments are sure to revive the debate about the church’s attitude to gay rights and equality under the papacy of Pope Francis, who once famously said “who am I to judge?” when asked about the existence of a “gay lobby” within the Vatican. That remark spurred hope among progressive Catholics that the church was entering a new era of tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality.
For some, that hope has been dashed by an ongoing controversy involving a French diplomat and practising Catholic named Laurent Stefanini, who is gay. The Vatican has refused to accept Stefanini’s nomination as France’s ambassador to the Holy See because of his sexual orientation, according to media reports in France and Italy.
The Vatican has declined to comment on the matter, but there has been speculation in recent weeks that the pope could make an abrupt change and accept the nomination, after all. The Vatican recently told the Guardian that any news on the appointment would be made available on the Vatican’s bulletin, where such appointments are usually publicised.
On Tuesday night, Parolin said the dialogue between the Vatican and France was continuing in regard to the controversial nomination, and that he hoped it would come to a conclusion in a “positive manner”.
Parolin’s remarks on the Irish vote are significant given the broader role Parolin plays in crafting the church’s message on major diplomatic and social issues.
At the time of his appointment in 2013, veteran Vatican reporter John Allen wrote in the National Catholic Reporter that Parolin had been “on the frontlines of shaping the Vatican’s response to virtually every geopolitical challenge of the past two decades”.
Among other issues, the Italian cardinal has been an outspoken advocate for action to combat global warming. In recent remarks, he denounced the “globalisation of indifference and the economy of exclusion” that has put the planet in peril.
He has also been the public face of Francis’s diplomatic efforts, including the church’s role in helping Cuba and the US restore diplomatic ties.
But on Tuesday, with his choice of words, Parolin differed from the pope in one respect: the Argentinian pontiff has also used the phrase “defeat for humanity”, but he was talking about war, not the legalisation of gay marriage.
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