The Brandsma Review

Pro Vita, pro Ecclesia Dei et pro Hibernia – A journal of conservative Catholic opinion from Ireland

Issue 136, January-February 2014


Old Temptations in New Disguises


Dr John Murray
Mel Cormican
Brian Ó hIcidhe
Muinice de Bairgéad
Joe Aston
Rev Dáithí Ó Murchú CC
Dr Éanna Johnson
Peadar Laighléis

From the Editor’s Desk, ‘Need for Vigilance’, and ‘The Apocalypse in Literature’; Hibernia Hibernici includes ‘Humane Herodians’, and ‘Enslavement–the Ultimate Freedom?’; Hurling Shots reflects on ‘The Church and the Rise of Islam in Europe’, and ‘Rénua Ireland’.


THERE ARE MANY people, including many Catholics I’m afraid, who might consider voting in favour of same-sex “marriage” in the upcoming Referendum. They can’t see the harm in it. They want to be nice and tolerant and “inclusive”—in fact, they see themselves as being Christian in voting yes. They think that all that the amendment would do is to expand the wonderful institution of marriage to allow even more couples to avail of it, to the benefit of these couples, the children they are raising, and society as a whole. They are in favour of equality, of treating everyone the same, of being fair. They think a ban on same-sex couples being allowed to marry is discrimination against them, which treats them as second class citizens, and that such discrimination is not right in a democracy, in a republic, in a modern society.  These people include even those who acknowledge that men and women are different in significant ways, and that husbands and wives are complementary, and that mothers and fathers matter, and who reject the ideological notion that male and female are interchangeable and that children need only a loving person or couple (or people) for their upbringing in order to turn out happy, healthy and good.
Gender-neutral institution
Such thinking and feeling is well-meant and sincereon the part of many. But it is misguided and wrong for several reasons. It overlooks the effects of the revision of the definition of marriage that the Referendum proposes. As things now stand, marriage is understood in the Constitution as essentially a male-female relationship, what might be called a “gendered” institution. (I’m not signing on to any “gender theory” in using this terminology.) The revised definition would treat “marriage” as a genderneutral institution. The sex of the couple would be treated as entirely inconsequential to the reality of the institution of “marriage”. This is a major change, not a minor one. Although the same word, “marriage”, would continue to be used, the reality to which the word is attached would be very different. The word “marriage” would no longer pick out an essentially gendered relationship, a gender-significant institution, as it has done since the foundation of the state, and for centuries prior to that, virtually universally and not only in Ireland. There would be no word in the Constitution, and, following on from that, in Irish law and public policy, (including education policy and practice too, it must be said), to pick out the male-female life-long and life-oriented union as real and distinctive. In fact, not only would there be no word for this distinct relationship, but it would become increasingly impossible to publicly think and speak about this relationship as a distinct and valuable reality. There would not only be a new definition of “marriage” but the previous definition would become taboo. This is a major purpose of the redefinition: to get rid of the idea that there is something distinctive and uniquely beneficial in the one manone woman sexual and comprehensive union, presently referred to as marriage.

Of course, even if there is a majority who vote yes, men and women would continue to enter into life-long and life-oriented personally committed relationships, and continue to have children and raise them as complementary “father-mother” couples (with help from many others too, of course– no one is claiming that only a father and mother can and should raise a child). But they will not be able to do this by entering a public, legally recognised, civil institution of “marriage”. And we will have lost as a society any way of picking out this relationship and the family that is its fulfilment. We will not be allowed to discriminate by treating this relationship as in any way superior to, or more ideal than, other relationships, such as same-sex relationships. Committed same-sex relationships will be treated in our Constitution, and then our laws and public policy and culture, as equally good and worthy to found a family. And all these family forms would then be seen as “primary and fundamental units” of society (to quote article 41 of the Irish Constitution).
Distinctive and unique
The life-long and life-oriented man-woman sexual relationship is distinctive and unique in what it offers society; it is superior in significant ways compared to all other relationships. Therefore, it is not unjust discrimination to treat it as distinctive, unique, and superior, in its social significance. A man and a woman can unite in sexual intercourse as one body (to echo the biblical language of the book of Genesis and the teaching of Jesus and St Paul). This union does not always result in a child being conceived, nor does it have to do so, but it is often and entirely naturally fulfilled in just that way, when a child is conceived from the union of the two. This child is related intimately to his or her mother and father. This biological link is hugely important, in several ways, and it brings with it personal responsibility on the part of the mother and father to raise that child with love (or, failing that, to ensure that a loving foster or loving adoptive mother and father can do so). Being a mother or father is a life-long reality and responsibility. Only a man-woman union can provide a child with a father and mother; and children benefit greatly from having a loving father and mother. Children have a right to a mother and father to raise them and be there as mother and father all through their lives.

Of course, the state cannot do everything possible and necessary to vindicate this right. Many people have to play their parts in making the ideal and norm a reality. But the state has a limited and important role.  It has to set up the best political, social and legal conditions to help the ideal to become a reality in as many cases as possible (in its fullness this is the “common good”). Centrally, it does this through the institution of marriage: through acknowledging this natural institution, promoting it, and protecting it.  The state does not have to be draconian in doing this (for example, in forcing single parents to marry, or in imprisoning homosexuals). Nobody wants to see a tyranny in Ireland. It is important for the common good to allow a large measure of personal and social freedom for people to make decisions and organise their lives and families. But the state has a very big responsibility in recognising and promoting the natural institution of marriage as the ideal context for founding families and contributing to society.
Same name, different reality
The upcoming Referendum seeks to do away with this natural institution and replace it with a very different one with the same name. This will lead to serious confusion. But it will be even more harmful than that. This new institution will still be called “marriage” but it will contradict the distinctive value of opposite-sex complementarity and procreative potential. It will be based on the false assumption that there is nothing of value for a child in being raised by his or her mother and father in a life-long, committed union. It will enshrine this false assumption in our Constitution. It will make it increasingly difficult for all of us to recognise, think, and say that there is something uniquely and distinctively valuable for children when they are raised by their mother and father (and this includes an adoptive or foster mother and father). It will be impossible to give any preference to the family form founded on a life-long, publicly legal commitment of one man and one woman to each other as the complementary pairing of husband and wife. A family founded on a same-sex relationship will have to be treated as exactly equal in value and benefit to one founded on a husband-wife union. This inevitably entails a Constitutional denial of the distinctive and unique value of the gendered institution that we now (correctly) call marriage. It will be denied by being abolished. This is not to say that homosexuals are bad people or that they cannot be loving or kind. But no man, whatever his sexual feelings or tendencies, can be a good mother; it is not an insult to any man to say this.

Further harms will logically follow from a yes vote, although they are perhaps not immediately obvious or explicitly threatened. At the moment, Catholics have their sacramental marriages recognised by the state, quite correctly, as valid and invaluable marriages. But if marriage is radically redefined in such as way as to disallow treating same-sex couples any differently from opposite-sex couples, in relation to marriage and family, then it is hard to see how the state can continue to recognise Catholic weddings as a legitimate way of entering into civil marriage. It is hard to see how the sacrament cannot be the target of criticism and attack as a (supposedly) discriminatory policy and practice, akin to racism.  Catholic education will also be threatened, as all schools will be forced to follow the Constitution in its (mis)understanding of marriage and family. We have already seen in the UK and elsewhere how Catholic adoption agencies have been forced to close due to the pressure on them not to give any preference to opposite-sex married couples as adoptive parents.

It’s a big mistake to think that the sacrament of Matrimony will continue on unscathed by any redefinition of civil marriage. Our Lord Jesus Christ didn’t invent this sacrament; he took an already existing naturally-grounded civil institution and “raised it to the level of a sacrament” (to quote Canon Law). If we allow the naturally-grounded civil institution of marriage to be radically redefined in such a way that its essence is abolished, we are allowing an attack on the sacrament too. The natural foundation for the grace of Matrimony is civil marriage. All Catholics should be willing to promote and protect civil marriage for this reason, as well as the others I have outlined.
Ignoring biology
Redefining marriage so that it ignores the sex of the people involved in the commitment destroys the anchoring of marriage in the natural male-female binary. It is hard to see how one could close off “marriage” to groups of three or more people if one sees marriage as being constrained only by adults being in love. Can’t three or four people be in love and want to get “married”? Why say no to them? Why not support “marriage equality” for them too? It makes sense to confine marriage to two when you recognise the natural complementarity and life-giving potential of one man and one woman forming a couple. But it doesn’t make sense when you deny the natural complementarity of the opposite sexes, when you ignore and deny the natural complementarity of the opposite sexes, when you ignore and deny the significance of human biology. If the institution of marriage can be redefined at will (even the will of the people), then its being confined to two people is merely arbitrary and conventional, and thus open to challenge and change. And we know where that will lead ultimately.

Recognising the reality of true marriage as based on the natural male-female complementarity, and its openness and fittingness for having and raising children, is also essential to accepting and understanding why marriage should be a life-long commitment and one that is sexually exclusive. If “marriage” is essentially based on the emotional bond felt by people towards each other, then why not allow “marriage” that is temporary, and/or open to sexual behaviour with others outside the “marriage” (if the “spouses” happen to think this is acceptable, of course)? It is possible to see why such things are morally wrong and socially unacceptable in principle, and thus why marriage is life-long and monogamous, when marriage’s foundation in the sexual complementarity of man and woman and its procreative potential and responsibility is clearly acknowledged and promoted.  But the radical redefinition of marriage proposed in the Referendum will deny and render taboo this natural complementarity and potential. It is not mere scare-mongering to worry about where this all could end up. One thing is for sure: it will not be good for children or for society. All of us will be the losers if genuine marriage and family are attacked and weakened. That’s why we should all vote no to the radical redefinition proposed in the Referendum.

Dr John Murray is Chairman of The Iona Institute and lectures in moral theology in the Mater Dei Institute in Dublin.


Your country seems in a sense to be living again the temptations of Christ: Ireland is being asked to prefer the “kingdoms of the world and their splendour” to the kingdom of God (Cf Mt 4:8). Satan, the tempter, the adversary of Christ, will use all his might and all his deceptions to win Ireland for the way of the world. What a victory he would gain, what a blow he would inflict on the Body of Christ in the world, if he could seduce Irish men and women away from Christ. Now is the time of testing for Ireland. This generation is once more a generation of decision.—Pope St John Paul II, Limerick, October 1, 1979 1

IN THESE PROPHETIC words, Pope John Paul II put before the people of Ireland the stark choice before them. How apt and pertinent the message is, especially today, when Ireland faces one wave after another of choices: about abortion, same-sex marriage and many more.

Sadly, it would appear that like the Inner Three in the garden of Gethsemane, the people of Ireland have fallen asleep, not able to keep awake in this hour of temptation. Ireland has shaken off the shady bower of the Church in search of the azure skies of secularism. In a sense, Ireland has returned to the paganism of pre-Patrician days, only to reveal that their once staunch faith was just the most fleeting and ephemeral of veneers. Underneath the façade of the cultured Catholic man and woman, with great probity of mind and a byword for goodness and devotion, a sullen creature has emerged: boorish, depraved and devoid of hope; a creature that lacks common decency, who is in love with self and at war with the Church—a Gollum-like creature, a mere shadow of what once made Ireland great.

But it would be simplistic to think that Ireland has returned to the former paganism. Paganism in the past was based very much on the natural: the sun, moon, stars, and the very earthy stuff under one’s feet. The New Paganism in Ireland is instead based on the opposite: it is based on the manmade, the artificial and the virtual. It is, as Pope Francis referred to as a “culture of the ephemeral”2. Against the Thomist tradition of natural law–which badly needs to be recovered in language comprehensible to the average person–his Neo-Paganism asserts its morality on a purely ideological basis. Someone pointed out to me a long time ago the strange connection between sentimentality and cruelty: when we base our moral decision making on sentimentality alone we leave ourselves open to horrendous acts of barbarity and cruelty; the same equally applies with an ideological based morality. Ireland has not a perfect history when it comes to the rights of its weakest and most vulnerable: its handicapped were hidden away and some of its children were abused. In this regard, Ireland must discern wisely and avoid the temptation to use the same sentimentality to solve the problem—it needs to develop a solidly based morality that respects all members of society. The rights of the child should be put front and centre: the right to be created naturally out of love, to have a married father and mother, to receive a moral, spiritual and religious education, to have its innocence respected, to be free of abuse, and to have the opportunity to live in a fair society that doesn’t side with the rich and powerful.
The Luddite card
This new paganism of the artificial is a perfect storm for the Church, for it gathers together many popular ideas that seems to wrongfoot the Church: artificial contraception, artificially made babies, even with the possibility of three parents, same-sex marriage and same-sex parenthood, and the removal of parental rights and autonomy. Can we not see what St John Paul II prophesied—“Satan, the tempter, the adversary of Christ, will use all his might and all his deceptions to win Ireland for the way of the world”? The Church in opposing this “artificiality” can easily be presented as playing the Luddite card and be seen as a barrier to progress—and here lies the strength of the temptation and the deception.  But the critical voice of conscience cannot be silenced—we just need to remain alert and awake. The Church led by Pope Francis has awakened from its slumber and is foiling the snares of the devil with miraculous ease—it is little wonder Francis is devoted to Mary the untier of knots! The Church, of course, is not opposed to scientific progress, but it simply wants technology to be at the service of humankind and not vice versa. The Church has got it right. The Church in Ireland will succeed by bringing people back in touch with the natural—rooted in the natural—and by reawakening people’s love of the beauty in nature; an eco-friendly Church in this regards is not a mere diversion, but central to the Church’s identity and mission. 3
The new scapegoat
In the Ireland of today, where many no longer access the saving power of Christ’s redemption through the sacrament of confession, how do people “manage” their need for justification, let alone forgiveness? Here, another form of artificiality shows itself: the “artificial justification”. An increasing number justify themselves in ways reminiscent of the ancient Jewish practice of the scapegoat. The Jewish priests passed on the sins of the people onto a goat, herding it out of the city walls before slaughtering it.  Then, they felt justified again. The Irish of today do pretty much the same, where radio call-in shows play the part of the Jewish Temple. Joe Duffy–if he will forgive me –plays the part of the High Priest, intoning to the faithful “talk to Joe”. The goat can be anything that the populace want to heap collective guilt onto: the Church, a political party, an ethnic group. The sins of the nation are “passed onto” this goat. This goat is driven out, ostracised, becomes a figure of hate, public enemy number one. If one feels bad about oneself, it is comforting to know that there is someone worse out there. So the ritual goes. But in the days of the Jewish Temple, that sacrifice was good for the year—in this case it barely suffices for the day. Give us this day our daily bread has become “give us this day our daily rant”.

In this context, RTÉ plays its role as usurper of the Church without a blush: it doesn’t want to destroy the Church, it wants to become the Church. In the tone of its editorials, across many programmes, both on radio and TV, it can’t resist—in its arrogance and folly—the temptation to meddle in social engineering.  It is no coincidence that its flagship children’s programme in the 1980s was Anything Goes, a strange post-modern title and message to give young people. As I remember it, its younger audience–such as me–which tuned in for “Make and Do” with Mary Fitzgerald were still watching as it moved onto more adult topics, such as, drugs, sex outside of marriage and, of course, condoms. It was a veritable “Saturday School” [sic] of social engineering, chipping away at the Church’s teaching on moral issues, Saturday after Saturday, for years. This programme did for the younger generation what The Late, Late Show did for the older: undermine social norms and taboos and create the social fragmentation that followed.  Whereas once the natural wisdom was to wait till you were married before having children, the opposite was encouraged for purely ideological reasons. There are no good natural or rational reasons for creating families outside of wedlock with all the social and moral consequences it brings—it requires an ideology to drive this fashion. RTÉ, the god of the airwaves, knew better. In what seems like a blink of the eye in the decades that passed since, the taboo that was maintained for the good of children has been broken and the number of children born outside of marriage has now risen to 35%. The social and moral costs of this will be borne for generations.
The building block
In the family built within a stable marriage is found the building block of a stable and thriving society. Within this structure, the needs of parents are subordinated to the needs of the child. Increasingly, in this Neo-Paganism, the needs of the adult take primary consideration. Why children are still being put last, despite public revelations of how badly some children have been treated in the past, is hard to fathom.  It is good that Irish people are today trying to eliminate the last vestiges of homophobia—this is something that all people of good will and fairness would agree is right. The rights of people with same sex attraction not to be unjustly discriminated against are rightly recognised in civil society. Over against this, the foundational needs of all children to a father and mother, wherever possible, stands as a right that must also be absolutely respected and upheld. In this first experience of diversity-of gender, personality, opinion and temperament-found in natural parentage of a biological father and mother, the foundations of a well-rounded and happy child is formed.  It is a key component of a functional, as opposed to dysfunctional, society. It is in the school of nature where children are formed in that most precious gift: reality. To carry out a radical social experiment–with few precedents—on innocent children, particularly with the ideological aim of social engineering is a horror that Ireland must simply wake up to and resist. Detaching people from nature itself is the Brave New World that Huxley warned about; it is an evil with dire and far-reaching consequences because it puts an axe to the roots of the social order itself on which civilisation itself is based. It is not discrimination to say “children by nature need a father and a mother”, even gay children need a father and a mother. But the Neo-Paganism prefers morality based on ideology, not nature. Gender is said to be insignificant and interchangeable. Two loving dads or two loving mums are as good as one of each, so the argument goes. And, then there is the augmented argument that “isn’t two loving dads better than two mixed gender parents who are unloving fiends?” But these are arguments of degree, not kind. The truth is you can’t cheat nature; nature has its ecology and the “domestic ecology” ordered to the good of children is one that favours a father and a mother. You simply can’t fake that.
1. /veritas%20content%20of%201979% 0%202004%20book.pdf
2. “The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life”, Pope Francis. The Philippines, January, 2015.
3. “If you are a Christian, protecting the environment is part of your identity, not an ideological option… A Christian who does not protect creation, who does not let it grow, is a Christian who does not care about the work of God; that work that was born from the love of God for us… And this is the first response to the first creation: protect creation, make it grow.” Pope Francis, February 9.

Mel Cormican, a native of Roscommon, is a religious education teacher in England.


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This entry was posted on April 26, 2015 by in Issues 2014.
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