Is the child teaching the parent?

“This is not how you raised us to behave!”

I once witnessed young-adult children remonstrating with a parent in these terms. The parent had decided on a course of action at odds with the values and behaviours previously taught and witnessed. The parent acknowledged that these were children to be proud of, children well raised.

This scene came to mind as I considered the news reports on Ireland’s referendum concerning 'marriage equality'. I asked myself if the various generations of Irish voters were perhaps championing values that had been well planted in their souls while, at the same time, protesting against their perception of a parent – the Catholic Church – that has not lived well in accord with its own teaching.

Should the Church in Ireland be recognising that its children have internalised vital Catholic values and are now challenging the Church over its failure to practise what it has preached?

One commentator said, “Ireland can no longer be called a Catholic country.”Culturally things have changed greatly,but I wonder if we are not seeing an Ireland struggling to be more genuinely,spiritually, Catholic.

I wonder this because I sense the driving force behind the 'yes' vote victory in Ireland is one of fundamental values that all must applaud and support – namely the equality of all human beings, and the supreme value of love in human relationships. These are Christian values,deeply planted.

(I hasten to add that I also believe the laudable objective of enshrining these values is not necessarily achieved so easily by Ireland’s referendum result and other countries’ legislation,and could possibly be damaged by them. The aspiration I applaud.)

Equality is highly valued by human beings. It is not so well regarded by those who are ‘more equal’ than others. Those who don’t have it, and aspire to, pursue it passionately. It was Christian witness to the equality of all humans that strongly attracted and motivated repressive caste societies such as Korea to embrace Catholicism when that doctrine championed by Catholics was first encountered.

I read recently that in some parts of the world Catholics are being converted to other Christian churches which now appear to better represent equality for all.

The inequalities fostered by clericalism have been particularly damaging.Sexual abuse and cover-ups,perpetrated on those-much-less equal by those-with the-power, must be viewed as some of the worst un-Christian behaviours imaginable.Some religious sisters and brothers have also used their positions of power to cruelly treat those entrusted to them for nurture and care. Ireland has suffered this greatly.

Such perceptions of inequality must have been a significant motivator in the psyche,if not the conscious voting minds, of the Irish. How could they protest abusive inequality? How could they make a stand for equality? Here was a popular momentum at a critical time – its rallying cry “Marriage Equality!”

Equality is greatly valued. Equality is the basis of justice. The desire to achieve it is powerful.

Likewise with love.

We recall joyfully and with pride the words said of the early Christians by edified and admiring pagans, “See how they love one another.” It was self-giving,self-sacrificing, other-centred love they were praising.

Conversely, our dismay and shame must be equivalent as we consider the self-gratification,the self-interest, and theself-serving indifference to the sufferings of victims of clerical abuse and cover-up.Child abuse is love’s opposite. Covering it up is not love. There is no admiration for this behaviour, no edification from it.Do we really wonder that the Irish have voted for what they perceive as“love” and “equality” contrary to the promptings of the bishops who, in much of the popular imagination, have come to suggest the opposite?

Are we surprised the bishops’ arguments against “marriage equality” went unheard and were not carefully considered, given their widespread loss of moral authority?

Whether in practice 'marriage equality'will further the cause of love and equality in our societies remains to be seen. What I observe is the belief by those who voted “yes” that it will. The heart is in the right place. It is where parent Christianity has been telling her children it should be, where the perpetrator heart and the indifferent heart have not been.

As imperfect as the child’s application of the lesson may or may not be, the drive is to champion the values of equality and love. The child is calling back the parent to the lessons she taught and the values she planted.

Parent and child should search together for what is genuine equality and true love,and embrace it, and combine to make it real in our society.

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Michael O’Connor

Michael O'Connor is a member of the Aurora Editorial Team.

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