The Sensus Fidelium of Catholic Ireland

(Source: The Irish Times)

(Source: The Irish Times)

Ireland is a country with a huge Catholic majority. Though recent data indicate a decline in those who identify as Catholic, at least 84% of the population still do (Central Statistics Office Ireland, 2011). Ireland has also just become the first nation in the world to approve same-sex marriage by popular referendum. This historic change came about not by legislation passed by elected officials and not by judicial decree. It came about through the most democratic tool available to a free people.

Termed a “national act of inclusion” by former tánaiste (deputy prime minster) Eamon Gilmore, in Catholic theological language Friday’s vote can also be seen as an act expressing the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful) in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country where religious faith is deeply embedded in the lives and culture of the people.

Is there a lesson here for Catholic leaders both in Ireland and around the globe? Perhaps this vote is telling the world that as Catholic Christians, Irish men and women have a deeper understanding of the Gospel than those whose role it is to preach it. Perhaps this vote is telling the world that the Gospel of Jesus — so strongly interwoven into the everyday lives of a faithful, evangelized people — challenges people everywhere to recognize that all persons, regardless of sexual orientation (or race or ethnicity or language or skin color or….), are children of God called to live lovingly, openly and honestly — just as God created us.

As an Irish-American, I am so very proud today of the country where my grandparents were born; so very proud of my many cousins and “relations” whose grandparents never left “the auld sod” and today are part of a new Ireland that has spoken loudly, clearly and forcefully.

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