COI Gazette – 3rd April 2015

Bishop of Cork in marriage referendum challenge over ‘the holy ground of other people’s lives’

Bishop Paul Colton

Bishop Paul Colton

The Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross has commented to the Gazette following his St Patrick’s Day sermon at a civic service in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork, in the course of which he raised the issue of the forthcoming marriage referendum in the Republic which, if passed, would allow two people of the same sex to be married.

The bishop commented in his sermon: “One of the risks of any big debate in any community, society or institution is that we take to ourselves the luxury and relative safety – or we even draw the battle lines – by having the discussion without putting names, faces and human experience on the idea.”

He described this as “a risk as we approach the marriage referendum next May” and added that “we already are seeing too much of it in the public space”.

Dr Colton continued: “Big concepts such as marriage, relationship, love, commitment, family, parenting are all rooted in and given expression in the lives of real people, made in the image of God. When we participate in the debate, formally or informally, publicly or privately, we are walking on the holy ground of other people’s lives.

“When we allow ourselves to dislocate the people from ideas, we can all too easily dehumanise them, and objectify them, people who, like ourselves, are also children of God. And that’s not only a risk in this debate. Labels and categories, for example, are convenient ways of removing the faces and human  experience from what is being said: ‘the unemployed’, ‘the sick’, ‘the disabled’, ‘the immigrants’, ‘the gays’, ‘the single mothers,’ ‘the homeless’, ‘the poor’, ‘the traditionalists’, ‘the liberals’, … the list is endless, of the ways that we risk removing people and their experiences from our reflection about big ideas.”




Good Friday and Easter together bring us the full story of God’s confrontation with the power of evil. The events were not for their day only, nor were they only for history itself, but have a truly cosmic bearing. What happened on Good Friday, in the midst of the dereliction and apparent hopelessness of one man being led out to Golgotha and being barbarically crucified, was a decisive encounter between the power of love and the power of evil. These two powers are real but cannot co-exist and for that reason Good Friday was the place of the deepest possible conflict. The death of Jesus had all the appearance of the status quo being restored but underneath, the reality was very different indeed.

The Church, because it is all about love and peaceableness, is not naturally at home with conflict. The watchword today is ‘conflict resolution’, the bringing together of those who are estranged. Yet conflict is precisely what Good Friday and Easter are all about, a conflict so deep that we cannot begin to imagine its proportions.

Because of that, while reconciliation remains at the heart of the Gospel and while conflict resolution is firmly at the heart of the Church’s ministry and witness, the Church must never fear boldly to stand for what is right and true and good. Where necessary, the Church must take
on the spiritual powers of darkness which, while finally overcome by the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus, still are playing out their remaining ultimately weak and hopeless influence. While the battle is won, skirmishes remain and the Church must approach that conflict with both fearlessness and love – a love that wants those who are in thrall to evil ways to come to their senses and embrace the goodness that is the true victor.

If the Passion of Jesus was the actual and ultimate conflict between love and evil, reverberating not only in this world but also in heaven and in hell, the Resurrection is the guarantor of humanity’s eternal destiny to be at one with God. Golgotha is shown to have been not the place of our destruction but the place of our salvation. Christ is the victor and the empty tomb testifies to the glorious and almighty power of God. For that reason, the Church joyfully cries, “Hallelujah”.

Because of Easter, we are shown the full depth of God’s love and his all-powerful majesty. Not for nothing is God declared ‘the Almighty’. So we join in the glad words of Walter Chalmers Smith’s hymn: “Immortal, invisible, God only wise, In light inaccessible hid from our eyes, Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days, Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.”


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Book Reviews

A TALE OF THREE CHURCHES: A STORY FROM DUBLIN 4. Author: D. A. Levistone Cooney Publisher: A. A. Farmer Ltd., Dublin; pp. 227


Publisher: Paceprint Dublin; pp.92


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