If you live in Ireland you probably know some Catholics. You might have gone to school with them. They could be your colleagues, your doctor, or the person who bags your groceries. But what most of us don't realise is that there is a small splinter group who are quite different indeed.
Styling themselves 'The Hierarchy', this self-appointed group of elites eschew secular dress in favour of ornate robes, jewellery, and improbably large hats. Unlike most Catholics who happily integrate into wider society, they prefer to live in secluded palaces. Women have been barred from entry since the inception of the group in the first century BC. They do not marry or (usually) father children, instead replenishing their ranks by recruiting Catholic priests who share their conservative world views.
If you follow the media, you'll see that this group of 26 Catholics (henceforth referred to by their preferred term of 'bishops') recently issued a statement opposing access to civil marriage for same sex couples.
"A same sex couple cannot be husband and wife", reads the statement in part, showing a keen understanding of the issue under debate.
Much of their opposition to civil marriage rights stems from their own religious beliefs. Despite the Bible containing not one word attempting to regulate non Christian or non Jewish marriages, they are of the opinion that Jesus would be particularly irked by two men or two women forming a solemn commitment to each other.
"The Book of Genesis shows us that man and woman are created in the image
and likeness of God; they recognise that they are made for each other" write the roughly two dozen men who have chosen for themselves a life of bachelordom.
"Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and
female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be
joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh" continues the statement, issued by a group that not only objects to their own members getting married, but also bars Catholic priests from marriage and married men from priesthood.
It is worth noting that the majority of Irish Catholics support marriage rights for priests and that this statement should not be read as indicative of mainstream Irish Catholic thought.
Much of the document focuses on what the exclusively male and childless group consider to be the "mutual and complementary" role of women, a role they deem essential for its unique input and insight yet also seek to bar from priesthood. Despite running to sixteen pages the document does not devote space to elaborating what, precisely, this complementary role entails. The reader is left to examine past bishop statements for indications, like this one from Bishop Kevin Doran which opposes cancer treatment for women.
Again, it is worth noting that the majority of Irish Catholics do not oppose cancer treatment for women.
Another theme pervading the document is a concern for children.Others in the Catholic community have expressed delight at this newfound interest, the bishops being perhaps most famous for a decades long project to conceal and protect child rapists. It is hoped by many that this desire to see children flourish will continue beyond this moment convenient to fighting back against LGBTQ rights.
"... the Catholic Church clearly teaches that people who are
homosexual must always be treated with sensitivity, compassion and
respect." continues the statement from a group that considers homosexuals ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil and unfit for priesthood.
We took to the streets to ask ordinary Irish Catholics if these 26 men are representative of their beliefs.
"At this rate in 20 years' time there'll be no priests left in Ireland. But that lot are still blocking married priests and women priests. And now they're saying being married is the natural way of things and women have an essential complementary role? Give me a break. Maybe if they spent less time sticking their noses into other people's marriages they'd be able to find some time to do something about the fact we're running out of priests to celebrate Catholic marriage." - Thomas Kavanagh, who does not possess a hat greater in height than six inches.
"They bishops don't want women's opinions, so I don't see why I should want a bishop's opinion. I'm voting yes." said Sinead McGillicuddy, who went on to clarify that she does not live in a palace.
"I'm voting no, but I made my own mind up on it. I don't like that lot telling me what to do." opined Kieran McGuinness, championing independent thought.
"I've never really liked the gays", he added.
Shortly after issuing their statement public support for marriage equality reached a record 81%.
addendum - my thanks to @gramadoc for reminding me of the important distinction between 'complimentary' and 'complementary'. Errors corrected. Worth following!