Ireland’s recent decision to approve same-sex marriage, by popular referendum, has left the country’s Catholic reputation in ruins.

Of course, this shift didn’t come about overnight—secularization has been in the works for some time—but the vote reinforces the feeling of a dramatic break with Ireland’s Catholic heritage, and a step into an uncertain future.

In reacting to the vote, some have tried to spin the results. Gay marriage in Ireland isn’t a ‘no' to Catholicism, argued Christopher Hale in Time magazine. Rather, “Many who voted ‘yes’ on gay marriage did so because of their faith, not in spite of it.” Hale cited Francis’s famous “Who am I to judge?” comment, but failed to mention that Francis was speaking about a priest who had sinned, and was already in the process of reconciling himself with God. The Pope wasn’t talking about defiant sinners, or gay lobbies, much less giving Catholics a green light to affirm immoral behavior in legislation. Francis, in fact, has described gay marriage as “an anthropological regression,” and condemned efforts to redefine marriage as a “destructive attack on God’s plan.”

What has gone missing in this debate is Christ’s teachings on marriage and morality. Secular arguments against same-sex marriage are important, but far more vital are the Scriptural and theological arguments. Christians are not free to change or revise Divine Revelation, and while Catholic doctrine can be enriched and developed, it cannot, as Blessed John Henry Newman explained, be contradicted.

Among the few lay Irish voices to highlight these eternal truths have been the Iona Institute and Human Life International-Ireland. Dr. John Murray, chairman of the former, expressed his “astonishment and disappointment at those theologians and prominent Catholics who supported a Yes vote,” and chastised them for ignoring “that God has founded marriage as a natural reality on our being male and female.”

In “every case that I have read or heard,” he continued “none of these people have referred to the actual teaching of Jesus on marriage,” which was “surely the foundation of any theological or faith-shaped response to this referendum.”

Patrick McChrystal of Human Life International added:

The Catholic Church teaches the sexual conjugal act is the exclusive preserve of man and woman as husband and wife; it is an act designed by God to be exercised by no one else. . . . Premarital acts, extramarital acts, heterosexual, homosexual, solitary acts or with others—all seriously jeopardize the eternal welfare God created us for, to enjoy with Him in Heaven.

After the terrible scandals in the Church, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a powerful letter to Irish Catholics, urging them to acknowledge the full horror of what had transpired, to provide care for the victims, and to purify and reform the Church. Instead, a majority of them have chosen to abandon the magisterium of the Church, and have tried to create a radical new culture devoid of any transcendent guidance. The consequences of that decision have yet to fully unfold, but the searing honesty of Irish writer Edna O’Brien, a fallen-away Catholic and inveterate critic of the Church, may prove prophetic:

I rebelled against the stifling and coercive religion into which I was born and bred. It was very frightening, and all pervasive. I’m glad it has gone. But when you remove spirituality, or the quest for it, from people’s lives, you remove something very precious. Ireland is more secular, but it went to their heads: a kind of hedonism. They’re free, yes, but questions come with freedom. What about conscience? Conscience is an essential thing.

A country without a Church and without a conscience is indeed a frightening prospect.

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