The thinking behind such a point of view is the idea that experience trumps Divine Revelation and a general lack of belief in revealed religion. Only SOME of the challenges of the Gospel are viewed as politically correct nowadays, so it's acceptable to preach generosity to the less fortunate, but less so to affirm the value of chastity. There seems to be a sense that Christ's message is take up your cross and follow me in a manner consistent with the values of your age.
I wish one or two other questions had been included in the survey - whether it's okay to work a few hours overtime for an under-the-counter cash wage or whether it's okay to tell a few white lies. Would we be faced with the argument that the Church needs to change its teaching on honest in order to reflect the values of contemporary Catholics?
Rather than go through the whole survey, one question in particular caught my attention - the fact that only 5% of Catholics expressed the opinion that people who are divorced-and-in-a-second-relationship should not be allowed receive Holy Communion. Given that Christ Himself taught that divorcing and taking up with another partner was adultery and that it's clear from the scriptures that from the time of the Apostles grave sin excludes one from the Eucharist, we're being asked to swallow the proposition that the words of Christ and the teachings of the Apostles need to be reviewed based on the tolerance of the Irish people. [BTW, a study of Church discipline in the early centuries would be an eye-opening project for those people who imagine pre-Constantinian Christianity as some sort of let-it-all-hang-out hippy experiment.]
Any priest who has spent any time in parish ministry will know the pain caused by relationship breakdown and will want to be as sympathetic as possible to someone in such a situation. However, parish life shows equally clearly that a culture which places little stock in the sacredness of marriage vows and the importance of marriage as the fundamental building block of the family is a society where children suffer from the fallout of this social change. In modern Ireland the prophetic stance is to stand up for marriage.
The one thing that is clear from the survey is that those of us - clergy and lay - who have been charged with the task of teaching within the Church have done pretty poorly. It shouldn't be a surprise to us that the cultural mores of those who produce our television programmes and write in our newspapers influence Irish Catholics more than the 10 minutes or so of preaching that church-goers hear every week. There is very little sense in the Irish Church that one's faith is something that one should spend time in studying and that our religious convictions should lead us to have an understanding of life that is radically different from the culture around us. Given that so far as social and moral issues were concerned, the values of society and the Church were in harmony until relatively recently, it's a new thing for Irish Catholicism to propose a vision that's at odds with the received morality. Still, I think we priests should be courageous. Indeed, we must be courageous! If our vocation means anything at all, it means being configured to Christ the Good Shepherd and there's a long tradition in the Patristic literature which pours contempt on the shepherd who remains silent. As Pope St Gregory the Great put it:
When a pastor has been afraid to assert what is right, has he not turned his back and fled by remaining silent? Whereas if he intervenes on behalf of the flock, he sets up a wall against the enemy in front of the house of Israel. Therefore, the Lord again says to his unfaithful people: Your prophets saw false and foolish visions and did not point out your wickedness, that you might repent of your sins. The name of the prophet is sometimes given in the sacred writings to teachers who both declare the present to be fleeting and reveal what is to come. The word of God accuses them of seeing false visions because they are afraid to reproach men for their faults and thereby lull the evildoer with an empty promise of safety. Because they fear reproach, they keep silent and fail to point out the sinner’s wrongdoing.