The Vatican's secretary of state has called the Irish vote to legalize gay marriage a "defeat for humanity," evidence of the soul-searching going on in Catholic circles after the predominantly Roman Catholic country overwhelmingly rejected traditional church teaching on marriage.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin said he was saddened by the landslide decision, in which more than 62 percent of Irish voters said "yes," despite church teaching that marriage is only between a man and woman.
In comments to reporters Tuesday evening, Parolin referred to remarks by the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, that the results showed the church needed to do a "reality check" since it clearly wasn't reaching young people with its message.
"I don't think you can speak only about a defeat for Christian principles, but a defeat for humanity," he said.
The Catholic Church in Ireland has lost much of its moral authority following widespread sex abuse scandals and a general secularization of society. Martin himself called the vote part of a "social revolution" that required the church to look at whether it had "drifted completely away from young people."
Pope Francis hasn't commented directly on the Irish results, but on Wednesday he stressed traditional church teaching on marriage as being between man and woman. Francis has dedicated his weekly general audience catechism lessons to family issues, so Wednesday's remarks about the importance of the period of engagement before a marriage were perfectly in line with the themes he has been stressing for months.
Francis said fiancees should use their engagements to really get to know one another, acknowledging that they may know one another "intimately," and even live together, but don't truly know one another.
During the period of engagement, he said, "The man learns about women by learning about this woman, his fiancee, while the woman learns about men by learning about this man, her fiance."
Francis' weekly catechism lessons are part of his two-year study on family issues that will culminate in October when bishops from around the world gather to discuss better ways to minister to today's Catholics. At their preliminary meeting last fall, bishops stressed the need to better welcome gays into the church, but ruled out gay marriage.
As archbishop of Buenos Aires, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio fought hard, and unsuccessfully, to block Argentina from becoming the first country in South America to legalize gay marriage.