Predictably, the overwhelming decision a week ago Friday of the people of Ireland to approve gay marriage has generated some serious backlash from the Roman church.

But, it has also caused some genuine soul searching among people within the Roman Catholic Church. So, in a column at USA Today Father Paul F. Morrissey asks

How is it possible that Ireland, one of the most Catholic countries in the world, voted overwhelmingly to legalize gay marriage in an historic vote on May 22?

Throughout the world, the Roman Catholic Church has made opposition to gay marriage its hallmark for the past few years, even as the momentum for “marriage equality” has grown in leaps and bounds.

What interests me and what I find valuable in Father Morrissey’s comments is not so much his views on gay marriage, as his acknowledgement of the deep disconnect between the church and the wider culture that the Irish decision brings into such sharp focus.

If one removes the issue of sexuality from Father Morrissey’s comments, he presents a profound challenge to any church suggesting that:

The majority of Irish men and women may still call themselves Catholic, but they no longer accept the hierarchy as believable….Thus, the stunning rejection of the Church’s view …What the Church teaches … is rejected almost as a duty. The Church has no credibility ….

A church whose hierarchy is no longer “believable” is a sad institution. When “the Church’s view” is stunningly rejected and its teaching “has no credibility, it is time to step aside and engage in some serious self-examination.

So, with courage Father Morrissey asks,

If one is a leader of the Catholic Church, what can be done?

Father Morrissey’s answer is important again particularly if the references to the specific debate around human sexuality are removed. He suggests,

Maybe it is a wake-up call that is necessary. If the Catholic Church wants to be taken seriously in any conversation…. it needs to be honest …. and to invite [people] to speak out of their experience as Pope Francis has encouraged. …. any teachings by a Church that do not have the experience of its people taken into consideration is like a mind without a body, a set of laws without a basis in people’s actual lived experience. …. we remove ourselves from the conversation when we present ourselves as having all the answers before the conversation begins.

If the Catholic Church in the United States does not want to lose its entire younger generation, not to mention the older ones who are still trying to hold on and be faithful, we will take this vote for gay marriage in Ireland as a call to open up a discussion in our country about …. where God is calling us now.

As churches particularly in the western world struggle to find our way, Father Morrissey’s call to listen carefully to the context in which we live and the people among whom we minister, is deeply important. For far too long we in the church have sat behind our protective walls hurling our analysis of the world across the great divide apparently assuming that, if we shout loudly enough, the world out there will hear our voice and be convinced of our truth. We have failed to demonstrate our respect by listening deeply to those for whom church is an irrelevant and peculiar anachronism.

The Christian church can only hope to be heard when we begin with real conversation. And real conversation always starts with a willingness to hear before we demand to be heard. When we fail to take “into consideration” the “experience” of people, we have already lost our way.

The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland is not alone among churches in having fallen deaf to the lived experience of the majority of people who have no interest at all in the church or in the church’s message. We in the church need to repent of our arrogance and start listening carefully and deeply to the real lived experience of the people among whom we are attempting to embody the Jesus life of love and compassion.