Voicing his opposition to extending marriage rights to same-sex couples, the archbishop urged people to “cleanse our memories” of homophobic attitudes.
“People in the Catholic Church may be homophobic,” he told RTÉ. “Certainly, the teaching of the Catholic Church could be used by some people in a homophobic way and we have to be very careful in the debate that isn’t done and at the same time that there isn’t a demonisation of the Catholic Church.”
Wading into the recent row on how homophobia should be defined, the archbishop said “in general” it was up to the person being offended to categorise what the offence was.
“Anyone who grew up in Ireland would have told jokes that were pointed at the gay community, at Travellers,” he said. “It is part of the culture we grew up in, but we have to grow out of it.”
Archbishop Martin said the debate ahead of next year’s referendum on extending marriage rights to same-sex couples had got off to a “bad” start.
“Debates on issues like this have to be carried out in a mature way so that people can freely express their views while at the same time being respectful and not causing offence,” he said.
Dr Martin said the Church’s teaching was that marriage was between a man and a woman exclusively, but that this approach did not exclude gay people from celebrating their union by a different means.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny dismissed claims from gay rights activist Rory O’Neill that the Government could have legislated for same-sex marriage without a national poll. Mr Kenny said the referendum had been recommended by the Constitutional Convention and he want a “passionate” debate on the issue.
“We believe that it is important that the people have a rational, common-sense, calm, considered and passionate debate about this and I hope that that happens,” said Mr Kenny.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, who has called marriage equality the “civil rights issue of this generation” urged a yes vote in the 2015 referendum.
Mr O’Neill, who also performs as the drag act Miss Panti Bliss, has demanded an apology from RTÉ over the way the broadcaster treated him in the aftermath of comments he made regarding homophobia in Irish society.