Cardinal Pietro Parolin Gay marriage
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's secretary of state, spoke against gay marriage Reuters

A top Vatican official has slammed an historic referendum to legalise same-sex marriage in Ireland as a "defeat for humanity".

Irish overwhelmingly voted in favour of gay unions last week in what local church leaders described as "a social revolution" in the largely conservative Roman Catholic country.

The result however didn't go down well in the Holy See. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's secretary of state, said: "I don't think you can speak only about a defeat for Christian principles but a defeat for humanity."

Interestingly, Parolin was appointed to the high office in 2013 by Pope Francis, who has steered the Catholic Church in the direction of a more open position towards gay people, maintaining that they should be integrated and not marginalised with his famous "who am I to judge?" quote.

Earlier the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said the church needed a "reality check" to find a new voice able to reach the young.

"Have we drifted completely away from young people?" he asked. "Most of those people who voted 'yes' are products of our Catholic schools for 12 years."

Ireland has long been considered one of Europe's more socially conservative nations. Divorce was only approved in 1995, homosexuality was a crime up to two years earlier and abortion is still banned unless the mother's life is at risk.

Nevertheless, last Friday (22 May), more than 62% of voters cast their ballot in support of gay marriage, making Ireland the first country in the world to legalise same-sex unions with a referendum.

"With today's vote, we have disclosed who we are: a generous, compassionate, bold and joyful people," said Prime Minister Enda Kenny.

Even the leader of the conservative Fianna Fail party, Micheal Martin, spoke in favour of LGBT rights.

"It's simply wrong in the 21st century to oppress people because of their sexuality," he said.