The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Diarmuid Martin, addressed a meeting at the Mater Dei Institute in Dublin recently, on the subject of ‘The relationship between Church and State’. Although in what he said (and it was a lengthy talk!) there is much with which I would disagree, I would like to offer the following encouraging excerpts:
‘ …The Church lives and acts within the cultural situation of time and place. Reflections on Church-State relations in Ireland today require us to examine the policies of government and of the political parties, but also involve looking at the self-understanding of the Church in Ireland. …‘ … the paradoxical thing is that the farther the Church goes in adapting to the culture of the times, the greater the danger is that it will no longer be able to confront the culture of the time. It will only be able to speak the language of the culture of the day and not the radical newness of the message of the Gospel which transcends all cultures. Where this happens, then the life of the Church becomes a sort of civil religion, politically correct, but without the cutting edge of the Gospel. …
‘The Church must always have the internal freedom to take positions that are culturally unpopular. The message and the measure of the Gospel should challenge every form of conformism. It is important to remember that conformism can be an expression of narrow conservatism but that there is also conformism which thinks that it is truly progressive. …‘Renewal in the Church … is renewal in what is essential to the life of the Church. The Church is not just a sociological reality which can be renewed simply by the application of sociological models of consultation and change management. …
‘It is important in reflecting on childcare that there have been many cases where parental neglect has resulted in serious damage to children. We need mechanisms to ensure that the rights of children are adequately protected. But in general it would be wrong to think that simply moving responsibility from parents to the State would provide a more effective answer. It is not the State’s job to bring up children, it is the job of parents. …
‘We need to look at models of a more participative society where government and citizens are not seen as separate and distant poles of activity and where intermediary bodies work with State and citizens to foster what Pope John Paul II had called a “subjective society”. Social reform will not be attained by social engineering but by enabling greater participation of citizens and the voluntary sector in the planning and delivery of services. …‘The fundamental rights of parents are enshrined not just in our Irish Constitution but also in the major International Human Rights Instruments including the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is important that parents become active in the process of determining what kind of pluralism they wish. For parents to make their choice in this area they need however to have clear information about what precisely the alternative models of patronage are. …‘The Irish Constitution has overall served the people of Ireland well. Our Constitution is far from being some sort of unquestioning regurgitation of sectarian Catholic principles as some simplistic caricatures of it would seem to imply. It is a remarkably modern Constitution in many of its aspects. Constitutions should be and must be changed to address challenges in society but not at every whim. Constitutions are not there in general to be played around with lightly and often.‘The Irish Constitution clearly carves out a special role for the family. The legal presumption is that the definition of the family in the Constitution is one based on marriage between a man and a woman. In line with most European countries Ireland recognises the fundamental difference between marriage and other forms of relationship. … Marriage is … a fundamental good in society which deserves a unique protection.
‘Ireland has a unique history of Church-State relationships. The Constitution’s guarantees regarding the sphere of activity of the Church are thoroughly modern in their juridical formulations. Where negative results have emerged they have emerged by lack of respect for the spirit of the Constitution and by unhealthy closeness between ecclesiastical and political figures. …‘The principal contribution of Church institutions in an increasingly secular society is, as Pope Benedict noted in an interview of some years ago, “to witness to God in a world that has problems finding Him … and to make God visible in the human face of Jesus Christ, to offer people access to the source without which our morale becomes sterile and loses its point of reference.”
So, thank you, Archbishop, for those remarks.
There are two points raised by Archbishop Martin on which I would like to comment. The first is a question posed by him as follows: ‘Are our Catholic schools and our programmes of catechetical formation, especially at second level, equipping a future general of young Catholic Christians to be able to engage their faith in the day to day configuration of the life of society?’ To this I would answer an emphatic NO! And I would add that much of the foundation for a good catechetical formation will already have been eroded by the Alive-O programmes in primary schools.
The second point is that not alone is it not the State’s job to bring up children – it is not the State’s right to bring up children!