Intervention of the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin at the Synod of Bishops in Rome on “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World”.
XIV ORDINARY GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS
“I wish to speak about the social culture of marriage as that is the culture in which our young people grow up and the culture which influences their understanding of almost every dimension of marriage and family life. Often society uses the same words as the Church does, however with a radically different meaning.
Many ask what happened at the recent referendum on same-sex marriage in Ireland. Has an authentic Christian culture of marriage disappeared in Ireland? It is not as simple as that. Ireland after the referendum is still marked by a very strong family culture. The numbers who get married – and who get married in Church – are high and divorce statistics are among the lowest in Europe. Families are strong and generous. That has not changed substantially.
The referendum was debated within a social culture where people struggle to understand abstract moral principles. What they do understand is the predicament of individuals whom they wish to see happy and included. It is a very individualistic culture, but not necessarily an uncaring one. Indeed those in favour of same-sex marriage based their campaign on what was traditionally our language: equality, compassion, respect and tolerance.
Our young people make their decisions on marriage and the family within the context of a flawed and antagonistic social culture. It is however not enough to condemn that culture. We have somehow to evangelise that culture. The Synod is called to revitalise the Church’s pastoral concern for marriage and the family and to help believers to see family life as an itinerary of faith. But simply repeating doctrinal formulations alone will not bring the Gospel and the Good News of the Family into an antagonistic society. We have to find a language which helps our young people to appreciate the newness and the challenge of the Gospel.
Where do we find that language? Certainly it cannot be a language which reduces the fullness of the Church’s teaching. We have to find a language which is a bridge to the day-to-day reality of marriage – a human reality, a reality not just of ideals, but of struggle and failure, of tears and joys. Even in within a flawed social culture of the family there are those who seek something more and we have to touch their hearts.
Allow me to give an example. We talk about indissolubility. Most families would not feel that they live indissolubility; they live fidelity and closeness and care in ways we underestimate. As a student, I worked in a centre for prisoners which held a space for women who had to travel long distances before going to visit their spouses in prison. These women were not models of respectable society. They would hardly have been able to pronounce indissolubility. But these women never missed a weekly visit. They understood fidelity, even to a husband who might have betrayed them. And their visit humanised even for a few moment the life of a man whose hope was low.
What the Irish referendum showed was a breakdown between two languages. It showed also that when the demanding teaching of Jesus is presented in a way which appears to lack mercy, then we open the doors to a false language of cheap mercy.” ENDS