MICHAELMAS LAW TERM 2007
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland
Church of Saint Michan, 1st October 2007
As men and women who work in different aspects of the administration of justice, you know well that virtue cannot be legislated and yet your concern for the law and your experience must inevitably lead you to have a sense of the importance of virtue, of moral convictions and moral training for the health of our society.
Irish society is changing and when societies change the old social structures come under strain as they attempt to respond both to change and to what must be the constants in ensuring cohesion in society. Ireland is fortunate that we still have lively and solid communities which prove adaptable to change and are at the same time supportive, especially of those who are most vulnerable to change or most vulnerable in a time of change. In parts of our cities that same sense of community is being established only with difficulty and at times is being challenged by organised crime. It is in places where society does not function adequately, that anti-social behaviour finds its breeding ground.
Law will only be an instrument for coming together if it is situated, rooted and owned by our communities. In Irish society there are many movements in the process of redefining and giving new impetus to what is called active citizenship. Families, schools, and churches and volunteer organizations coalesce into communities; they cement the fabric of society and become the primary agents for supporting and transmitting the values which knit us together. Where, working with government and local authorities, communities are enhanced and empowered, they will find the courage to reject false values and build “pro-social” behaviour, behaviour that fosters the building of social virtue.
In speaking of how we address the challenge of violence in Irish society, I have consistently stressed that violence will only be overcome by the mobilization of communities. Law enforcement and community building belong together. Justice is there not just to punish; if it is to be true justice it must be restorative. Justice is not there just to be vindictive; it must always be justice which has a heart.
In his first Encyclical on the love of God, Pope Benedict surprised many when he stressed that “it is not the task of the Church to take on herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible”, this is rather “a central responsibility of politics”. By politics he means not political parties but the broader agenda of a society in which human reason and creativity are placed at the service of the common good. The Pope stresses that “Justice is the aim and the intrinsic criterion for politics”.
The Pope quotes Saint Augustine who said that “a State which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves”. If we want an example of this, we can look at the tragic situation unfolding in these days in Burma.
Burma is a country I know personally and for which I have for years had a great interest and concern. Who could not be moved by the contrast between, on the one hand, the peaceful march of the Buddhist monks, clad in their simple robes and devoid of any of the traditional symbols and trappings of power, and on the other hand the exercise of sheer power on the part of a corrupt and cynical regime which is devoid even of an ideology except that of holding on to power.
The example of Burma is a clear one of the significance of virtue, of moral convictions and moral training for the health a society. The peaceful marchers, the dignity of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi contrast with a regime which has degenerated into brutality, because of the total absence of moral convictions. It is also a warning to every society, including our own, of the results of what Pope Benedict in the same Encyclical called an: “ethical blindness caused by the dazzling effect of power and special interests”
As the new law term begins, standing here before the Lord, we pray that the Holy Spirit, the advocate, will guide us in a task which is indeed beyond our own capacities. Through a constant purification of our own hearts may our advocate guide us as we work together for that essential task which each generation must take up anew: building a just society, of building a spirit-filled society