From Crisis to Hope

Speaking Notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin

 Nicosia (Cyprus) 4th September 2012

source –

Fifty years ago at this very time I was getting ready to enter the Major Seminary in Dublin. I was 17 years of age. I entered the seminary on the 4th October 1962, just one week before the opening of the Second Vatican Council. I was not absolutely certain what seminary life was going to be like and was naturally somewhat apprehensive about leaving home for the first time into an unknown environment. I would have been much more certain in my mind about the future of the Church at that moment and about the future of Irish society.

The seminary was a surprise and a shock when I finally entered it. What was to happen in the fifty years since then in the Church and in society was however even more remarkable. Many years later I remember preaching a homily at our weekly Mass when I was working in the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace saying that I had entered into the seminary in 1962 and came out seven years later “into a different Church and into a different Ireland”.

Cardinal Etchegaray said to me afterwards that he appreciated my homily but he then reminded me: “In my life time I have gone through that experience of great change five or six times already. The important thing is that you come out each time looking in the right direction with your faith more mature”.

In these fitly years the Church and its role in Irish society and in European society have changed enormously. I can say that when I returned to Dublin as Archbishop, eight years ago, I could not have imagined the change that was about to take place in Ireland and its place Europe in the years that were to follow. Ten years ago, Ireland was the model economy: low unemployment, low inflation, remarkable growth. Jobs were plentiful. Ireland which had for long being a country of emigration began to receive workers from all over Europe and farther afield.

A country which had for so long been a poor relation in Europe out on its Western margins seemed to have found a formula for bringing sustainable economic growth combined with social progress. People were prosperous and it seemed that such prosperity was here to stay. Indeed for one coming from outside there seemed to be a touch almost of arrogant certainty in the air. Many traditional values seemed to be giving place to a new ideology of prosperity.

Now the image of Ireland has changed and the situation in society has changed. Ireland has its own problems for which Ireland must take responsibility. These are problems are exacerbated by the complex situation in Europe. The end result is that Ireland, like many other countries, has had to rely on a bail-out from the European Commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank and the cost of that bail-out and the economic reform programmes fall above all on the weakest and the most fragile. Cuts in public expenditure have had dramatic effects on education and health care. Jobs in both the public and the private sector have been reduced. Pension schemes are fragile and heavily indebted. Emigration, which has a very special and traumatic historical significance in Irish social history, has begun again. Young people in whom the country had invested and placed hope are now leaving the country in large numbers.

It was almost like an icon of the current situation in Ireland to watch last year the scene at a major conference venue in Dublin. The Party Conference of what had been the largest political party in the country for many years was to take place. This was the party which had been the driving force of the Irish economic model. The Party Conference which was normally celebrated with fanfares of self-satisfaction had to take on much more sombre tones and was reduced to a small section of the Conference centre, while the larger area was given to a jobs-fair, attracting huge crowds of young Irish men and women to look for work in Canada and Australia and in other lands abroad. How do we talk to our young people about social cohesion in such a situation or in the more general situation of such high levels of youth unemployment which exist around Europe? Can anyone wonder why there is a dichotomy between young people and political and economic model which excludes them? What can be done to involve our young people to take up the challenge, as part of their Christian life, of working for social cohesion in a different future?

Probably every European country has a similar tale to tell, about a certain euphoria of progress which resulted to be unsustainable and in which for many reasons the underlying failures and fault lines had not be noted – or had not wished to be noted – by politicians, by those who form public opinion or by the appropriate regulatory authorities and indeed very often not recognised and evaluated by the Church.

In the epoch of growth perhaps the Church had not always come out as having been looking, to use Cardinal Etchegaray words, “in the right direction”, courageously indicating what had been going wrong and offering principles of discernment for leaders within society. Faced today with an extremely complex economic and social scenario, the Church seems still at times to be at a loss as where it should begin to address questions which seem to puzzle even the most experienced politicians and economist. There is a natural sense of powerlessness in the face of such complex realities.

I remember when he was preparing to write the Encyclical Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II invited a group of leading economists to discuss the effects of the change from centralised economies in Central Europe to a market-driven situation. He listened to each of the distinguished speakers, many of whom felt that the transition would be rapid and relatively painless. At the end, Pope John Paul simply said: “I do not often have leading economists here at my table, but I daily have bishops and they seem to be giving me a different picture” and he simply set out the questions arising on the ground, especially for the marginalized. The second round of the discussion saw the economists using the conditional much more often. The fact that it may not be possible to provide magic answers does not mean that we should feel powerless if the Church is truly in contact with the situation on the ground.

Change is difficult to live with and to manage at any time. The pace of change in society today is, however, such as to challenge fundamental assumptions; it is all the more necessary therefore for the Christian in today’s world to work towards the elaboration, founded on our faith in Jesus Christ, of adequate principles of discernment adapted to the new situation: hence the importance of a correct understanding of Catholic Social Doctrine.

I have to be careful when I use the term the Church. The Social Doctrine of the Church embodies theological principles, founded on Christian anthropology and moral theology, which form part of the overall teaching of the Church and which the teaching authority in the Church has the mandate and an obligation to proclaim. The Social Doctrine of the Church is not however like a political platform which can or should enter into details of economic policy which go beyond those basic moral principles. Every Christian enjoys legitimate autonomy and indeed also responsibility and obligation to grapple with how those basic principles of the social teaching can best be applied in their daily commitment in society. In that sense, we have to speak of the Church, not just in terms of Bishops and Church organizations, but also in terms of the calling of lay men and women in their Christian responsibility in family, in their professional and cultural and political responsibilities.

This is why I believe that National Commissions on Justice and Peace or social questions or Caritas in Veritate should assume a more decisive role in providing programmes for the formation of the Christian community. This role of formation can be partly exercised through the production of documents on specific themes, which illustrate applications of the Church’s social doctrine. The fundamental need in today’s complex situation is to make known and understood criteria of Gospel discernment to enable Christians in our local Churches to be critically active in society.

The Church has to do more through its ongoing educational opportunities to prepare a new generation of men and women who will dedicate themselves to public service as a dimension of their Christian calling. This applies to politics and economics, to the world of communications and to the area of international relations. My personal experience in working in international life over many years has shown me that Catholic Christians have a special calling and ability to work in the area of international relations. But that service requires a presence in the public square with confidence in the value of the unique contribution of wisdom which comes from our faith. Those working in public life need support to enable them to defend and illustrate that contribution through rational argument and scientific competence. They must have a personal cohesion within their own understanding of life.

Pope Benedict in Caritas in Veritate (31) noted that this bond between rational argument and scientific competence had been stressed by Paul VI fifty years earlier:

“Paul VI had seen clearly that among the causes of underdevelopment there is a lack of wisdom and reflection, a lack of thinking capable of formulating a guiding synthesis, for which “a clear vision of all economic, social, cultural and spiritual aspects” is required. The excessive segmentation of knowledge, the rejection of metaphysics by the human sciences, the difficulties encountered by dialogue between science and theology are damaging not only to the development of knowledge, but also to the development of peoples, because these things make it harder to see the integral good of man in its various dimensions. The ‘broadening [of] our concept of reason and its application’ is indispensable if we are to succeed in adequately weighing all the elements involved in the question of development and in the solution of socio-economic problems”.

This capacity to integrate what I call “conscience and competence” is part of the genius of the Church’s Social Doctrine. Pope Benedict has however stressed the need to complement “conscience and competence” with charity. He notes that:

[quote]“moral evaluation and scientific research must go hand in hand, and [that] charity must animate them in a harmonious interdisciplinary whole, marked by unity and distinction. The Church’s social doctrine, which has ‘an important interdisciplinary dimension’ can exercise, in this perspective, a function of extraordinary effectiveness. It allows faith, theology, metaphysics and science to come together in a collaborative effort in the service of humanity. It is here above all that the Church’s social doctrine displays its dimension of wisdom”.[/quote]

The Church’s social doctrine must always be animated with charity and must be accompanied by charity and will only really be understood through the lens of charity. When Church’s organizations simply become lobbying bodies alongside other lobby organizations or social commentators alongside other social commentators then they loose their real originality and therefore their original contribution to the debate about the formation of society.

I can see this as a Bishop when I notice that voluntary financial contributions to many of our social services and Catholic aid organizations have been going down noticeably as a result of the economic crisis. There is one noteworthy exception and that is the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. The secret of the Society of St Vincent de Paul is that its work is marked almost totally by a sense of gratuity in doing, rather than just by social commentary from the sidelines.

The credibility of the Church comes in a special way through the witness of those of its members who bring to the world that concept of gratuitousness which is the opposite of market consumerism, where everything has its price tag and you only get what you pay for. This sense of gratuitousness is not just about doing something over and above what one does daily. It is a call for a different way of living and forming society which is inspired by the life and teaching and mission of Jesus himself, who revealed the gratuitousness and the superabundance which are the marks of God’s love.

Hope is restored when men and women encounter gratuitous love, which does not seek to exploit or make use of them. Society is enriched when that principle of gratuitousness becomes present in society not just in the generosity of individuals but as a real operative principle in the economy and in political life. Caritas in Veritate (38) places a great emphasis on models of the economy which integrate this idea of gratuitousness into the understanding of the market:

“While in the past it was possible to argue that justice had to come first and gratuitousness could follow afterwards, as a complement, today it is clear that without gratuitousness, there can be no justice in the first place. What is needed, therefore, is a market that permits the free operation, in conditions of equal opportunity, of enterprises in pursuit of different institutional ends. Alongside profit-oriented private enterprise and the various types of public enterprise, there must be room for commercial entities based on mutualist principles and pursuing social ends to take root and express themselves. It is from their reciprocal encounter in the marketplace that one may expect hybrid forms of commercial behaviour to emerge, and hence an attentiveness to ways of civilizing the economy”.

Where is gratuitousness learned? It is learned obviously in the first place within the family. But in today’s culture families have also to be educated to understand gratuitousness as an essential dimension of love. Caring and sharing are as important has having. Education to gratuitousness must become a pillar of all forms of education. I am often struck when I visit schools to read Mission Statements which focus on the school as the place where young people encounter excellence in education which enables the talents of the young people to flourish. This is certainly a worthy goal, provided it does not stop there. Educational excellence must also be oriented to giving the young people enthusiasm for contributing to society. Otherwise it can quickly descend into narcissism.

Education can easily become a product, rather than a path leading towards a maturity not just in achieving but also in giving. Without that sense of giving then real social cohesion will be hard to achieve. One of the challenges in our societies is to address what Pope Benedict called a crisis of education. The current economic situation with its financial cut backs could well indeed lead to further undermining of the value of a broad sense of education in favour of narrow utilitarianism.

We need to educate young people in their faith so that they can, as I have said earlier, “defend and illustrate” the significance of that faith in society. I use the two words deliberately: “defend and illustrate”. When faith and Catholic culture are under attack it is important to defend the values that derive from faith and their relevance to society. Today we are often in a situation in which we have to defend Catholic teaching within a cultural framework which is not of our creation and indeed may be hostile to our thought. This is especially the case when a culture becomes dominated by individualism. It is very difficult, for example, to defend the Catholic understanding of marriage and sexuality in a culture of individualism, when sexuality involves by its very nature the concept of mutuality and self giving. If we end up simply defending, there is the danger that we will end up being trapped within the categories of someone else’s culture and only present a negative vision our teaching.

It is important at times to be against, but there is the more fundamental task of illustrating the real nature of our teaching. If sexuality is seen only in terms of individual rights, then any expression of sexuality, unless it is patently exploitative, will be acceptable. In today’s society we have to be able to illustrate the values of a vision of society which springs from our faith, but we have to be able to so through rational argument.

This is an area which Pope Benedict addressed in some detail in his first Encyclical Deus Caritas Est. Some of his suggestions caused a certain surprise in Catholic social activists. The Pope forcefully stressed the role of politics in the search for a just society. Let us look at some of his affirmations:


“The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics”

“The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State”

“We have seen that the formation of just structures is not directly the duty of the Church, but belongs to the world of politics, the sphere of the autonomous use of reason”


or even more strikingly

[quote]A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church.[/quote]

To many, this seemed to be a turning back from one of the most quoted affirmations of the 1971 Synod of Bishop on Justice in the World which affirmed that “working for justice was a constitutive element of the preaching the Gospel”. Is Pope Benedict asking the Church to retreat back from action in the world into the sacristy? Is he saying that the Gospel is not a “social Gospel”?

Pope Benedict is not claiming that Christians should not be present in the task of building a more just society. But does he not seem to be affirming that working for a just society is something which belongs to rational reflection rather than directly to the Gospel? Does he not seem to be in some sense “privatizing” down the task of working for justice to the individual believer rather than fostering it as a “constitutive element” in the preaching of the Gospel and of Church action? Let us carefully look at his words again:

“The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society… is proper to the lay faithful. As citizens of the State, they are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity. So they cannot relinquish their participation in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good. The mission of the lay faithful is therefore to configure social life correctly, respecting its legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competences and fulfilling their own responsibility”

The Pope emphasises clearly that the Church does have a role to play. However he notes that “She has to play her part through rational argument”. Whereas he adds further that: “the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply”, this still seems to be a long way away from calls for a more political role on the part of the Church – as many would wish – in social reflection.

At this point Pope Benedict introduces an important corrective into reflection of the relationship between faith, knowledge, and experience. He affirms that the Church is called “to the purification of reason and to the reawakening of those moral forces without which just structures are neither established nor prove effective in the long run”. The Pope who stresses in such a stark way the vital and autonomous role of politics as an exercise of the application of human reason to the task of building a just society now talks of purification of reason. What is the process of purification?

In affirming that working for justice is a constitutive element in the preaching of the Gospel and in the building of the kingdom, we must have a clear understanding of what the kingdom is. There is the challenging phrase in Spe Salvi

[quote]There is no doubt, therefore, that a “Kingdom of God” accomplished without God—a kingdom therefore of man alone—inevitably ends up as the “perverse end” of all things as described by Kant: we have seen it, and we see it over and over again.[/quote]

or again

[quote]“Our contemporary age has developed the hope of creating a perfect world that, thanks to scientific knowledge and to scientifically based politics, seemed to be achievable. Thus Biblical hope in the Kingdom of God has been displaced by hope in the kingdom of man, the hope of a better world which would be the real “Kingdom of God”. This seemed at last to be the great and realistic hope that man needs. It was capable of galvanizing—for a time—all man’s energies. The great objective seemed worthy of full commitment”.[/quote]

Pope Benedict recalls starkly that:

[quote]It is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love. Science and human progress are marked by a fundamental ambiguity. Progress offers new possibilities for good, but it also opens up appalling possibilities for evil—possibilities that formerly did not exist… we have all witnessed the way in which progress, in the wrong hands, can become and has indeed become a terrifying progress in evil. If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man’s ethical formation, in man’s inner growth then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world.[/quote]

Reason needs purification. Reason and progress require something else if they are to truly serve their purpose. Again we see that reason and faith need one another in order to fulfil their true nature and their mission.

Reason then therefore needs faith if it is to be completely itself. The fight for justice cannot be reduced simply to calls for structural change or political action. Justice will never be achieved without love. To deny the need for love is to deny the fundamental nature of the human person and also to remove from the orbit of human relationships that which is really a witness to the nature of God and the presence of God in our world.

But Pope Benedict stresses that while God is the foundation of hope, we are not talking about any god, but the God who has loved us unconditionally to the end. Without such absolute love there can be no hope so strong that it can remain in spite of all disappointments and failures and therefore no sense of redemption from the ambiguities of our own actions and of the ambiguities of the human project.

The human project can never be guaranteed simply through structures alone. It requires a deep engagement with the God who loves us. That engagement is attained in prayer. Prayer, seen as placing oneself in the presence of God in all his transcendence and otherness, is an essential component of the purification of reason.

Pope Benedict notes that:

“To pray is not to step outside history and withdraw to our own private corner of happiness. When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well. In prayer we must learn what we can truly ask of God—what is worthy of God. We must learn that we cannot pray against others. We must learn that we cannot ask for the superficial and comfortable things that we desire at this moment—that meagre, misplaced hope that leads us away from God”.—————- Social cohesion and hope will only be attained by that combination of which I have spoken of “conscience, competence and charity”. Without that combination justice will not be achieved. Pope Benedict noted this in Caritas in Veritate:

“The conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from “influences” of a moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way. In the long term, these convictions have led to economic, social and political systems that trample upon personal and social freedom, and are therefore unable to deliver the justice that they promise”.

While it is important to stress the place of reason and politics in working for social cohesion, in today’s individualist culture the danger is that each one makes his or her choices on the basis of personal interest or preference and in the end there is more confusion then cohesion. Rational argument must be combined with what Pope Benedict called “the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper”.

The Church in Europe has to find new ways of speaking about and bringing to the forefront in public discussion those spiritual energies about which the Pope spoke and also indicate where those spiritual energies are missing or have been betrayed. The complexities of a modern economy and the diverse ways in which these may be legitimately pursued make comments by the Church on economic matters certainly more problematic today. But there are questions about poverty and equity, about privilege and under-privilege, about opportunity and exclusion, about simple honesty, about greed and corruption and about generous commitment in society which the Church should have been addressing more coherently in the context of the common good of Europe.

We can see the notion of common good being easily recognised in smaller and traditional communities where people are closely knit and where there is a realisation that survival requires working together. On national level the sense of the common good is more complex. It involves taking responsibility at different levels and in different ways. In the past the Church was somewhat reticent in speaking about the responsibility of paying taxes in a responsible way. Today we realise that tax evasion is a serious challenge to the ability of governments and societies to attain the common good. However appeals to more responsibility must be accompanied by public administrations which allocate public expenditure in a way which fosters and equitably benefits society across the board.

Today we have to look at the particular question of what solidarity for the common good involves on a European level. We have a particularly difficult situation in Europe today which can only be resolved in terms of solidarity, but where national interest and at times national stereotyping can lead to a return of isolationism and protectionism. This symposium is an opportune occasion to look at how we understand social cohesion on a European level, both in the current emergency situation and for a sustainable future. Christians have a special responsibility for the future of Europe. The legitimate demands of Christian to see the Christian toots of Europe affirmed and recognised, will be all the more credible in the measure that Christian commit themselves to ensure a future of cohesion and solidarity and equity of Europe and the more the stress the vocation of Europe to foster cohesion and solidarity and equity in the wider world.—————I have tried to address some questions concerning social cohesion in today’s Europe where Catholic Social Teaching can contribute to the reawakening of hope. Catholic Social Doctrine has indeed a unique relevance precisely today, both as a doctrine about human dignity and human interaction and about a sense of commitment to realising a society seeking to be a civilization of love.

It is not just that Catholic Social Doctrine has a unique opportunity in today’s’ situation. We have to realise that the Catholic Church in itself, as the community which witnesses to the significance of Communion with Christ and with each other, has a unique opportunity to be a driving force in generating communion among people in today’s Europe and in today’s world.

To contribute to social cohesion in Europe and in the wider world the Catholic Church has to witness more convincingly to its own internal cohesion. While respecting legitimate autonomy of expression, it must be said that divisiveness within the Church damages the Church. As someone who has been fortunate to have a broad experience of the Church around the world, I am surprised and stunned by attempts by some to subtly undermine authority and status of Pope Benedict XVI. I believe that we should all be more forceful in rejecting a negative climate which I believe has been deliberately injurious to the Pope and thus to the Church.

A divided squabbling Church will not attract young people but only alienate them. On the other hand, no one should fear the message of the Gospel. It would be falsehood to deny the contribution that that Gospel has brought to the evolution of Europe and the contribution it can and will bring to create a future of hope for Europe and its peoples.

I come back to the words of Cardinal Etchegaray which I have often remembered at difficult moments in the life of the Church in my diocese, in my country and in Europe. Faith requires courage. Men and women of faith have the ability to face crises and come out of crises with their faith strengthened. The Gospel must be preached courageously even if it does not seem to find roots in people’s lives. Resignation and keeping things ticking over will never renew the Church. But we must also come out of crises looking in the right direction, not entrapped in the negatives of today, or indeed in the empty promises of the ideologies of the day, but more capable of giving an account of the hope that is in us.