Archbishop Diarmuid Martin addressed The Iona Institute last night on the topic of ‘Marriage and the Common Good’. He told an audience of almost 200 people that the State must continue to support marriage and the “love and fidelity” that are its essence. He warned that today the individual is replacing the family as the fundamental unit of society.
The meeting was chaired by Finola Bruton.
Archbishop Martin defended the present definition of marriage. He said it is a “challenge for our societies today is to recognise the uniqueness and the originality of this relationship between a man and a woman, while not overlooking the fundamental dignity of all people”.
He continued: “Where this is not achieved then the centrality of the relationship between a man and a woman in marriage is left to be an option.”
Archbishop Martin also defended the right of the Church to shape society’s vision of the common good.
He said: “Some will ask: what right have I to speak [as a Catholic bishop] about the common good as it applies to people who do not share in my belief?”
He said that there is “a tendency in our Western societies to reduce religious faith to being a purely private matter”.
Acknowledging the two separate spheres of Church and State, Archbishop Martin quoted Pope Benedict who has said it is the task of politics, not the Church to create the most just society possible”.
However, Archbishop Martin said that while the Church “speaks about the legitimate autonomy of the secular sphere it also stresses that the Church cannot be absent from reflection on the good of society”.
Turning to the statement in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society”, Dr Martin noted that whereas the rest of the Declaration sets out either the rights of the individual or the responsibilities of the State, this section was unique in referring to a “non-individual subject of rights”.
But he warned that in “today’s Irish society one would tend to feel that the fundamental unit of society is not the family, but the individual”.
However, he said one reason the Universal Declaration of Human Rights referred so strongly to the family is because in the aftermath of World War II, “It was seen that a healthy society, able to stand up to totalitarianisms, needs strong families as a buffer within which values can be maintained and safeguarded and transmitted”.
Turning to the issue of children’s rights, Archbishop Martin said that no matter how the Constitution is changed in this regard, “Decisions made in the best interests of children will not always be easy to determine.”
He continued: “The successful resolution of these tensions between the respective rights of the child and the family depends on the resolution of another tension: the tension between the rights of the family and the role of the State”.
Concluding, he urged Christians to be in “the vanguard” of the renewal of family life and in protecting family life from the inroads of individualism in favour of a vision that puts “self-giving” at its centre.