Secular society must engage in dialogue with religion and not seek to exclude it, the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin (pictured) said today.
In a speech to the McGill Summer School in Donegal, he stated: “We are all tempted to succumb to the widespread opinion that Christianity is really something private and personal for our own devotion and inspiration and not something that has its relevance in the public square.
“The Church in Ireland has to find ways to make its voice heard clearly about important moral issues which are under discussion. It must do so with respect but with clarity. It must find a new language for ‘dialogue rather than decree’. But Irish secular society also has to go along the road of dialogue and not anathema and exclusion regarding the voice of religion.”
Religion, he said, had contributed to and would continue to contribute to Irish society.
“A pluralist society, as any other society in history, benefits from the presence of religion. We should not forget or deny what was wrong. Believers, however, have to be more confident in themselves about the contribution they make to our society through being men and women of faith and within and through their faith communities.”
Referring to the debate about patronage in Irish schools, the Archbishop said that he shared the desire to reduce the number of schools under Church control, but added that there were “clear indications that Irish parents in large numbers favour a system of education which includes a robust dimension of religious education”.
This was likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future, he said.
He said: “There is thus a responsibility, indeed an obligation, for the State to respond to and to support that desire of parents. This involves ensuring that there are sufficient schools to respond to the desires of parents who wish a religious education for their children. It also involves that future teachers of religion in such schools have access to and public funding for the training they need.
Archbishop Martin also rejected suggestions that pluralism required that the role of religion in education must be radically re-dimensioned and even reduced to the private sphere.
He stated: “I believe that we have nothing to be ashamed of in fostering denominational education and that denominational education brings a specific and vital reflection to educational policy in general. It is true, of course, that people should not in any way be forced into attending Catholic schools or taking part in religious practises in schools.
“Pluralism is not identical with secularism. Secularisation does not mean removing religion from society. A mature secularist or even a mature atheist should be one who is open to deep dialogue with the culture of belief and of believers. The choice – on both sides - is between dialogue and intolerance.”
Changes in Irish society did not mean, he said “that the Church simply accepts all dimensions of that change as inevitable”.
Referring to marriage, he said that it was “not a simple social construct which can be changed at will”.
He said: “Certainly there are many changes in how marriage and the family are lived out at a given time. For the Church, however, there is something unique in the complementarity of man and woman in the human situation and life-long commitment is an essential dimension of the Church’s understanding of marriage.
“The concept of life-long commitment and fidelity are hard to understand in today’s culture, but most young people who come for marriage in Church have a genuine hope that their marriage will be successful and will develop and mature with the passage of years.”