News archive 2011, Publications 2011

From Crisis to Hope: Working to achieve the Common Good

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PRESS RELEASE

21 February 2011

Bishops launch From Crisis to Hope: Working to achieve the Common Good

  • As Christians, our commitment to human rights stems from our belief in the dignity of each and every human being, made in the image and likeness of God, from the moment of conception until the natural end of their life – Bishop Field
  • The concept of the common good gives a clear definition of the purpose of politics, the centrality of justice and equity in any form of governance – Fr Eoin Cassidy
  • Greed became dominant, trust was betrayed and the result was the recession in which we now are – Bishop Kirby

At a press conference today in the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin’s Bow Street, the Council for Justice and Peace of the Irish Episcopal Conference launched From Crisis to Hope: Working to achieve the Common Good. The document addresses the considerable financial turmoil that we face individually and collectively and the associated disaffection throughout Irish society.  The document calls for the protection of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society as a core element of any measures aimed at addressing the current political, social and economic crises.

Bishop Raymond Field, Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin and Chair of the Council for Justice and Peace; Rev Dr Eoin Cassidy, one of the authors of From Crisis to Hope and CJP member; and Bishop John Kirby, Bishop of Clonfert and Chairman of Trócaire and CJP member, all addressed the press conference which took place in the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People on Bow Street in Dublin.

Bishop Field began his address by “acknowledging the suffering of all those who are struggling to maintain a decent standard of living in these challenging economic circumstances. Poverty and social exclusion, experienced by increasing numbers of people in Ireland today, North and South, represent gross violations of of human dignity.”

Bishop Field outlined some of the implications of our Christian obligation to defend human dignity in Ireland today. He said “Defence of human dignity means:

  • Protecting human life, from the moment of conception to its natural end;
  • Protecting our children from poverty and ensuring that they have access to all the services they require for health and education, as well as the opportunity to develop their talents through those cultural and sporting activities that are so important for personal growth;
  • Ensuring that our young people are not forced to leave their home country as a result of a lack of opportunities;
  • Strengthening and protecting family life. Families are the cornerstone of strong communities, and, ultimately, a strong society;
  • Ensuring that every person in this country can access the health care they require on the basis of need;
  • Providing support and assistance to people with disabilities;
  • Enabling older people to live dignified and independent lives;

Also speaking at the launch Rev Dr Eoin Cassidy outlined the key themes and aims and objectives of the document From Crisis to Hope. Fr Cassidy said “Three days from an election in the South and three months from elections in the North, this is a time of political change, change which we say is taking place against the background of justifiable anger and a breakdown of trust in key societal institutions  including the Church, the banks, regulatory agencies, and many other state agencies including even Government itself.”

Fr Cassidy continued “From Crisis to Hope argues for the need to prioritise the common good, which is the only real alternative set of values to the rugged individualism – survival of the fittest ethos that shapes our consumerist / capitalist culture today.

“In today’s Ireland, the common good will only be served to the extent that a major effort is made to restore trust in our institutional framework, by one: through attention to the place of ethics in governance, and second, by acknowledging that the common good is damaged by economic policies that target the most vulnerable in our society.”

Formally launching From Crisis to Hope Bishop John Kirby said “People neglected the principles of solidarity and placed private sectional interests ahead of the good of the community as a whole.  Greed became dominant, trust was betrayed and the result was the recession in which we now are.

“Over the past few years the Overseas Aid budget of the Irish government has been cut on three occasions.  It is now €284,000,000 less than what it was in 2008.  This has happened despite an alleged commitment to giving 0.7% of our Gross National Product to Overseas Development Aid.  The saving is a relatively small one for us, but it represents a huge reduction for people in the developing world.”

ENDS

Please see full texts below of Bishop Raymond Field, Rev Dr Eoin Cassidy and Bishop John Kirby:

Speaking notes of Bishop Raymond Field

As Chair of the Council for Justice and Peace, it is my great pleasure to welcome you here to the launch of our document From Crisis to Hope: Working to Achieve the Common Good. We are, of course, conscious that the publication of this document is taking place in the week of elections in the Republic, with elections in the North to follow soon after.

The relevance of this context to the themes we are addressing is undeniable, but From Crisis to Hope is not simply a pre-election statement. It follows on from the concerns expressed in previous publications from Councils of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference: In the Wake of the Celtic Tiger published by this Council’s predecessor, the Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs, in 2009, and Challenging Poverty in Northern Ireland, published by the Northern Ireland Catholic Council on Social Affairs in December last year.

As Christians, our commitment to human rights stems from our belief in the dignity of each and every human being, made in the image and likeness of God, from the moment of conception until the natural end of their life.

Poverty and social exclusion, experienced by increasing numbers of people in Ireland today, North and South, represent gross violations of that dignity.

I would like to begin this reflection by acknowledging the suffering of all those who are struggling to maintain a decent standard of living in these challenging economic circumstances.

Some of these people are experiencing poverty for the first time. They may be frightened and even ashamed of the situation they now find themselves in. Having had no previous experience of financial difficulties, they may not know how to cope or where to turn for help.  It is important to remember that this can be a lonely time for many of these people.

Others are experiencing, with disappointment and despair, a return to circumstances they hoped they would never see again, or are seeing their children faced with the same difficult choices they were.

There are older people in our society who should be enjoying their retirement, after many years of hard work, and instead find themselves struggling to pay the bills, to heat their homes and take care of themselves. Often these people are reluctant to ask for help as they have always prided themselves on their independence.

We are concerned that many of our young people are not getting the start in life that we would wish for them, full of hope and opportunities to develop their talents and achieve their potential.

The present time is one of intense pressure for many families. Factors such as mounting debts, concerns about losing their home and increased workloads can lead to breakdown in marital relationships. Marital breakdown, in turn, is a significant cause of poverty.

In the midst of our understandable concern for all these individuals and groups, we must not forget those people, families and communities, for whom the recession has had little impact, because they were already experiencing poverty and social exclusion during the years of our economic boom. In January 2009 we launched a position paper called In the Wake of the Celtic Tiger: Poverty in Contemporary Ireland. In this document we argued that those who had not benefitted from our years of economic prosperity should not be made to bear the cost of the crisis. This call is reiterated in the document we are launching today.

In publishing From Crisis to Hope, we are seeking to ensure that the human cost of the current crisis will be given due recognition, and not be drowned in a sea of figures and statistics. But we wish to do much more than simply acknowledge and raise awareness of this suffering. Echoing the words of Pope Benedict XVI in his Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, we argue that the crisis offers an opportunity for change, a chance “to re-plan our journey, to set ourselves new rules and to discover new forms of commitment, to build on positive experiences and to reject negative ones”. A core aim of the publication is to set out some of the values that should inform the choices we make at this critical time.

Other speakers will be discussing the principle of the common good and what it means in the context of Ireland today, but I would like to concentrate on the principle of human dignity.

As I have already mentioned, human dignity, for us, represents the foundation on which all human rights rest.

So what are the implications of our Christian obligation to defend human dignity in Ireland today?  Defence of human dignity means:

  • Protecting human life, from the moment of conception to its natural end;
  • Protecting our children from poverty and ensuring that they have access to all the services they require for health and education, as well as the opportunity to develop their talents through those cultural and sporting activities that are so important for personal growth;
  • Ensuring that our young people are not forced to leave their home country as a result of a lack of opportunities;
  • Strengthening and protecting family life. Families are the cornerstone of strong communities, and, ultimately, a strong society;
  • Ensuring that every person in this country can access the health care they require on the basis of need;
  • Providing support and assistance to people with disabilities;
  • Enabling older people to live dignified and independent lives;

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it serves to highlight key issues that should not be overlooked at a time of difficult political and economic choices. Closely linked to human dignity is the question of participation – if we recognise the value and worth of every human being, then we support their right to participate in society and make their contribution. This belief obliges us to work to eliminate the obstacles that can prevent people availing of that right.

In From Crisis to Hope we argue strongly that a narrow focus on economic recovery alone will not be enough to pull us out of this crisis. The strength of a society and of a nation cannot be judged on economic performance alone, but, more importantly, on how it cares for its most vulnerable members.

Ireland is the focus of much international media attention at the present time. Other nations, in Europe and throughout the world, will be watching the decisions we make over the coming weeks and months. Do we want to be seen as a nation that values economic efficiency above the well-being of its citizens, or do we want to be a nation that values, cares for and protects people, families and communities?

A belief in human dignity prompts us to actions motivated by solidarity. In the document we quote Pope John Paul II’s inspiring definition of solidarity as “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all”. This commitment represents the practical expression of the Christian call to love our neighbour. Pope Benedict, too, in Caritas in Veritate reminds us that the significance of “gift” – giving freely to others – as a fundamental principle of social life should not be forgotten. Not everything in society is earned and not all actions are motivated by self-interest. The measure of a person’s contribution to society cannot be expressed in economic terms alone.

As I stated at the beginning of this reflection, From Crisis to Hope is not a pre-election statement. The issues addressed in this document will continue to be relevant long after the elections and we will be actively engaging with the newly elected politicians in both jurisdictions to ensure that they are kept to the fore in the agenda of both Governments.

+ Raymond Field

Speaking notes of Reverend Dr Eoin Cassidy

The Context and purpose of the statement

As a commission of the Irish Catholic Bishops the remit of the Council for Justice and Peace (CJP) embraces the whole island of Ireland and within the realm of the practical, treats of justice and peace issues on a 32 county basis.  This statement is written in the light of this remit supported by an awareness of our increasing economic interdependence on this small island.

Four days from an election in the South and three months from elections in the North, this is a time of political change, change which we say is taking place against the background of justifiable anger and a breakdown of trust in key societal institutions  including the Church, the banks, regulatory agencies, and many other state agencies including even Government itself – a breakdown of trust in societal institutions which as we say in the statement, if allowed to fester, could engender a cultural climate in which the spectre of social fragmentation and  even violence cannot be ruled out.   It is the acknowledgement of this sobering truth that prompts our statement at this critical juncture in our history.  Our objective is to hold up a vision of society which is working to achieve the common good, to remind those seeking political office of their special responsibility to seek the common good, and voters to exercise their franchise in the light of their judgement as to which party or individual best promotes this ideal.

In issuing this statement we are acknowledging the role that religion plays in political and social life in empowering people to work for justice in the world.   This statement, however, is not and should not be perceived to be a party political manifesto. On the contrary, it is our hope that this statement will contribute to focusing attention on the larger issue as to the type of country we want.  Drawing on the insights of Pope Benedict’s encyclical Charity in Truth, its focus is on our contribution to fostering a culture of hope on the island of Ireland rather than a critique of individual party political policies (from whatever political jurisdiction).

The Common Good

In suggesting a response that will chart a way forward to a renewed Ireland, there is nothing abstract or opaque about proposing a vision that is grounded in the concept of the common good which is the only real alternative set of values to the rugged individualism – survival of the fittest ethos that shapes our consumerist/capitalist culture today – one that despite the many benefits that it has brought to society, shows little awareness of the fact that not everything is earned and not everything is motivated by self interest.

By its very nature the focus of consumerism is on short term pragmatic goals. However, in such a cultural milieu, there is always the danger that the goal of economic effectiveness will crowd-out vital ethical considerations and core values, such as solidarity and the common good.  It is a cultural environment which can regrettably foster the mistaken belief that human happiness is achievable without the need to attend to those ethical issues which connect us to the larger context of our lives, such as the consideration of duties or responsibilities to the wider community. In such a consumerist milieu, efficiency will always be perceived to be more important than fairness, and the economic need to down-size will take precedence over concern for the welfare of employees. Taken to extremes, such an environment leaves little room for those values that respect fair trade, either at home or in the developing world, nor does it place much premium on faithful service and/or life-long commitment to an employer.

The concept of the common good gives a clear definition of the purpose of politics, the centrality of justice and equity in any form of governance, and the need for those in power to pay special attention to the more vulnerable members of society, i.e. those who are at a disadvantage in terms of defending their rights and advocating their legitimate interests.

In today’s Ireland, the common good will only be served to the extent that a major effort is made to restore trust in our institutional framework, i) through attention to the place of ethics in governance, and ii) by acknowledging that the common good is damaged by economic policies that target the most vulnerable in our society. In this context, and notwithstanding the need to ensure competitiveness in service industries,, there are questions to be asked regarding the reduction in the minimum wage announced in the Republic’s budget for 2011  – €40 per week – almost 12%of annual income and which affects mainly migrants who are not represented by unions and have no power.

There are many other issues which surface once the common good is invoked. These include:

  • the relationship between public services and taxation: can we have European standards of public services on taxes that are appreciably lower than most of our continental neighbours?
  • the balance between equality of opportunity and equality of outcomes; equality of opportunity is of course a public good. However, not everyone is endowed with good health or even the same talents and therefore a more equal society will never be truly fostered in the absence of a concern for equality of outcomes;
  • an incomes policy informed by the principle of solidarity. Such a policy would find it difficult to countenance the present position whereby large six figure salaries continue to be awarded to senior executives of semi-state companies at the same time as €40/week is cut off the minimum wage;
  • issues surrounding respect for the rights of migrant workers and their spouses – employment and family reunification issues which clearly flow from the idea of a global common good remain to be resolved;
  • responsible use of the earth’s resources, taking into account the needs of the world’s poorest and future generations;[i]
  • finally, an acceptance of the global common good obliges us, even in times of economic difficulty, to maintain levels of Overseas Development Aid and protect the rights of the poorest and most vulnerable throughout the world.

Promoting an ideal such as the common good in an individualist and consumer driven society
There are signs in Ireland today of the growth of a more individualist societal ethos.  The benefits of this cultural development need little rehearsal.  Not only has it promoted a more tolerant society but one that enshrines respect for hard-won human freedoms / human rights.  However, in so far as it gives expression to an exaggerated sense of self-reliance, the potentially negative impact on Irish society of this cultural change should not be ignored.  Apart from the fact that self-esteem is at the best of times a fragile accomplishment, and as the tragic vista of suicide among young people reminds us, a sense of belonging is essential to personal as well as societal well-being.   Furthermore, the idea of the common good is nothing less than the political expression of love of the neighbour, and the extent to which Irish people have lost a sense of social solidarity –as social beings – members of a community with responsibilities for their neighbours welfare, then the ethical ideals implicit in being part of a participative democracy shaped by the common good will fall on deaf ears.

Despite the issues adverted to above, the conviction which underpins this statement and is reflected in its title, From Crisis to Hope: Working to Achieve the Common Good, is that, notwithstanding the current malaise in Irish society, the present moment can and should be viewed through the lens of hope rather than crisis management.  However, this will only be possible if we can learn from past mistakes and challenge the capitalist cultural model that has dominated in recent decades – a consumerist model of personal and societal fulfilment, where everything and everybody has an economic price, a stance which has little or no sensitivity to the simple truth that the really important things such as love and indeed life are received as gifts – they are literally priceless

[i] See The Cry of the Earth: A Pastoral Reflection on Climate Change from the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference (2009) www.catholicbishops.ie.

Speaking notes of Bishop John Kirby

An extract from the letter of St Paul to the Corinthians was one of the readings at yesterday’s Mass for the 7th Sunday of the Church’s year. It included the following, “The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’”

These words of St Paul to the young church at Corinth almost 2,000 years ago are still relevant today. Perhaps it’s a little touch of serendipity that they occur in the context of today’s world. It is the so-called wisdom of this world leading to greed that has given rise to the crisis in our country and all over the globe. The wisdom of this world suggested “light touch regulation” and “bonus culture” and we now know where these have got us.

People neglected the principles of solidarity and placed private sectional interests ahead of the good of the community as a whole.

Greed became dominant, trust was betrayed and the result was the recession in which we now are.

At national level the failure of so many institutions, including sadly the church itself, led to a betrayal of trust by ignoring or trivialising the importance of ethics in business. Those in authority failed to act in the interest of the common good and in some cases showed a flagrant disregard to anything associated with it. Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical letter Charity in Truth comments on the global situation and states, “today it is this trust which has ceased to exist and the loss of trust is a grave loss”. (§ 35)

At global level one of the reasons for poverty in the developing world is the huge wealth of the western countries. To a certain extent we are well off because of their poverty. Yes, we are still very well off. Last year 2010 Ireland created €25,000 of wealth for every man woman and child in the country. We are, despite the recession, still in the top 25 worldwide. For many countries in the developing world the corresponding creation of wealth figure is considerably less than €1,000 per head of population.

One of the key features of Catholic Social Teaching is the promotion of the common good. This is the sum total of all the social conditions which allow the human dignity of all persons, as groups or individuals to be respected and their basic needs to be met to reach their fulfilment more easily (CCC §1906). Every person and group must take account of other persons and groups not only in Ireland but overseas as well. Thus we have a responsibility in this globalised world for people struggling with poverty, environmental degradation and conflict in other parts of the planet.

Even though we are in a difficult situation at present, the problems of the developing world are much greater. Over the past few years the Overseas Aid budget of the Irish government has been cut on three occasions. It is now €284,000,000 less than what it was in 2008.

This has happened despite an alleged commitment to giving 0.7% of our Gross National Product to Overseas Development Aid. The saving is a relatively small one for us, but it represents a huge reduction for people in the developing world.

The common thread between the Justice & Peace Commission of the Bishops’ Conference and Trócaire is the search for justice. I am delighted to be associated with this document on the Common Good and I formally launch it now.

+John Kirby

ENDS

Notes to Editors

Council for Justice and Peace

The role of the Bishops’ Council for Justice and Peace is to support the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference in promoting the social teaching of the Church and to advise on issues of social concern, both nationally and internationally.

From Crisis to Hope is grounded in gospel values and Catholic Social Teaching and is now available on www.catholicbishops.ie. Written at a time of considerable financial turmoil and disaffection, throughout Irish society, this reflection is inspired by a belief in the inalienable worth of every individual as created in the image and likeness of God; the protection of human life at all its stages; strengthening the family based on marriage; and it offers a critique of the dominant capitalist culture and increasing individualism which have  caused growing inequality in Irish society.

Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People

For the past 40 years the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless people, run by the Irish Capuchin Franciscan Order, has been providing hot meals, food parcels, clothing and day care facilities for homeless and needy people. The centre operates from the back of the Capuchin Friary in Church Street, Dublin 7.  In keeping with the spirit of St Francis of Assisi, known as the father of the poor, there is no charge for any of the services provided at the centre.

The Capuchin Day Centre was founded by Brother Kevin Crowley in the late 1960’s as a Capuchin response to meet the needs of homeless people, who called to the friary door seeking help, with the simple objective ‘to relieve the hardship endured by homeless people’.   Brother Crowley is the director of the Centre.

At that time there were seven hostels in the area, mostly for men, but these people had nowhere to go during the day until they were allowed back into the hostels in the evening.  From very humble beginnings of providing soup and sandwiches for about 50 people, the centre is now regarded as the biggest food centre in the city, providing over 400 meals per day.

In keeping with the Capuchin Franciscan ethos, the centre operates an open door policy and asks no questions. Other than for child protection and medical purposes the centre does not keep statistics and protects the privacy and anonymity of the people who attend the centre.  More information is available on their website: www.homeless.ie/Capuchin_Day_Centre/Welcome.html

Further information:
Martin Long, Director of Communications 00353 (0) 86 172 7678
Brenda Drumm, Communications Officer 00353 (0) 87 310 4444

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