Notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at Civil Society Leaders Conference, Dromantine

23 Sep 2010

23 September 2010

Speaking Notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, at the Civil Society Leaders Residential Conference, Dromantine, “Beyond Boom and Bust – What Next?”

“Breathing Spaces”

Firstly let me say that I am very happy to be here in Dromantine this evening and tomorrow.  This is an interesting gathering, with people who come from different backgrounds, who share differences and common concerns.  I am happy because there are very few “breathing spaces” for those of us who live in the South to be open to listening to those who live in the North and vice-versa.  

I am happy that we come to listen to each other and to converse with each other as a diverse group of civil society.  Formal agreements between governments are essential, but without ownership by society they risk remaining on paper, or to be open to risk as various crises emerge.  Ownership of social change is vital if change is to be accepted and fully embraced. Ownership of a social process does not mean exclusive private possession of the process.  Each sector of society must be able to find ownership within the terms of its own heritage.  Ownership, for me, means owning not just my views, but accepting ownership of the rights and traditions of others.  In this sense, ownership must be collective and differentiated.  Neither does ownership mean what, in business circles, would be called aggressive take over by one or other side.  It means living together without threatening the other.

Ownership of any social process involves compromise and flexibility.  Church leaders, if they are honest, realise that “compromise” is a word that, at times, fits with difficulty into their vocabulary.  That lack of compromise is not always a negative matter.  Let me explain.

A friend of mine, a human rights expert, always reminded me that democracy requires within it some groupings which are not necessarily democratic in their structures.   That might seem a contradiction.  But democracy without groups which unflinchingly espouse and defend values and principles could easily slip into a dangerous relativism of constant compromise.  When it comes to the defence of unchanging values in a society characterised by radical and continual change there may be need for some whose principle is “no surrender”.  

There is a difference between someone who, on the one hand, unashamedly defends identity and principle, and on the other hand intransigence and fundamentalism.  It is a difficult distinction and not a watertight one.  Pluralism however does not mean eliminating difference.  It means fostering diversity. It requires concrete dialogue and simple conversation between people of different backgrounds who share concern for the future, but who too often in the past have done their breathing in separate compartments.

I am very happy that this session is enriched by a group of young people. They show that they are interested in helping those of us – and here I am not sure that I can find a term politically correct – are “on in our years”– to understand where the leaders of tomorrow are in their reflection of the future of Ireland and its various components.   Our young people, North and South, have so much more in common that we did at their age.  They are more globalised, more open.  They are more idealistic, more generous.

I would have to say that a globalised world normally brings with it a desire for the local and the familiar and if that process is not carefully monitored the desire for the local can result in globalised narrowness and closeness.

I am glad to see that our Conference is based on what are called “old values”:  hope, redemption, trust, reconciliation, respect, self control.   They are of course not old values.  They are perennial values.  They are not the values of the old or the elderly.  My generation‘s record in this area has not always been the best and we are part of the problems in which we find ourselves.

One of the emphases of Pope Benedict in his visit to Great Britain last weekend was to stress the fact that all religious groups need each other in the face of the challenge of secularism.   I believe that we could talk in an analogous manner as we reflect on the future of Ireland.  We who are concerned need to face the challenge of indifference about the future.  We need to understand each other so that we can come together to address common goals.  I believe it will be the younger generation which will focus our reflection on what that coming together means.

“Daring to hope” is the theme that has been assigned to my conversation this evening. Once again I feel that there is an inbuilt reticence of people of a certain generation to effectively make their hope daring.  With the passing of the years one is tempted to be pragmatic and to put one’s trust in what is attainable.  Such pragmatism can, unfortunately, turn into being happy in a comfort zone in which we will be able to say nice things, but in such a way that we are not going to be pushed out of the security of our own groups.

When I was a student of theology in Dublin in the 1960’s there was one word that was not in great use.  It was the word “risk”.  Risk could involve rocking the boat.  As a member of the Catholic community, “risk” would be linked with uncertainty – and the Catholic tradition seemed to have no need to reflect on that, we had all the certainties.  Risk could even mean irresponsibly leading yourself open to uncertainties, to an occasion of sin!

Faith and life are both about risk.  Put very crudely: “if you do not stick your neck out, you’re not going to get your head chopped off”.   Christian faith is about risk because it requires us to take that leap into a certainty of faith which requires changing our way of thinking, of trusting in God’s love rather than in the tangible securities of day to day life.  Opening to others requires the ability to take risk, the joy of expressing trust.

Today our societies have radically changed.  The pace of social, scientific and political change is increasing.  This means that risk is now part and parcel of they way we live and the range of choices that are open to us.  It may also mean that in the face of the rapidity and uncertainty of change we may become fearful in new ways and reject the risk that is necessary, to really hope and to translate our hope into a meaningful reality in our lives.

Ireland has changed.  Ireland is changing, and who knows what Ireland will look like in the years to come.  For years people looked to Ireland as a vibrant and sustainable model for strong economic growth.  Countries were told to follow the Irish example.  Today the economic situation of Ireland is full of uncertainties, precisely at a moment when confidence and trust are urgently needed.

What happened?   How can the overall economic climate change almost overnight?  Who was asleep or were we all asleep?  We clearly see today that an economic crisis is not just about banks and financial institutions: it is about people’s lives, their jobs and their businesses their homes and their mortgages.  An economic crisis is about lack of opportunities for our young people, opportunities at home without unwillingly having to emigrate.

The deeper question is then is why in the better-times-Ireland, as a society and as an economic model, we all underestimated the fact that the success of an economic model ought also to have been evaluated in terms of the long term sustainability of jobs, mortgages and borrowing, of life style, of education and health care and sustainable opportunity for young people. Such long term sustainability needs broad ownership by all in society.

In the 1990’s, at the height of the popularity of theories of “small government”, I remember giving a talk reflecting on what might be the ability of small government to face the social consequences of a serious economic crisis.  I was writing about development models for poorer countries, but the question was then, and is still today, relevant to the Irish situation. In terms of international development there was a strong sense at that time – and not an unfounded one – that it was not governments which created jobs, but business.  Business, however, thrives in good times, and when the good times die, it is often someone else who picks up the bill.  I believe that it was the current Chairman of the Bank of England who said that “banks live globally yet when they die, they die locally”.

Let me not be understood.  I am a strong believer in the importance of the free market.  Overall it has produced a system for the supply of goods and services which has worked better than any other system.  But the market is not a totally rational instrument.  People’s fears and anxieties are part of the reality of the market system. Market mechanisms are not pure mathematical systems.  Regulation and transparency are a necessary part of a market equation, but for a certain moment in time there was fear that almost any external regulation would actually defeat the freedom which the market requires and thus be damaging.

For the market to be free there must be clear rules about competition and these rules must be enforceable and must be fair. In a global economic vision where foreign inward investment in a country’s economy was vital, many arrangements were made which did not necessarily reflect economic freedom.  Foreign companies negotiated packages with governments of developing countries which reduced the risk to be assumed by foreign investors to such an extent that these agreements seriously reduced the possibility of local companies ever entering into the market on truly competitive and fair terms.

We need to recover our awareness that the market and the economy are part of a broader picture and that there are other values than purely economic values.   But we need to foster those economic values which will be in the best interest of our two communities.   An economy which provides for the inclusion of the widest number of people possible will be all the stronger.

The globalisation of financial activity can be a positive phenomenon yet when things go badly the globalised response is to send the problem back to where it all started – locally.  Not just in the financial world, we live in an age where there are global realities but we do not have global instruments to control them?  National interest is still a factor which plays a strong role in the very institutions where policies are formulated to “govern” global realities.   Many are surprised to know that it is only in this century that an OECD agreement made it illegal for businesses to use bribes in attaining contracts abroad.  In some European countries it was even possible to receive tax exemption for bribes used.

The economy is part of a wider social framework.  This is not just moralising.  An economy is more sustainable if it springs up within a stable society in which human needs are addressed and in which people have voice, which is where all feel that they can be participants.  Exclusion weakens any society; exclusion damages an economy.  A society which fosters innovation and participation is a society which fosters a knowledge based economy.  An economy which fosters passivity will be a weaker economy.

There are consequences to be drawn from this idea for the current situation in Ireland and how one responds to those who loose their jobs and, above all, how we address the situation of those young people who fail to even gain entry into the labour market.  Social measures to support people in that situation can cause passivity, or the funds can be invested in improving the human capital and the innate talent of young people and thus enable them to enter the labour market later with improved capacity.

In Ireland, North and South have their own economic traditions.  Both sides of the border can benefit from North/South economic cooperation.  But North-South economic cooperation requires the underpinnings of a common economic culture, and here civil society is a vital component.

What kind of Church do we need to address these and other questions about the type of Ireland we want today and for tomorrow?  Are these questions relevant to discussions going on about the renewal and reform of the Churches?  Has the Church answers which are relevant to the current situation?

I believe that one of the great challenges the Irish Catholic Church has to face is that of inherited clericalism.  This is not just about the dominant or, at times, domineering role of clergy within what people call the “institutional Church”.  Strangely the very term “institutional Church” only has meaning in a context of clericalism.

Clericalism will only be eliminated by fostering a deeper sense of the meaning of the Church and that understanding of the nature of the Church will come not from media strategies or simply by structural reforms, but by genuine renewal in what faith in Jesus Christ is about.  If we focus only on structures and power there is a risk that clericalism might be replaced by neo-clericalism.

The Christian presence in society is not achieved by the imposition of a manifesto or simply by high profile social criticism.  The mission of the Church in society is not primarily one of social commentary. It is more about the witness which people give to Christian principles, mediated within the particular responsibilities they carry.

I say that one of the great challenges the Irish Catholic Church has to face is that of inherited clericalism.  It is actually more than that.  For generations now the Irish Catholic Church relied on Irish society in general to be the principal instrument for the passing on of the faith. Day by day that becomes less and less the case. The religious culture of Ireland has changed.  Many people say to me that they reject the Church but still consider themselves believers in Jesus Christ.  The difficulty is that in such a situation, without a personal and rigorous intellectual encounter with the scriptures and Christian tradition, a person can drift into something which is their own, rather than a challenging encounter with their faith.  The realities of faith if viewed, consciously or unconsciously, through secularised lenses, can easily end up with a distortion of faith or an inability to understand the logic of belief.

I am not saying that reform of structures is not necessary within the Church.  Anything but!  What I am saying is that such reform without ongoing radical renewal in the faith will end up with the wrong structures and indeed might end up just answering yesterday’s questions today.

Personally I grow every day in my conviction that there is no way in which the Church in Ireland can adapt a business as usual policy, as if there has not been a radical change in Irish society and religious culture in Ireland.  The Church in Ireland will be a very different Church tomorrow, more focussed on its task of transmitting faith in Jesus Christ and helping people to encounter Jesus and his message in their lives.

This will mean that the Church will relinquish many of the institutional roles it has held in Ireland.  But it does not mean that the Church will retreat into sacristies or into the private values systems of those who profess faith in Jesus, whether they are few or many.    It means a vigorous presence in society in a different manner.

The way forward will be especially that of evangelising, of bringing the message of Jesus to those who are seeking meaning and hope for their lives, especially young people.  Without that evangelical renewal structural reform will be reform of the sacristies, of internal structures.  Faith in Jesus is about faith in a person, it is about a person who came to reveal the fact that God is love and he did this through preaching a message, but also but contemporaneously witnessing to that message by healing the sick, freeing those who were burdened and by forming around him a community or a people who witness to the same values.

Jesus’ teaching is demanding.  In his own time many people turned away from him.  The threshold of commitment which he demanded from his disciples was not a wishy-washy one.  “Let the dead bury the dead” is not a slogan for an anything-goes Christianity.

I have been Archbishop of Dublin now for six years.  They have not been the easiest years of my life and I do not believe that the coming years show indications that I can sit back and relax.  I know that what I say or do or propose is not going to please everyone.  In some cases, I have not been successful in doing what I have tried to do.  I would be very foolish this evening to say that any Church in Ireland is really making inroads into the culture of our younger people.  The Pope spoke strongly in clearly challenging terms about the risks of a secularised society: but a secularised society can have many aspects which our young people find attractive.  And not just our young people:  we are all children of consumerism

I should not be totally negative in my evaluation of the situation either of the Irish economy or of the Irish Church.     What I am saying is that Irish society is facing many challenges and that the way forward must be one where every component of Irish society learns to work together in a new way, not in an imposed uniformity, but one of focusing on the common good, each one playing its part.

The principal contribution of the Churches will not be that of institutions, of a parallel culture, or an ideology, but of a witness of life which will always be counter cultural.  Counter cultural does not mean opposition or opting out of society, but of a cogent and convincing presence, a presence untarnished by compromises with dominant visions or political correctness.

We have many differences and divisions.   The future will not remove them nor, in many cases, should it.  We need to be united, even though divided.   There are many Christian tasks that we can carry out even in the midst of division.  We need breathing spaces to take stock of where we are.  We need be able to breathe together, to share the basic goodness that is in our people, to sustain those whose basic humanity has been wounded by the harshness of society, to trust and respect each other, to become people of greater integrity and bring to our society a   strong input of witness to what integrity means.

We need to find spaces in which to meet with and challenge the narrow ideology of those who still cannot see violence as a road without a future.  We need to remember that the world and its needs are larger than our small mindedness.   I say this in these days in which the international community is reflecting on the Millennium Development Goals.

We need people who retain their hope even in the face of opposition and failure.  We need to dare to hope and we need a new generation which will challenge us to expand the parameters of our hope beyond the narrow confines that each of us individually and as communities consciously or unconsciously fix for ourselves.   We need to be together in a space – as we are this evening – in which each of us can breathe our own identity and flourish in that identity and be embraced and enhanced by the other in our identity.

If we can develop a process of coming together in such terms, then perhaps then, through our process of overcoming division, we will together be able to make a real contribution to healing a world which is torn and divided, culturally economically, politically and religiously.

That hope requires daring and courage, openness to change and to renounce many things we hold dear.   There is however no other type of hope.  Hope will inevitably take us out of our comfort zones.  Any other vision of hope is merely deception.

This is the challenge.  I for one am optimistic about the possibility, optimistic and enthusiastic.


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