Archbishop Diarmuid Martin says violent criminals a threat to what democracy means

07 Oct 2013

Homily notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin for Mass on the occasion of the commencement of the Michaelmas Law Term at Saint Michan’s Church, Halston Street, 7th October 2013

We come, as we do at the commencement of the Michaelmas Law Term each year, to invoke the inspiration and the protection of the Holy Spirit on all those involved in the legal profession and in the administration of justice in our land.

The right administration of justice is a fundamental pillar of democracy and of our common sharing in and responsibility for society.   In that sense the legal profession is not a simple profession like any other, but one which is fundamentally linked with the quality of our living together as citizens.  The administration of justice may have to dedicate much of its time towards addressing and dealing with injustice and to attempting to appease divisions and litigiousness, but its fundamental task is to ensure a functional and functioning framework for the common good, in which every individual can flourish.

When the administration of justice functions well, it contributes to building up of a healthy society and when dysfunctionality enters into the system of administration of justice it brings degenerative effects into the very fabric of society.

Dysfunctionality in the administration of justice in any way is generally a symptom of a deeper malaise within a society.  The independence of the judicial system is the first institution which is undermined by totalitarian or corrupt systems and the undermining of the independence of the judicial system is often the destruction of the final pillar which sustains democracy and freedom.

Justice is traditionally portrayed in terms of the scales which help to ensure that each person is treated with equality.  However, equality is not an isolated concept.  Justice also has to seek a sense of equity which ensures that the balance of justice is something that can be attained by all, especially those whose opportunity and access to power may on occasion be weakest.

Justice must therefore have a privileged eye which focuses on those who are disadvantaged.  Justice must have a privileged eye also to ensuring that legitimate claims do not result in a litigiousness which damages the unity of society or that the vindication of their rights becomes possible only for those who financial means are elevated.

Society must be one which seeks equality for all its members, but the starting point of all may not well be of equality.  Marginalization may well lead to a permanent inability to flourish in equality.

The work of the administration of justice to attain equality must then takes into account those who for a variety of reasons are not able to live their lives to the full.  Obviously one cannot expect nor should one expect the courts to provide solutions to the many social challenges that sometimes find their most dramatic expression within the courtroom.  The law defines what crime and anti-social behaviour is.  But there are many whose anti-social behaviour is the expression of other problems.  The high proportion of men and women with mental health problems, for example, who are returned to a prison system unable and incapable of addressing their problems requires an urgent political and social response.

The administration of justice is a service to the unity of society and to democracy in its widest sense.  We have those in society who think that they have a right to impose their own rule through violence both in society and in our prisons.  They are not just criminals but they are a threat to what democracy means.  I have on more than one occasion appealed for a coordinated response which unites all those in our society to shame the perpetrators of violence and exploitation and protect our society from a spread of all forms of senseless violence.

I am not here to criticise those who are in the frontline in society in fighting crime and violence.  Our nation indeed owes a debt of gratitude to the men and women of An Garda Síochána who daily face the risks of being in the front line against an ever more sophisticated and unscrupulous world of crime and corruption.

The mission of the administration of justice is to foster unity and harmony in society.  The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles is one which reminds us of the unity of the human family.  At the first Pentecost, the courageous proclamation of the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit created a situation in which men and women gathered from all parts of the known world hear and understand that message in their own language.  The divisions among men and women begin to break down and understanding is attained.  This common understanding is not a sort of anticipation of our modern technical simultaneous translation.  Understanding must mean more: understanding must mean appreciating and embracing the other, while respecting difference.  Understanding means working together for what is good and what is truthful.

Truth is not something that we invent for ourselves and renew everyday.  Truth is something that precedes us and that we receive.       The Encyclical Lumen Fidei which was published earlier this year has been described as an Encyclical written by four hands.  Much of it was completed by Pope Benedict before he retired from his Petrine ministry and the text was the n completed and published by Pope Francis.

The Encyclical addresses the challenge of truth today’s world.   For many men and women today, it says, the “the only truth is that of technology: truth is what we succeed in building and measuring by our scientific know-how”.  It is felt that only this kind of truth can be shared and can serve as a basic for common undertakings.

But we know also that there are other expressions of truth.  There is the truth of relationships: the truth of loyalty, of love and of commitment which is central to the personal life of us all.  Without that truth, which we find in families and friendship, society would be totally empty.  The truth of trust and loyalty is also the fundamental pillar of an economy or a market.  At the root of our economic challenges there is the breach of that truth.

There is then the truth of ideals and the dreams, which though not verifiable technologically or scientifically, is what has often actually changed the world.  The centenaries which we will be celebrating as a nation in the coming years are examples of how the truth of ideals and dreams indeed overcame the truths of accepted wisdom.

Truth is not then just about measurement and investigation.  It is about who we fundamentally are.  The truth we must seek is a truth which attempts to comprehensively explain our life as individuals and as a society.  Certainly such a concept of truth can be exploited and be turned into totalitarianism and into fundamentalism.  But there can also be a fundamentalism of the relative and the workable, the agreed-on and compromise, which can lead to arrogance and to an intolerance of those with deep felt convictions.

Values belong to the real world.  Ethics belongs to the real world. Values are what change the real world.   Values can lead us to see the realities of the world in new ways.  Society requires values which transcend and which lead to the true and the good.  Ireland lives within a complex world where change is the order to the day.   That change requires roots and requires men and women who witness in their lives to what is most fundamental about life.  The “art of the possible” is not the realm of pure compromise, but requires also men and women who are uncompromising in reaching out towards the ideal and that truth which can comprehensively explain our lives.

The Holy Spirit whom we invoke today on all those who are involved in the administration and the fostering of justice in our society is the Spirit of truth.  Our prayer is that all of us will feel and respect the call that we receive to act truthfully, with a truth which is not a self-centred ideology, but founded on a care and a respect for the truth of the other.

May Jesus, who is the way and the truth and the life, renew our hearts, renew us in our service to society and indeed renew his Church.  Love and truth are inseparable and the way to foster truth and dignity is always the way of love, witnessed in our personal and professional lives.

+ Diarmuid Martin
7 October 2013