· Government should research the cost of family failure and not impose further grant cuts on ACCORD – Bishop Denis Nulty
We all enjoy our birthdays, our feast-days and very much our anniversary celebrations. I even know friends who celebrate a couple of birthdays every year and indeed others who go into denial even when a significant one crops up! The feast-day of St. Denis, my feast-day, slipped by last Thursday, October 9th. Denis along with his companions was martyred and thrown into the River Seine in 258 AD and later buried at Montmarte, Paris. The statue of Saint Denis holding his severed head under his arm is not really one for the standard mantelpiece! With the introduction of the revised Roman Missal, the feast-day of Saint Denis is shared now with Blessed John Henry Newman. Beatified by Pope Emeritus Benedict on 19 September 2010, the date of October 9 is determined as his date of reception into the Catholic Church. Blessed John Henry Newman’s motto was Cor ad Cor Loquitor – Heart speaks to Heart.
The Heart is at the very centre of the ACCORD organisation. In the rebranding exercise as Accord replaced the former days of CMAC, the letters ‘COR’ at the centre of ACCORD were and remain essential to the identity, mission and ethos of our organisation.
I am honoured this morning to stand before you as the new President of ACCORD. I wish to pay special tribute and thanks to Bishop Christy Jones, my predecessor who carried out this role with great dignity and care for all in the organisation. Bishop Christy listened very well and that is the hallmark of our organization. Bishop Christy succeeded Bishop Willie Walsh of Killaloe and today I want to assure Bishop Willie of a fond remembrance in our thoughts and prayers as he continues to recover from a recent illness. When I joined ACCORD, it was known as CMAC, and the President then was Bishop Colm O’Reilly of Ardagh and Clonmacnois. Bishop Colm continues to be for me a most gentle, encouraging man and I thank him for his great enthusiasm for this wonderful organisation. It was his enthusiasm and affirmation that inspired my early days as Priest Director in the Mullingar Centre of ACCORD. I am indeed walking on sacred ground this morning, following in these illustrious footsteps, but walking side by side with all of you, great people in ACCORD who live the Blessed John Henry Newman message every day, speaking heart to heart about the importance and significance of Christian marriage.
Over this past week there has been much polemic and commentary around the extraordinary Synod in Rome on ‘the Pastoral Challenges Facing the Family in the context of Evangelisation’. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is representing the Irish Bishops’ Conference at the Synod and last Tuesday morning in his four minute address to the synod, he stressed the importance of consulting married couples, couples who continue to live the daily realities of family relationships and commitment to the education of their children. Archbishop Martin reminded the Synod “the church must listen to where God is speaking to the Church through the witness of those married couples who struggle and fail and begin again in the concrete situations of life today and fail again.”
The Synod organisers invited eleven married couples from around the world to serve as ‘auditors’ during the Synod. While they don’t have a vote, they take full part in the discussions. I loved the input from the Australian couple Ron and Mavis Pirola from Sydney, who have been married for 55 years and have four children. They seemed a very ordinary couple who presented to the assembled bishops the very real issues that are part and parcel of family life. Their strong message was to encourage the bishops to strike a balance between upholding Church teaching and showing mercy and compassion.
I believe ACCORD’s place is very much in the support of those couples and families who struggle, who sometimes just need that listening ear, maybe even an open non-judgmental heart for their deepest story of struggle. ACCORD is the face of the Irish Church in building relationships and healing broken relationships. I am proud to have been trained by ACCORD as a counsellor and facilitator; I am privileged to have been involved in marriage preparation course delivery for close to twenty-five years initially with ACCORD Mullingar and later with Accord Drogheda. I was particularly pleased to attend the regular monthly meeting of ACCORD Carlow last Monday evening. The agenda issues have changed somewhat in the past twenty-five years. ‘Continuing professional development’ has eclipsed what we simply called in the 1990’s ‘In-Service Training’. Codes of Governance have replaced ‘who’ll get the keys to open the centre on Tuesday evening?’ And sadly budgeting constraints have eaten into far too much time when ACCORD facilitators and counsellors should be concentrating on what they do best – listening with a heart. As a counsellor said to me the other evening: ‘I didn’t join ACCORD to spend my time balancing the books’.
Nonetheless because of the importance of the family for the life and wellbeing of society it is essential that both ACCORD and the State continue to work with each other to provide the necessary supports to strengthen marriage and the family. Investment in children and young people and in the development of responsible, respectful, caring and loving relationships between couples, whether parents or not, and between parents and their children, is a social responsibility and it makes good economic sense.
The 2013 figures for ACCORD speak for themselves: 57 centres nationwide, in every corner of Ireland north and south; 50,959 counselling hours; 9,867 counselling clients; 727 marriage preparation courses; 7,631 couples participating in them and 32,039 children participating in the schools’ programme. In its recent study The Gender Impact of Tax and Benefit Changes, the ERSI assessed the impact of tax, welfare and public sector pay changes on men and women between 2009 and 2013. The study found that it was married women who have been hit hardest by the Government’s austerity policies rather than their male counterparts. I suggest that the Government, through TUSLA its new Child and Family Agency, should commission a research study on the cost of family failure in Ireland. In the UK a similar study found that the cost to each UK taxpayer, of family failure, was £1,541 per year. A similar cost measurement should be calculated for Ireland as soon as possible. In the meantime, funding ACCORD in a sustainable way, rather than seeking ways of further reducing its grant, would greatly strengthen the social fabric of this country as we move out of austerity.
I want to thank you the Assembly Delegates who have travelled from the 57 centres nationwide, representing the work of close to a thousand members of ACCORD. You have given up your Saturday to be here. There are those at home who also must be thanked for supporting you and all of us in ACCORD in what we do. Your own personal witness to your faith as an ACCORD member in whatever function or role you perform in the organisation is to be applauded and commended. Without faith, we simply offer a service; I believe ACCORD offers much more. Recent figures from the Central Statistics Office tell us that the average age of brides and grooms has increased by almost nine years since 1978. August is still the most popular month, and Friday or Saturday are the most popular days for weddings. ACCORD supports the many young couples preparing for marriage in the Catholic Church. May ACCORD continue to go from strength to strength in the unique contribution it offers to marriage and family life in Ireland.
I conclude by extending a warm word of thanks to Harry Casey, and to the core team in Central Office at the Columba Centre, Maynooth, for the work that they do on our behalf in the cause of best practice, excellence in training and optimum provision in the service delivered by ACCORD.
Notes to Editors
· Bishop Denis Nulty is the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin and was appointed President of ACCORD at the Autumn General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference on 1 October last. ACCORD is the Catholic marriage care service. The Assembly of ACCORD involves the meeting of delegates from ACCORD local centres, from across the dioceses of Ireland, in plenary session on an annual basis to discuss the work, aims, objectives and policies of ACCORD.
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