Speaking notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin for the annual Trócaire lecture

12 Mar 2019

Archbishop Martin delivered the annual Trócaire lecture in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth on Tuesday 12 March 2019 on the theme ‘At the service of justice and peace’. 

The text of his speaking notes follows below: 

 Speaking notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin

I want to present some personal reflections, arising from my own experience, on the nature of Catholic Social Teaching, on its evolution in recent times and on how it can and should engage with the overall societal reflection on issues of justice and peace in an ever-changing world.  I want to reflect on what we as citizens and as believing Christians can do in the face of structural injustices and violence around the world that constitute the opposite poles to a culture of justice and peace.

The social teaching of the Church must be in touch with reality.  It is, however, not an ideology.  Neither is it a political or economic platform. 

The Gospels do not provide readymade answers to the ongoing challenges of a complex world.  To affirm otherwise would be fundamentalism.  The Gospel message must be mediated within an ethical framework and become a challenge to people of good will to respond. Pope Benedict in his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est reminded us that “formation of just structures is not directly the duty of the Church, but belongs to the world of politics, the sphere of the autonomous use of reason”.

In 1987, I found myself unprepared in a leadership position in the then Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.  I was unprepared but not unhappy.  I realised that it was one of the most interesting offices of the Holy See and I was especially happy to work with Cardinal Roger Etchegaray,  from whom I learned so much not just about the work of the Pontifical Council but also about being a priest and bishop involved in  animating an important sector of the Church’s life.

Working at the Vatican is an unusual experience.  I met there some of the most intelligent, committed and enlightened men and women dedicated to the service of the Church.  Most of the staff at Justice and Peace were highly qualified laypersons and the Council could draw on expertise from Church experts, lay and clerical, around the world.  

At the Vatican, I also saw the darker and sadder side of Church life in a culture of careerism and nastiness.  Cardinal Etchegaray and his successor with whom I also worked, Cardinal Van Thuan, who had been in prison for thirteen years in Vietnam, both belonged unmistakably to that first category and I am deeply indebted to both of them.

The Pontifical Council for Justice and peace was unusual in that it was one of the few offices of the Holy See explicitly requested by the Second Vatican Council.  Interestingly, initially the intention was to insert an office for human development into the newly created Council for the Laity.  Pope Paul VI, with a theological sensitivity that many underestimate, decided to set up two separate offices because he wanted to show that while work for justice and peace is primarily a task of lay Christians, clergy and religious also have their own specific role to be recognised and fostered. 

Paul VI with his parallel understanding of the workings of the Roman Curia came up with a pragmatic solution of two distinct offices, but with one Cardinal President.

Justice and Peace was a Pontifical Council with a unique style.  Cardinal Etchegaray had been President of a large Episcopal Conference, that of France, and then the founding President of the Council of European Bishops Conferences (CCEE).  The CCEE was particularly significant at that period of European history as, uniquely, it brought together bishops from both sides of the iron curtain who would otherwise have had very little contact.

Cardinal Etchegaray also realised that you did not run the Church from the Vatican.  The task of the Council for Justice and Peace was to listen to support and animate what was being done and what could be done at local level. This meant not simply being a deskbound Vatican bureaucrat but going out to see and understand on the ground the challenges of the local Churches and the experience and suffering of the local churches.

Just in case you might think that this was just ecclesiastical tourism, we had a rigid principle of never staying in hotels but always with the local Church, in difficult times and even in wartime circumstances but never extending trips beyond the specific mission in hand.  There was no tourism.

My work at the Pontifical Council tool place almost exclusively in the last century. I find it interesting to look back now at the important Church documents we published on what we then considered important questions concerning justice issues.  Documents on International Debt, on Homelessness, on Racism, on Land Reform in developing countries, on Financial Markets, on International Trade and on the Trade in small arms.

At one period, we organised significant working meetings between the Pope and leading international economists.  I remember Pope John Paul II saying explicitly that he did not want “sacristy economists”.  I steered a two-day working meeting – the first ever of its kind – between the leadership of CELAM, the Council of Latin American Bishops, and the heads of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.   We had fascinating meetings with world trade union leaders to ascertain their views on the changing economic and employment landscape. 

The office was also responsible for drawing up ideas for the Pope’s messages for the World Day of Peace.  Already in 1990, the Message was Peace with God the Creator, Peace with all of Creation, one of the first documents of the Holy See to deal with the environment.  

The Messages for the World Day of Peace were indicative of the methodology of the Pontifical Council.  On 1 January 1969, Pope Paul VI had established the World Day of Peace. He chose the first day of the calendar year because it was something more than just a religious feast.  It was a moment in which people of different backgrounds naturally reflect on their future.  Paul VI wished to use this occasion to address a wide audience using a language that, though rooted in faith, could be appreciated by people of other beliefs and foster dialogue.  This must still today be a mark of the Social Teaching of the Church.

As you can see, my days at the Pontifical Council were challenging and looking back, we were certainly asking the right questions.  I have to ask today: what happened?  Why the questions that we were asking in the 1990 are still the challenging questions today?  Certainly, there have been moments of progress.  However, you have to ask if there are some deep structural fault lines, which prevent making definitive progress on these matters, which the international community has repeatedly not just spoken about but has undertaken a series of time-bound commitments to address and resolve.

Progress has been made.  We know something of the mix that leads to progress.  However, that progress is unequal and indeed, in some cases a sustained period of progress has been followed by long-term failure. Some African leaders who were hailed as the heroes of the international community have over the years reverted into dubious practice.  There is a renewed populist politics in Latin America.

The 2000 Millennium Development Goals were commitments that were realised only in part.  Indeed, it is often overlooked  that these goals were preceded by similar goals adopted by the World Summit on Social Development held in Copenhagen in 1995.  Now we are working on a new Agenda with goals that are more ambitious and thank God with a higher level of consensus.  Consensus, however, is very often the fruit of compromise and compromise over time, can subtly weaken commitment.

There were moments over the years in which hopes were higher.  The overall political and economic situation changed dramatically with the end of the cold war.   That change took place not just in Europe and the West.  It had special consequences in developing countries where the Soviet Union had supported and entrapped into its area of interest various satellite countries especially in Africa and Asia.  

Western Countries also had their satellite countries to counteract Soviet influence and the governments of many of these countries were no great models of the values officially espoused by the West.  In Central America, being anti-communist could lead to overlooking a multitude of sins.

With the fall of communism and of a bi-polar East-West international scenario, new hope appeared but also a new void.  The end of the cold war gave rise to a buoyancy regarding economic liberalism and the emergence of a new liberalism within which it was claimed that liberal democracies and free market capitalism would eventually resolve most of the problems of the world.  

The American author Francis Fukuyama wrote a pivotal book entitled The End of History, affirming that this new liberalism marked a definitive moment in the socio-cultural evolution of humanity.  There was a feeling that a new and definitive humanism was emerging.  That hope was short lived.  Ideologies do not die so quickly and they have a curious ability to re-emerge in new forms. 

I remember the uproar amid right wing economists in the United States – often Catholic led – when Pope John Paul in the Encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis drew attention to some elements of the socialist system that he felt should not be lost after the end of the cold war.  Perhaps his language could have been more nuanced, but to accuse Pope John Paul, as these economists did, of asserting moral equivalence between communism and capitalism was to mistake the man.  The neo-liberalism that appeared to have failed has given rise to equally damaging neo-populism.

Early in 2001, I was designated the Holy See’s diplomatic representative at the United Nations Office in Geneva and at the World Trade Organization as well as to a number of other bodies like the International Committee of the Red Cross.  I presented my credentials to the then Head of the UN Office in Geneva, Mr Vladimir Petrowsky. Petrowsky was a wise and wily former Soviet Diplomat and First Deputy Foreign Minister.  At my first meeting, he reminded me that he had been the Soviet negotiator on most of the important disarmament agreements such the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Test Ban treaties and follow up treaties.  He said to me,  “these agreements were cold war agreements and that is now their weakness.  They are in danger of crumbling. There is a need to re-examine the entire landscape of disarmament agreements in a changing and more dangerous world, but there is absolutely no willingness to do so”. 

He stressed that this was not just a political challenge but also fundamentally a moral challenge for the international community. In these very days, we see how right Petrowsky was and how these disarmament agreements are beginning to disintegrate and the possibility of an arms race and even a nuclear arms race is becoming a real possibility.  In this context, it is interesting to remember that the then Irish Foreign Minister, Frank Aiken, played a vital role in the original Non-Proliferation Treaty negotiations.

This brings me back to my question as to why many of the themes that concern the international community keep coming back again unresolved.  This is to a great extent, as Mr Petrowsky noted, due to the fact that technical arrangements no matter how important will never survive in the absence of a moral consensus. 

How can multilateral diplomacy steer a course between diplomatic technique, cold pragmatism and moral idealism in order to arrive at the best possible but also to move beyond the minimal. 

Let me look at some complex examples.  The desire to remove a despot or a dictator or a corrupt regime is certainly a valid one.   However, attempts to remove despots in Libya, in Iraq and in Syria have indicated that badly thought out plans and military strength alone can only produce a worse situation than before. 

The desire to remove despots is, very often, mixed with many other interests.  Narrow economic interests can lead to a situation in which despots are tolerated and supported.  African countries that have great mineral or oil wealth have fallen foul to external exploitation.   Not only has their wealth been exploited but democratic progress has been stymied and these countries have often been dragged into years of bloody conflict and divisions, with disastrous consequences for generations of the population.

The arms trade exasperates these conflicts.  The Swedish research Institute SIPRI has noted in a report published in these days that “the volume of international trade in heavy weapons in the five-year period 2014-18 surpassed that of the period between 2009 and 2013 by 7.8% and the period 2004-2008 by 23%”

The five major arms exporters  – United States, Russia, France, Germany and China are worth about 75% of the total volume of arms exports over the last five years. Arms exports from the United States have increased by 29% over the last 10 years.  According to SIPRI, the majority of weapons sold by the United States in the last five years (52%) went to one country in the Middle East. The report does not mention it by name, but it refers to Saudi Arabia.  Saudi Arabia has become the world’s largest arms importer, with an increase of 192% over the past ten years. 

Is it realistic in such a situation to think that moral persuasion can really influence and at least soften hard pragmatic political interest?  How can ordinary citizens really influence the challenge of attaining sustained peace?

One of the encouraging new factors emerging in today’s world is that of international public opinion.  I mentioned earlier the World Summit on Social Development which was the major UN Conference held in Copenhagen in 1995, at its time the largest ever gathering of heads of State and government.   During the negotiations for the summit, the Holy See requested that a paragraph be inserted drawing attention to the social consequences in developing countries of the use of landmines. The suggestion met with almost universal opposition. I was told that this was a conference on social development and not on disarmament and the question of landmines could safely be left to the disarmament experts to deal with in their own rather arcane negotiations.

Finally, I had to be happy to have inserted into the documents a reference to, and I quote, “certain conventional weapons which may be deemed to be excessively injurious or to have indiscriminate effects”.

That may seem to many of you a rather circumspect way of including a reference to land mines.  It is in fact the title of another UN convention that had been ratified by most countries and they could hardly then have rejected it.  I could say that least that reference was better than no reference at all, even though the average reader would not have had a clue then or now as to what it meant.

Why I tell this story is that just over two years later, what was considered a major development in international affairs took place in Ottawa when the vast majority of countries around the world adapted a full-blown International Treaty outlawing the use of land mines.

Why the change of mind?  What had happened in the meantime?  Had I managed to convert the unrepentant?  No: international public opinion had changed and dramatically so and it was now more popular in talking about landmines to be on the side of the saints.

It is important to remember how public opinion was an influencing factor in the fight against slavery, against child labour and today against human trafficking.  Perhaps the most significant example in our times has been the change in attitude to protection of the environment and climate justice.  International public opinion has reached down into local communities and governments are being driven by their own citizens to take up more enlightened positions.  We see this week how even schoolchildren are setting the pace.

Organizations like Trócaire can be to the forefront in establishing and sustaining international network campaigns which influence national and international public opinion and show how ethical concerns belong to the real world and that politics and pragmatism can be forced to listen.  

For public opinion to change there have to be forerunners.  There have to be those men and women of intuition and innovation, of courage and conviction who are prepared with determination to take a stand and to take a principled stand and to take an uncompromising stand.   In the complex world of business and politics, the art of the compromise is an essential part of the day-to-day ability to move forward.  However, the level of compromise that becomes acceptable is determined by the idealism of those who do not compromise.

It is worth noting that it was forerunners who rose above the prejudice of their own communities, who led people to the Northern Ireland peace process and who showed that peace was possible.  The current deadlock says something about the state of politics in Ireland.

Where can people of faith bring their specific contribution to reflection on international development?  In his Encyclical on hope, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of what he calls “the ambiguity of progress”   He stresses that there is a constant ambiguity at the heart of all our models of “progress”.   He is raising the same question that I raised earlier:  Why are the questions that we were asking at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace back in the 1990’s still the challenging questions about the successes and failures of our development models today?

Pope Benedict’s answer is that fundamentally we too often fail to recognise that the world we live in is not ours to do with as we wish; it is, rather, gift to be used according to God’s plan.  The ambiguity within progress is rooted in our inability or willingness to accept that plan.   Pope Benedict challenges us with a striking phrase: “There is no doubt that “the Kingdom of God” accomplished without God – a kingdom therefore of human creation alone – inevitably ends up as the perverse end of all things”.

Globalization will be worthy of its name if it enhances the unity of the human family.  Any form of globalization that breeds exclusion, marginalization, instability and crass inequality does not have the right to call itself global.

Development policy has to learn to be global in a broad context.  We need comprehensive programmes and modern day Marshall Plan style programmes of investment in developing countries. The aim must be to encourage countries to address holistically the human and economic dimensions of development and urgently establish the challenge of governance in favour of the people, which is part of a culture that embraces sustainable peace.

 Migration will always be an intrinsic dimension of a global economy and society.  Migration is not just a social or legal problem.  It is about people. It is about real people.   It is about people who search for their dreams and for the ability to realise their capacity.  Migration has been a source of enrichment of culture and society for centuries. It is also about people who have nothing, who are exploited in the roots of their humanity.  The way we treat migrants and especially refugees is a barometer of our humanity.

The Church has an original contribution to the reality of globalization.  The Church is by its own nature global.  It is global not just because of its geographical extension in every country of the world.  The Constitution Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council affirms something much more profound already in its opening paragraph:

“Since the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race”  

The Church is a sign of the unity of the human race.  Many years ago, I asked the then Catholic Archbishop Cape Town what he felt would be the most important contribution the Church could bring in order to end the apartheid regime.  He responded:  “The best contribution that the Church can make is by being Church, by being within its own boundaries a sign and sacrament of what unity in Christ means”.

We salute Trócaire and congratulate it for the bonds of unity that it establishes in directing the sense of Christian solidarity of Irish Catholics to help realise the dreams and aspirations of the marginalised.   That bond of unity is Church.”