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The Greatest Revolution

Family Life Today Ceifin

Author(s): Harry Bohan

ISBN13: 9781847301680

ISBN10: 1847301681

Publisher: Veritas

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  • A constant theme running through the ten Céifin Conferences since 1998 has been changes in family life. A key question to emerge from the first conference was, Who is rearing the next generation? and that question has not gone away. The family now needs to be examined, not as an argument for or against anything, but in itself. What does it really mean to our society and what does it contribute to human, social and spiritual development?


    The economic miracle, 1994, 2007, brought undreamed-of affluence. We welcomed it. However, there is no doubt that relationships suffered, particularly in the area of family and community. We are currently experiencing the beginnings of a recession. Food and fuel prices are escalating; jobs are threatened. The family will once again be on the frontline of experiencing difficult economic changes, coming on the back of a period when it experienced significant social and religious changes. How resourceful are family units after a period of consumerism?


    This conference should enable delegates to broaden their awareness of the current state of family life and the changing nature of relationships between home, school, and work-place , placing particular emphasis on a new vision for the changing family.




    Fr. Harry Bohan, Chairman of the Céifin Centre, qualified as Sociologist in the University of Wales and is currently Director of Pastoral Planning in Diocese of Killaloe and Parish Priest in Sixmilebridge, Co. Clare. Believing in family and community as the two vital systems in fostering human relationships he founded the Rural Resource Organisation. This organisation was responsible for encouraging communities across Ireland to participate in determining their own future and resulted in the building of 2,500 houses in 120 villages, in 13 counties.


    In 1998 he founded the Céifin Centre for Values-Led Change to carry on the conversation on the direction Ireland is taking. The purpose of Céifin is to reflect, debate and direct values-led change in Irish society. He was appointed to the Task Force on Active Citizenship by an Taoiseach in 2006.


    Recognised as one of the leading social commentators in Ireland today Fr Bohan has written extensively on the subjects of Christianity, spirituality and economic development, the importance of the local responding to the global and on understanding change. His books published include Roots in a changing Society and Community and the Soul of Ireland and he is editor and contributor to all 10 previous books of published papers from Céifin Conferences. He has broadcast widely on national radio and television. Father Harry is also well known for his involvement in sport and Clare Hurling in particular.

  • Harry Bohan

    Fr Harry Bohan has been a priest in the diocese of Killaloe for over fifty years. A qualified sociologist, he is a pioneer in the areas of rural housing and community development. He established the Céifin Centre in 1998, a think tank for values-led change. One of Ireland’s leading social commentators, he has written substantially about Christianity, spirituality and economic development. A hurling enthusiast, he is also former manager of the Clare hurling team.

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    The task of mapping societal change mid-stream is no easy brief. This work, comprising the 2008 C?®ifin conference papers, brings together international contributions from a variety of disciplines to a discussion on what the authors believe is the greatest revolution taking place in Irish Society today, namely the change in family life. Could the subtitle The Greatest Revolution be an overstatement? Apparently not; in the last two decades There has been an increase of 80% in the number of lone parent families ... more than one third of children are born outside of marriage ... the number of people availing of divorce has risen by 70% in the past decade (p.159). All of this despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of young people, who when questioned about their future, aspire to a stable long term relationship.

    With such a change taking place the question presents itself whether families today are happier? Kieran McKeown, a social research consultant, assesses our understanding by family well-being and health columnist Marie Murray concludes that the long term sociological implications for child rearing practices in this country will remain indeterminate until a number of generations of these family forms enter into their own adult relationship commitments and parenting roles (p.160). In the meantime legislation with regard to family in Ireland framed around Article 41 of the Irish constitution, which understands family as based on marriage between two adults of opposite sex, struggles to grapple with the emerging complexity of family make-up. Cardinal Seán Brady argues for the protection of the institution of marriage and family as the foundation of society.

    He does this both from a religious perspective but also from well-documented societal harm in other countries where marriage and family have been undermined.

    This revolution in family life has taken place at a time of economic change in the Irish Republic. Economist Jim Power examines the legacy of the Celtic Tiger with its emphasis on property and on quantity rather than quality. Power looks to the future economic challenges Ireland faces and the implications for family life.

    It is with the panel contributions of parents - Mamo McDonald, mother of eleven, Kevin Murphy, a stay-at-home Dad, and Geraldine Reidy a single mother - that the reader is gifted with insight into three contemporary Irish families. John Yzaguirre provides the reader with the U.S. viewpoint while Charles Handy speaks from the U.K. perspective and explores the relationship between the family and place of work. Another changing relationship, between home and school, is the focus of the Patrick Hillery Memorial Lecture which was delivered by a secondary school principal, Mary Forde.

    Geoffrey Shannon notes in relation to divorce and separation proceedings that the viewpoint of the child is critical and needs to be afforded the opportunity to be expressed (p.148). Shannons comment could be broadened to the theme of the book as a whole. The work would be richer had the voice of children and young people been included.

    This is a well-presented and easy to read volume with sources and footnotes at the end of many chapters. The publication .continues the fine work being done by the C?®ifin centre for values-Led Change and it will be of use to ail involved in family support services and to a range of professions who grapple on a daily basis with the changes documented here.

    - Patrick Farragher, The Furrow. December 2009

    The key of this most interesting collection of eleven C?®ifin conference papers is the fraught question about family life today. Is family life undergoing its Greatest Revolution?

    Every one of the papers acknowledges change. In some, the change is rude and radical; in others it is a more gentle slipping forward - an almost imperceptible but undeniable shift of opinion. People are either deciding to live life differently or are being swept into a whirlwind not always of their choosing.

    In the latter case, we have the example given by economist, Jim Power, when he speaks of commuting to work as it is now and the consequent all-day cr?üche life of many a small child. What does this do to people?
    That consideration fits in with Kieran McKeon (a social and economic consultant) asking what well-being is? and considering how the Celtic Tiger impacted on Irish well-being. Interesting to note that, as he says, a persons habitual way of thinking and feeling have a greater influence on well-being than the amount of their economic resources. Our Irish way of thinking and being is, it seems to me, undergoing a whirlwind of change causing society to be deeply confused and unsettled.

    Obviously all this has a great deal to do with what John Yzaguirre (an international speaker on family and social life) has to say on the decline in marital happiness, less marital interaction, more marital conflict and more work-related stress. I was prompted to consider that there is less readiness to put up with inconvenience and to tolerate and work through differences. Are expectations unrealistically high?
    Yzaguirre summarises some of the most significant changes remarkable in our times, and makes a key comment that the more stuff we accumulate, the less joy we seem to experience. That seems to be related to accumulations in head and heart as well as material things.

    Space precludes my commenting individually on these eleven thought-provoking papers which include dialogue and discussion between wise people of our times. The papers complement and support one another in their endeavour to respond to the key question Who is rearing the next generation?
    Cardinal Seán Brady acknowledges the public revolution in our approach to marriage and family life. He points out that The word of God is pro-love, pro-marriage, pro-family, pro-life and pro-society. He prays that people will discover the richness of this message.

    Into each generation prophets and people with new and more complex theories are born. We can never be said to have arrived at a permanent way of life. To sieve through new and old and preserve the interpretations and responses that are truly best for our society, is the ever-present challenge - not only for recognized thinkers but for all of us.

    - Angela Macnamara, The Irish Catholic

    Since 1998 the C?®ifin Centre has held an annual conference addressing social issues in Ireland. This book is the proceedings of the 2008 conference. The centre was founded by Father Harry Bohan in 1998 and is based in Shannon, county Clare. It derives its name from Ceibhfhionn, the Irish goddess of inspiration, and has a particular agenda since it is informed by the experience of developing communities across Ireland in an effort to counter the growth of cities. Father Bohan says that its guiding principle is that "change driven by values puts people at the centre". It would seem, therefore, to start from the proposition that most developments in Ireland in recent decades are a bad thing. The subject of this conference is the family, both of itself and where it fits into modern society. The speakers -sociologists, psychologists, educationists, economists and such - mostly come from Ireland and have had a range of experience in business and community life. Among them are Mamo McDonald of the Irish Country Womens Association and business guru Charles Handy, whose wife Elizabeth contributes an exhibition (reproduced in a rather unnecessary degree of reduction in the book) of her interesting composite or mosaic photographs, here used to portray families in their different modes. Despite the basic premise of the C?®ifin Centre, not all the papers are pessimistic or critical, and between them they provide an astute analysis of the state of the family not just in Ireland but internationally.

    - Books Ireland, September 2009

    The current tendency is to see marriage as a couples relationship designed to fulfill the emotional needs of adults, rather than an institution dedicated to rearing children. So writes John Yzaguirre, psychologist, educator and author in his contribution to the latest volume of C?®ifin papers Family Life Today , The Greatest Revolution. While the study quoted from relates to the USA many of the changes noted there are now occurring with increasing rapidity in the Irish family. A later chapter by clinical psychologist Marie Murray details the changing family patterns in Ireland citing altruism as the saving grace of family and society.

    The implications for family life of the current economic crisis and the greed which led to it is addressed by economist Jim Power who ends persuasively with a plea to focus more upon the quality of life rather than the quantity of economic growth.

    Further chapters and contributors, including a compelling story-telling panel, discuss the many implications of the present current cultural and economic and social trends on family life and in some cases outline strategies and support mechanisms for the most beleaguered of ancient institutions.

    The C?®ifin conference and published papers never fail to stimulate and this latest collection makes a serious contribution to a new vision for the changing family.

    - Fr Paul Clayton-Lea Clogherhead, Co Louth, Intercom, February 2010

  • The Family as the Foundation of Society

    Cardinal Seán Brady

    Archbishop of Armagh

    The prospect of a married couple establishing a happy, loving and stable family home in Ireland today has never been greater. Our challenge is to help women and men rediscover the joy of marriage, the life-long fulfilment it can offer, especially those who are reluctant to make a long-term commitment - Cardinal Brady




    It is a particular privilege to be asked to address the Céifin Conference on the tenth anniversary of its foundation in 1998. Since then it has become one of the best-known and highly respected annual events in the country. It has generated lively debate and made a very significant contribution to the important topics discussed over those ten years. I take this opportunity to congratulate Fr Harry and the others involved in founding the Céifin Conference. I salute their initiative and creativity in establishing a much-needed forum for debate during this critical period in our countrys history. Long may it continue.


    I am going to address the theme of The Family as the Foundation of Society. There are few institutions more important to the future of our society than the family. There are few that have been subject to such rapid and fundamental change in our lifetime.


    I would like to explore some of the contours o f that change. In particular, I would like to set out the basis for the Churchs conviction that marriage, the family and the general good of society are so interdependent that one cannot flourish without the other. I will examine some of the recent trends associated with marriage and the family. I will argue that legislation and policies that promote commitment in marriage are, in fact, more socially progressive and beneficial to society than those which endorse, simply because they have become more widespread, attitudes and trends which undermine that commitment. I will also comment on the question of a proposed equivalence between cohabitation and marriage as well as same-sex unions and marriage. This, as you know, has been the subject of considerable public debate in light of the governments intention to introduce new legislation in this area.


    Let me share with you the contents of a letter, which may express more adequately than I ever could the essential link between faith, family and society. It is offered through the eyes and perhaps with the wisdom of an older generation. It captures something of the scale of change that has occurred in Ireland in recent years , what the title of the conference describes as a revolution. It was sent to me by a seventy-seven-year-old Clare woman, now living in Kilkenny, wishing me well for my visit to her native county. She decided to write to me when she heard that I was going to talk about the family and to suggest a few ideas for my talk. Such help is always welcome! She said:


    When I grew up we never knew what money looked like, we were never hungry, we had a family life, we always said the Rosary and had time to talk with our neighbours.

    Today we have so much money that people have no time for anything, most of all God. There is no word about sin or the Ten Commandments.


    There is nothing wrong today. What good is money and big houses? Do they bring happiness?
    All those things only last for a while. This is the only thing that lasts, God.


    Please tell the people about what matters most, their souls, not their bodies. Bring back family life, family prayer and read the Bible.


    Marriage and the Word of God


    I was struck by this last sentence in particular. It bore a remarkable resemblance to something that was said at the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome. The theme was The Word of God in the Life of the Church Proposition 20 of the Synod spoke specifically of the link between marriage, family and the Word of God. It goes as follows:


    The Word of God stands at the origins of marriage (Gen 2:24). Jesus himself inserted marriage among the institutions of his Reign (Mt 19:4-8), giving it a sacramental status.


    In the sacramental celebration, man and woman pronounce a prophetic word of reciprocal donation of self, they become one flesh, a sign of the mystery of the union of Christ and the Church (Eph 5:32).Through the fidelity and the unity of the life as a family, the spouses are the first announcers of the Word of God to their children. It’s necessary to sustain them and to help them develop within the family, modes of domestic celebration of the Word such as reading the Bible, and other forms of prayer.


    Spouses should recall that the Word of God is a precious source of support amid difficulties in conjugal life and in the family.


    This brings me to my first point: the family based on marriage as the foundation of society is a truth revealed by God in the Scriptures; it is also one of the most precious human values. We should not be surprised, then, that when people become less concerned with what God has to say generally, or when the popularity of an idea replaces objective human values as the basis of morality, commitment to marriage as the basis of the family also diminishes. As the letter suggests, what we are involved in here is a wider revolution about how we approach morality and values generally. So, how should we respond to this revolution? How might we invite people to rediscover the importance of the family based on marriage as the basis of society?


    Changes in Attitudes to Marriage


    Part of that response, I would suggest, is to acknowledge that some aspects of this so-called revolution have been good for marriage and the family. While the letter I read reflects a concern that we have lost something valuable from the past, I am sure no one would want to say that everything about marriage and the family in the past was good. We should be glad, for example, that there is more equality between men and women in marriage and in society in general. There is a greater awareness that both parents have a mutual responsibility in bringing up their children and in sharing domestic tasks. We have learned so much about the importance of responding to the emotional and practical needs of children and about how to support the development of children in constructive ways. We are also learning just how important a stable family home is to the happiness and long-term well-being of children, to which I will return later.


    All of this is good. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the prospect of a married couple establishing a happy, loving and stable family home in Ireland today has never been greater. Our challenge is to help women and men rediscover the joy of marriage, the life-long fulfilment it can offer, especially those who are reluctant to make a long-term commitment.


    This brings me to my second point. While some aspects of the revolution in our approach to marriage and the family have been good, is it possible that something good from the past has been lost? I think this is what my friend from Clare was saying in her letter. I note it was a theme considered in the first Céifin Conference entitled, Are we Forgetting


    Something? The letter suggests that part of what is needed is to help people rediscover the good that comes from faith and prayer , she mentioned the Bible in particular. This coincides with a key proposal of the recent Synod: in making people more familiar with the Word of God, in an informed and formative way, we can act in support of marriage, the family and the good of society itself.


    This is because, as it explains in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, The importance and centrality of the family with regard to the person and society is repeatedly underlined by Sacred Scripture (n. 209). The family is presented from the very opening pages of the Word of God as, The primary place of humanisation for the person and society and the cradle of life and love (n. 209).


    The Family Based on Marriage as the Fundamental Unity of Society


    The family is the natural community in which human social nature is experienced. It makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the good of society. The family unit is born from the stable and committed communion of persons that marriage provides. Communion has to do with the personal relationship between the I and the thou. Community, on the other hand, transcends the I and thou and moves towards a society, awe. The family, therefore, as a community of persons, is the first human society. It is at the very heart of the common good.


    The common good is the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily (Gaudium et Spes, n. 26).

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) explains it in this way:


    The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life. Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honour God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society. (n. 2207)


    The Catechism goes on to say:


    A man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family. This institution is prior to any recognition by public authority, which has an obligation to recognise it. It should be considered the normal reference point by which the different forms of family relationship are to be evaluated. (n. 2202).


    Marriage and the family, therefore, are of public interest. They are fundamental to the public good and entitled to special consideration and care from the State. Other relationships, whether they are sexual or not, are the result of private interest. They do not have the same fundamental relationship to the good of society and to the bringing up of children as the family based on marriage.


    At the heart of this understanding of marriage is a truth taught by Scripture and confirmed by human reason. It is the truth that Physical difference and complementarity of a woman and man are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life (CCC, n. 2333). Being a man or woman is not accidental to who we are or to Gods plan for the family and society, it is essential to it.


    This is why the Church holds that the good of persons and the proper functioning of society are closely connected with the healthy state of marriage and family life. In the words of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Without families that are strong in their communion and stable in their commitment, societies grow weak. This is also why, Relegating the family to a subordinate or secondary role, excluding it from its rightful position in society, would be to inflict great harm on the authentic growth of society as a whole.


    The Positive State of Marriage in Irish Life


    Some will argue that this presents an idealised view of marriage and family life. They will point out that the concept of a nuclear family of father and mother, united by marriage and bringing up children in a stable and loving environment, does not capture the reality or the ideal of an increasing number of people. They will point to the existence of an increasingly diverse range of family units in Irish society, to an increase in long-term cohabitation, to increasing breakdown in marriage and to the prospect of radically new forms of legally recognised relationships as evidence that the model of family revealed by the Scriptures is increasingly irrelevant.
    Yet it is worth asking whether these popular assumptions about the state of marriage as the basis of family life in Ireland are actually true? The fact is that life-long marriage remains the preferred choice of the vast majority of men and women in Ireland. Recent research by the Catholic Marriage Care Service, ACCORD, for example, confirmed that the marriage rate in Ireland has actually increased in the past 10 years , suggesting something of a revival in marriage relative to the mid and late 1990s when the rate fell to historically low levels.1The survey also found that, Marriage is a sufficiently rewarding experience such that 9 out of 10 would recommend it to others. In contrast to the view that the traditional family unit revealed in the Word of God is no longer relevant, the report concluded, The traditional family arrangement of children being raised by both their natural parents is the one preferred by almost all married couples in our survey.


    This is a far cry from any sense of crisis that the family based on marriage is sometimes portrayed in public debate. While some 12 per cent of couples in Ireland chose long-term cohabitation instead of marriage, the family based on marriage is still the fundamental unit of our society by a substantial margin. It continues to play an essential part in the well-being and stability of Irish life. In the words of the ACCORD report in Ireland: Healthy, happy marriages [still] make for strong family life; and strong families contribute to the economy and demand little in return from the taxpayer. In other words, family capital is at the core of social capital, upon which we build the future for our country.


    It is this essential link between family capital and social capital that in part explains the special place afforded to marriage in the Irish Constitution. Article 40.1.1 of Bunreacht na h?ëireann recognises the family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.


    It is not accurate to suggest that this is merely a remnant of Catholic influence on the formulation of the Constitution, and therefore to be rejected as anachronistic or sectarian. Similar recognition and terminology can be found in the Constitutions of many other countries around the world. The Greek Constitution, for example, describes the family as the foundation of the conservation and progress of the nation. Such values are also consistent with Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: The family is the natural and fundamental unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State. Article 16 of the Social Charter of Europe (1961),Article 23 of the International Treaty on Civil Rights, Article 10 of the International Charter on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as many other national and international instruments, affirm and develop this basic insight that the family is the nucleus of society, and for that reason deserving of special status, development and care.


    Proposed Changes to Legislation and Policy


    It is on this basis too that Article 41.3.1 of Bunreacht na h?ëireann places an obligation on the Irish Government to guard the institution of marriage with special care. This brings me to the sensitive and complex issue of the governments stated intention to legislate for a variety of relationships other than marriage, notably for cohabiting and same-sex couples. In its submission to the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution on this issue, the Committee on the Family of the Irish Bishops Conference in February 2005 acknowledged, and I quote:


    A diversity of family forms support the fundamental human activities of care, intimacy and belongingness to varying degrees, yet it is appropriate that the Constitution should guard with special care the institution of marriage. [However] such a commitment to special care of the family based on marriage ought not, nor does it, prevent the State from seeking to offer appropriate support to individuals in other forms of family units. (p. 6)


    The issue, then, is not whether it is appropriate to introduce policies and legislation which provide some level of protection for people in relationships of long-term dependency, in many circumstances this will be totally appropriate and just. The question is at what point such legislation or policy begins to undermine the family based on marriage as the fundamental unit of society and thereby undermine the common good? In this regard, the publication by government of the General Scheme of Civil Partnership Bill in June 2008 gives cause for concern. Obviously, we must await the publication of the actual legislation arising from the scheme to make a complete assessment. It is clear, however, that the General Scheme envisages the possibility that the government will grant to cohabiting and same-sex couples the status of marriage in all but name. Some restrictions will apply to adoption by same-sex couples. Apart from this, however, and given reports from the Department of Justice have confirmed that Social welfare and tax entitlements on a par with those of spouses will be provided through the finance and social welfare Bills, it is difficult to see how anything other than the introduction of de facto marriage for cohabiting and same-sex couples is envisaged.


    Those who are committed to the probity of the Constitution, to the moral integrity of the Word of God and to the precious human value of marriage between a man and a woman as the foundation of society, may have to pursue all avenues of legal and democratic challenge to the published legislation if this is the case.


    The intention is not to penalise those who have chosen or find themselves in different family forms or relationships, it is rather to uphold the principle that the family based on marriage between a man and woman is so intimately connected to the good of society that it is deserving of special care and protection. The value of the Constitutional guarantees given in this area cannot be limited to the wording of the Constitution about marriage and the family remaining unchanged. The relevant Articles of the Constitution are more than a statement of aspiration. They imply that the State will maintain a qualitative difference between the level of support and entitlements provided by the State to the family based on marriage and that afforded to other forms of dependent relationship.


    This makes the stated intention of government to remove the category Marital Status and to replace it with Civil Status through the Equal Status Act particularly worrying. Some might argue that it is in fact a breach of the governments Constitutional duty to protect the institution of marriage. Those who believe in the values espoused by the Constitution are entitled to ask why such a profound and unnecessary change is envisaged along with others that may yet emerge. Marriage, and with it the common good, is directly undermined when legislation and policy reduce marriage to simply another form of relationship among others.


    It is worth noting in this regard that the definition of marriage for the purposes of the Constitution has been judicially interpreted as, the voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others for life.


    The Issue of Equality


    Some have argued that what is at stake here is the principle of equality. This is to argue that what is being compared are two things which are qualitatively the same. This is manifestly not the case. The link between a public commitment to life-long marriage and the stability of the family unit, as well as the distinct role of a mother and father in the generation and education of children, give marriage a unique and qualitatively different relationship to society than any other form of relationship.


    In the words of the Pontifical Council for the Family in 2000:

    Equality before the law must respect the principle of justice which means treating equals equally, and what is different differently: i.e., to give each one his due in justice. This principle of justice would be violated if de facto unions were given a juridical treatment similar or equivalent to the family based on marriage. If the family based on marriage and de facto unions are neither similar nor equivalent in their duties, functions and services in society, then they cannot be similar or equivalent in their juridical status.


    This qualitative difference between the family based on marriage and other forms of relationship is increasingly recognised in research. For example, one of the largest surveys on family life to date, the British Millennium Cohort Study (2008), has found that one in four children of cohabiting parents suffer family breakdown before they start school at the age of five, compared to just one in ten children of married parents. Other studies in Britain and the US suggest that children born outside of marriage are more likely to do worse at school, suffer poorer health and are more likely to face problems of unemployment, drugs and crime. In the words of one commentator: The strong implication for governments is that they should be doing more to support marriages.


    All the more remarkable, then, is that Ireland looks set to repeat the mistakes of societies like Britain and the US by introducing legislation that will promote cohabitation, remove most incentives to marry and grant same-sex couples the same rights as marriage in all but adoption. This will effectively dissolve the special status of marriage between a man and woman enshrined in the Constitution. This would indeed be a revolution, perhaps the greatest revolution in the history of the Irish family, as the title of the Conference suggests! , but will it be a revolution that promotes the common good of our society? Will it really help children and married couples, or will it further erode marriage at a time when research and experience point to the value of marriage for children and society?


    Whether what is envisaged will breach the Constitution remains to be seen, but no one should underestimate how radical and far-reaching the legislation arising from the General Scheme published by the government could be. The priority of the family over society and over the State has to be reaffirmed. The family does not exist for society or the State, but society and the State exist for the family.


    What is being proposed by the government undermines the very principle of equality it claims to uphold. It limits the provision of support in the General Scheme to relationships that are presumed to be sexual. This is unjust to those in established relationships of dependency that are not sexual. It confirms that what is driving the change in legislation and policy in this area is not a concern for equality at all. The provision of just, reasonable and much needed support to those in established and dependent relationships that are not sexual in nature has been ignored in the General Scheme. Anyone in a caring, dependent relationship, whether sexual or not, should be given certain protections such as hospital visitation rights and a stability of residence in the event of that relationship ending. Why should people in such relationships be discriminated against because their relationship is not sexual? There is need to address important issues of fairness to people in established relationships of dependency. This is possible without undermining the unique role of marriage in society and its contribution to the common good.


    More Support for Marriage: A Benefit to Society


    Marriage deserves to be supported by society. It is so fundamental to the common good that the State acts in the interests of society when it supports marriage through benefits in taxation, social welfare and social policy.

    If we have the good of children and of society at heart, then it is also clear that we need to try to maximise the number of children being raised by a married mother and father. We can do this through providing positive incentives and the formation of positive social attitudes to marriage. We also need to provide greater support for married couples themselves as they live out their life-long commitment to each other and their children. This includes providing more adequate preparation for marriage. ACCORD is involved in outstanding work in this regard, for which they deserve to be applauded. Two of the greatest obstacles ACCORD encounter, however, is the difficulty in acquiring a sufficient number of volunteer counsellors and a general resistance on the part of couples to attend a marriage preparation course. In other countries, for example Italy, the pre-marriage courses consist of at least nine weekend sessions. Here in Ireland it is much less. In spite of this, priests often comment on how couples will spend any amount of time with the florist, the photographer or the hotel manager in preparation for their wedding. These arrangements are important, but the time given to them can be in strong contrast to the willingness of couples to take time out together to reflect on the importance and meaning of what they are about to do.




    During my thirteen years on the staff of the Irish College, it was my privilege to marry a great number of couples , hundreds, maybe even thousands. As an aside, I have to say that some of the best people in all those couples came from Clare. I am not saying that because the Céifin Conference is held in Clare, but because I believe it and have believed it for many years. My abiding impression is one of people who had high hopes and earnest dreams for a happy and fulfilling life together. No one I know has ever entered marriage with the expectation or desire that it would fail. The Church offers the compassion of Christ for all those who suffer in this way. It invites all of us to have compassion and to offer practical support for those whose marriages have broken down.


    It is here that we come back to our starting point: The Word of God in the life and mission of the Church. Jesus was born and lived in a family, with all its characteristic features. At the wedding feast in Cana he conferred on marriage the highest dignity of a sacrament. Jesus could have produced the wine without the help of the stewards, but he decided to involve them and Mary in the process. I see this as an indication that in Gods design the community, particularly the immediate family, have a part to play in supporting marriage. There may be a lot of jokes about prying in-laws, but the extended family have a vital role to play in supporting marriage.


    In the story of Cana we also observe how Mary was sensitive to the needs of the newly married couple. Instead of wringing her hands when the wine ran out, an obvious cause of embarrassment and possibly of conflict for the couple, she gets involved, telling the stewards, Do whatever he tells you. In this she points all newly married couples to the true source of their happiness and success in marriage, seeking the will of God in all things together.


    It was this that was identified as a particular virtue in the life and marriage of Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of the Little Flower, St Thérèse of Lisieux. They were beatified on 19 October 2008 by Pope Benedict. It was Mission Sunday. They are only the second spouses in history to be declared blessed as a couple.


    How appropriate, then, that as Ireland prepares to consider legislation with the potential to undermine Gods will for marriage and the family, we turn to the example and inspiration of this married couple and draw strength and direction from it. How well we remember the wonderful welcome that was given to the relics of their daughter, St Thérèse of Lisieux, some years ago. The Martin family of nine children and parents who were fully engaged in business, social and Church life, are a timely source of encouragement for all those who promote the value of the family based on marriage in our society.


    The Word of God is pro-love, pro-marriage, pro-family, pro-life and pro-society. My prayer is that, through the intercession of Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, more and more people will rediscover this revolutionary message of the Word of God, for the sake of our society and its future.


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The Greatest Revolution