DUBLIN — In an opening address for the Vatican-organized major summit on the family, Archbishop Eamon Martin confronted head-on many of the most neuralgic issues facing the Church today, ranging from abortion to gay marriage and clerical sex abuse, and pledged that “no one is excluded from the circle of God’s love.”
Through it all, he mounted a strong defense of Pope Francis’s 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which serves as a touchstone for this week’s World Meeting of Families, arguing that the welfare of the family is “decisive to the future of the world.”
“During this World Meeting of the Families we will reflect, communicate and distill for our times this beautiful and prophetic vision of God’s plan for marriage and the family which was celebrated at the Synods and which is enunciated so positively in Amoris Laetitia,” said Martin.
Martin, who is archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, served as the replacement for Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. who withdrew over the weekend following scrutiny of his handling of sex abuse cases in the 1980s and 1990s.
He used his experience as a delegate to the 2015 Synod on the Family, which served as the precursor to Amoris, to reflect on the challenges facing family life today arguing that the Church should work to bolster its commitment to family life and the state would do well to respect the privileged place of family in society.
“We believe that the Church’s proclamation of the family — founded on a circle of faithful loving between a man and a woman which is open to the gift of children who are the fruit of that love — is Good News for society and the world,” said Martin.
“There is no getting away, however, from the fact that communicating the family in this way can appear increasingly counter-cultural in many parts of the world, including Ireland. This has been accelerated to a large extent by the departure in public discourse from the philosophical and anthropological underpinning of marriage and the family in natural law, and by the erosion of social supports for traditional marriage in the form of constitutional guarantee and positive legislation.”
In 2015, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage through a popular referendum vote and LGBT issues have dominated headlines since it was announced the country would host the Vatican-sponsored family summit.
Yet, in an effort to strike a conciliatory tone, Martin said that defense of Church teaching must also take into account those living in alternative situations.
“At the same time, however, we shared our tremendous admiration and gratitude for the many families who do their best in complex situations to persevere, to grow in love and to generously witness to commitment, forgiveness, and lifelong faithfulness,” he insisted.
“The Synods and Amoris Laetitia were clear that we need to be mindful of those who have begun new relationships and unions, and find sincere and truthful ways of welcoming and including them in the life and worshiping community of the Church,” he went on.
Just three months ago, Ireland also made headlines when it voted to abandon its strong constitutional protections on human life and legalize abortion. On Wednesday, Martin lamented the “contraceptive, anti-birth mentality with its increasing indifference to abortion” that he described as pervasive in today’s world.
Before concluding, Martin addressed what is widely considered to be the elephant in the room: The Church’s efforts to respond to clerical sex abuse, which continues to challenge the Church in Ireland and the United States.
“We must also be aware that in the aftermath of child abuse scandals and other shameful episodes of the past, there are those who feel they can no longer trust our message, perhaps because they have been directly hurt and betrayed in their families by their experience of Church, or because the revelations of such heinous crimes have shocked them to the core,” he said.
“In his 2010 Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, Pope Benedict XVI alerted us to the fact that the sins and crimes of sexual abuse in the Church have not only had tragic consequences in the lives of victims and their families, but they have also ‘obscured the light of the Gospel.’ For me, that is particularly true about the Gospel of the Family.”
In an interview with Crux following the event, Martin acknowledged that the fact that he was standing in for an individual who has been sidelined due to sex abuse related matters, casts a shadow over the event, and advised against simply trying to move on and ignore that reality.
“I think it would be foolish for us to think that an event — even a wonderful, affirming event like this — can move us on. Nor should it. We have to remember that people who have been abused are suffering a lifelong trauma. It doesn’t go away,” he said.
“The Church, if it’s going to walk this journey with those who have been so clearly betrayed by the Church, the Church is going to have to live through the pain of shame, through the pain of distrust. We have to realize that we cannot expect people to move on. We cannot expect people to trust us if they have been so clearly betrayed by the heinous crimes and sins of the past. What we can do at an event like this, is to give people hope that our policies and procedures are already beginning to address this problem on the ground, and that children, young people, minors, vulnerable persons are as safe in the Church as they are anywhere. That’s what we have to assure.”
Despite such contentious topics, Martin said he believed the days ahead could prove to be ones of healing for the Church in Ireland and beyond.
“This World Meeting of the Families gives us a privileged opportunity to communicate the Gospel of the Family ‘ad intra’, and ‘ad extra’, as good for society and good for the Church,” he concluded. “In short, a message of joy for the world! The family is a gift for the Church and a gift for society.”