Home > News > 201607 > The Church and the challenge of freedom

The Church and the challenge of freedom

The Church can learn from secular society as well as share its own wisdom with it, according to Cardinal Reinhard Marx. He was speaking at the Loyola Institute TCD three-day international conference on ‘The Role of Church in a Pluralist Society – Good Riddance or Good Influence?’ He added that the Church must have a positive view of the modern world despite the fact that there are many things that are not working as they should. Cardinal Marx is one of a small group of people chosen by Pope Francis as an advisor.

Speaking afterwards to a number of journalists including Patsy McGarry of the Irish Times,  Cardinal Reinhard Marx said: “The history of homosexuals in our societies is very bad because we’ve done a lot to marginalise [them].” As church and society “we’ve also to say ‘sorry, sorry’ ”.

The Cardinal said that until very recently church and society had been very negative about gay people and that was  “a scandal and terrible.”

He said he had “shocked” people at the October 2014 extraordinary synod of bishops in Rome when he asked how it was possible to dismiss as worthless a same-sex relationship of years duration where both men had been faithful.

“We have to respect the decisions of people. We have to respect also, as I said in the first synod on the family, some were shocked but I think it’s normal, you cannot say that a relationship between a man and a man and they are faithful [that] that is nothing, that has no worth,” he said.

Questioned about gay marriage the Cardinal said it was up to the state “to make regulations for homosexuals so they have equal rights or nearly equal . . . but marriage is another point”. The secular state “has to regulate these partnerships and to bring them into a just position and we as church cannot be against it”.

But “in all the history of mankind that [marriage] was the relationship between one man and woman, two who are open to give life for the next generation and that is a special relationship I think.”

He drew a distinction between state and society and was clear that the state “must be secular. The state is not a Christian state. But the society is not secular. Society is Christian or religious, non-religious, multireligious, whatever,” he said.

There were around 200 people gathered in the Edmund Burke Theatre in Trinity College Dublin to hear the Cardinal. In question-time, one audience member said he felt that the Catholic church had a problem preaching about integrity and working for freedom in secular society when some of its own practices were clearly questionable in that regard. He cited the stance taken by the Church in last year’s gay marriage referendum and the rejection of that stance by many Catholics, and he added that the treatment of women in the Church exposed a lack of integrity and freedom in the Church itself.

“I agree,” was the Cardinal’s reply. He went on to say that he had spoken to the Pope about the need to explore the special role of women within the Church. The Vatican needs to be decentralised, he remarked, and more women need to be brought into the various groups that operate there. He said the Church had to learn from society about professionalism and organisation that would involve lay participation and engagement with the Bishops.

Cardinal Marx was addressing the topic ‘The Church and the challenge of freedom’. Supporting his belief that the Christian Church did indeed have a role in the history of freedom, he cited the German historian Heinrich Winkler who began his five-volume tome on western history by addressing the importance of the bible and faith in a monotheistic God as a cornerstone of western development. He noted that the Church was not always on the right side in the history of freedom, but the Bible always was. The Papal Revolution of Gregory VII in the eleventh century, he said, drew a red line of separation between church and state.

Coming closer to the present day, he said that for him it was a real tragedy that the history of freedom – “and that means pluralism, let’s be clear” –  and the history of the Church were often on two divergent paths. The question for the Church, with regard to the history of freedom, is: “Will it be beside that history, complaining about it, or be an instrumental part of it?”  Echoing a key theme of Vatican II and the present Pope,  he said the Church must not be a fortress, isolated from the world and looking out on it with suspicion. It must be a force for good within it and as part of it.

He said that we cannot have freedom without pluralism, and the challenge is always how to build stable unified community and social cohesion whilst accommodating a plurality of religions and value systems. This is not an easy task, and one that he believes is made even harder today in a Europe where people are more concerned about security and identity than they are about freedom.

The Cardinal said great progress had been made in the area of freedom over the last few centuries. The distinction between Church and state must be kept, and the state must be secular. But faith also must be accepted by the state as ‘reasonable enlightenment’ (a term used by Benedict XVI). And an acceptance of the agenda of security and identity would be a serious and retrograde mistake, he contended. The question is: “Are we [Church] supporters of identity and security, or can we be part of promoting responsible freedom for all – not just for us as Church. For that is the way of Jesus. We have to be concerned about the poor, the marginalised, the world”.

He outlined a number of supports that the Church has to assist its engagement with this call of freedom. He said the bible in its universal insistence of the unique value of every human being regardless of colour, race, gender, creed or sexual orientation was “a treasure”. This tradition has been honoured in the Church’s theological history right up to the present as witnessed by Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, he said.

He also spoke of the importance of what he called “the Church’s best kept secret: its social ethics”. He said that we need not be ashamed of our social doctrine and teaching, for with it “we can bring our voice to the development of society and think beyond capitalism and beyond looking at the future only in economic terms”. To speak about people in terms of capital only is a disaster, he claimed.

He concluded by saying evangelisation is also a great challenge, but he cautioned that it must be about dialogue and not be oppositional. “We are not saying that people should come to us but rather that they can see their enlightenment in the Gospel. It’s not that they should find ‘us’, the Church,  but Jesus.”