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June 15, 2015

Dublin's Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is surely correct in his call for the Church to examine its failure to communicate its teachings in a country which not long ago lived and breathed Catholicism. The May 22 referendum in which 62 per cent of voters said the country should legalize same-sex marriage indicates something important is not getting through.

Indeed, if a similar referendum were held in Canada, Catholic support for same-sex marriage might well exceed that in Ireland. One may see that support as a rebellion against Catholic teaching. Or, one might see it as Catholics, having imbibed some aspects of Church teaching, applying it in ways inconsistent with the whole body of teaching.

Assume the latter alternative; it is a more charitable interpretation and likely, on the whole, more accurate. Assume Catholics have overwhelmingly bought into the Church's teaching on human dignity, the unique and immeasurable value of every human person.

They see that teaching, unfortunately, as implying that every person, at least in sexual matters, has a God-given right to partner up with whomever they please. Such liaisons should not only receive the sanction of the state but also be protected from moral tut-tutting from those who might find such behaviour offensive. Further, some even say that belief in human dignity means that people have a right to choose their own gender and to receive surgical procedures to bring that about. There is even a growing view that those who have hesitations about these courses of action should keep their lips zipped.

Much is wrong with this interpretation of human dignity. In this brief space, only one error can be noted. While human dignity is a permanent possession of every person, it is also a quality which can and should be perfected. Everyone has an inalienable dignity; one should strive to become more dignified.

People enhance their dignity by seeking the truth, living with virtue and avoiding sin. Dignity is both fixed and dynamic. We, as a Church, emphasize the fixed and inalienable dignity of the person, but have tended to downplay the dynamic aspect through which the morally responsible person becomes (or fails to become) more fully human.

Archbishop Martin notes the Church's failure to communicate its teaching adequately, and this is one area in which he is correct. Yet, the Church is, if anything, going backwards in its communication. The Sunday homily is now the only catechesis most adult Catholics receive.

The activities of the Catholic press have been cut back in many places just at a time when they are needed most. As well, the Church has not learned how to use new media

effectively. The result is that the new evangelization is more an idea than a reality. This surely ought to be a central aspect of the self-examination for which the Dublin prelate has called.