Faith Matters

'Drop the idea of living in Christendom and live in the reality of the world'

In the second part of an interview with Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the Dublin-born head of the Vatican's Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life talks to Fr Chris Hayden about the challenge of living in a culture hostile to Christian belief

Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican department which promotes the role of the laity, family and life, pictured in Dublin last year at a conference to prepare for the World Meeting of Families

Q: As you are aware, there has been a strong push to introduce a liberal abortion regime in Ireland, as reflected in the result of May’s referendum on the Eighth Amendment. How can we redouble our efforts to create a stronger culture of life?

Cardinal Farrell: I think you have to go back a little, to be a little more philosophical.

First of all, we have to teach Christians how to live their faith in a world which is totally contrary to that faith.

We have been blessed in many ways - though in many ways that blessing has become a difficulty for us - by the fact that we lived in a totally Christian, Catholic environment.

Again, I preface what I want to say by stating that I don't know Ireland very well, but what I do remember from my childhood years and growing up as a teenager was a very Catholic neighbourhood in Drimnagh. Everything was Catholic. Power in the Church was too much associated with power in civil life. So we have to learn.

I remember also, when I went on my first ad limina visit. I was the auxiliary bishop of Washington. John Paul II was Pope.

We went to a meeting and I was the one who had to give an assessment of our region, as happens on ad limina visits. I had five minutes in which to give an assessment of laws related to human life.

But if the government makes a law, we acknowledge that is what the government has chosen to do. But I don't have to live according to that. That's a choice you have to make, you're the one who has to make the choice

I remember I was very negative regarding the government of the US, and I remember the Pope looking at me as if to say, "You don't know what you're talking about."

I don't remember his exact words, but it was to the effect of, "If you only knew what I had to go through."

He said that he lived in a country where nothing that was Christian was allowed, priests were underground - underground seminary, underground ordinations; you could end up in jail for practising your faith. A priest could be executed.

"Ach," the Pope said, "can't you learn how to be a Christian in an environment like the United States?"

That made me think an awful lot. And Pope Francis talks in many ways about conscience and about the formation of the individual conscience, not the formation of conscience that's imposed.

Is it not time for us in the Church, for Catholics, to learn how to be consistent with our beliefs, and to live, no matter what the law says?

We talk about pro-life; they said they had 700 government-sponsored executions in the first part of the year

We have to teach people to believe what is right, and we believe that the unborn child has rights. We may have to live in environments where our rights are not respected.

As a matter of fact, one-third of Catholics live in countries where their rights are opposed.

Just look at all of the Middle East; and I've met recently with the bishops from Nigeria - that's a different world; they are persecuted in many places, in many ways.

Laws are against them. We talk about pro-life; they said they had 700 government-sponsored executions in the first part of the year.

So they live in a country which is anti-Christian, anti-Catholic, where polygamy is promoted. Does that mean that we all have to do that?

I often give the example of Rome. I studied here, but I hadn't been here for 35 years, apart from visits.

Is it not time for us in the Church, for Catholics, to learn how to be consistent with our beliefs, and to live, no matter what the law says?

But walking around Rome you think of the early Christian communities here.

People think the Colosseum was full of Christians being devoured, but Christians were a sect, a small group on the outskirts of Rome.

What did they suffer through? They suffered against all kinds of laws. So you may have laws; we will oppose them, we will always fight for what we stand for.

But if the government makes a law, we acknowledge that is what the government has chosen to do. But I don't have to live according to that.

That's a choice you have to make, you're the one who has to make the choice. That's what we talk about when we speak of forming consciences to live the Christian faith.

That's what they do in the Jewish faith, what they do in the Muslim faith. You've got to live according to your conscience.

Is that going to be a huge struggle for us? Yes. We would like the laws to be different. We would like all human life to be respected.

Again, it goes back to conscience. Should we defend the right to life? Absolutely. But I think we do an awful lot of preaching and an awful lot of speaking against things, and we don't do what we should do, which is educate people's consciences.

We want the easy way out, as it were. We've got to drop the idea of living in Christendom and we've got to live in the reality of the world.

  • Cardinal Kevin Farrell is Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, which was established by Pope Francis in 2016. He was appointed to the role by the Pope, who created him a Cardinal in November 2016. Cardinal Farrell was born in Dublin in September 1947. From there, he attended the Pontifical University of Salamanca in Spain. He then went to Rome to study at the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas.  He entered the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1966 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1978. After ordination he served as chaplain to the University of Monterrey in Mexico. From 1983 he served as pastor in St Bartholomew's parish in Bethesda in Washington and in 1986 was appointed as director of its Spanish Catholic Centre. Pope John Paul II named him as auxiliary bishop of Washington in December 2001 and in March 2007 Benedict XVI appointed him as Bishop of Dallas.
  • The new Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life has taken over the functions and powers of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family, both of which ceased to exist in 2016. It emerged as part of Pope Francis's reform of the Roman Curia, with a mission to advance "the life and apostolate of the lay faithful, for the pastoral care of the family and its mission according to God's plan and for the protection and support of human life" and to promote "ecclesial reflection on the identity and mission of women in the church and in society, promoting their participation".
  • Intercom magazine, edited by Fr Chris Hayden, is a Catholic pastoral and liturgical resource of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference.

Intercom magazine

  • The World Meeting of Families is being held in Dublin between August 21 and 26. Pope Francis will attend the final two days of the event.

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