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Sunday 12 April 2009

Cardinal challenges "stifling political consensus"

In a hard hitting Easter message Cardinal Keith O'Brien has called on Scotland's politicians to stop passing "frenzied regulation" and instead" educate a new generation in morality and objective truth."

The message is contained in the Cardinal's Easter Sunday Homily and in an opinion article in a Sunday Newspaper. Cardinal O'Brien who is President of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland claims that too often public policy deals with the symptoms of social breakdown rather than the causes.  

He states, that too many politicians " take the view that bad behaviour whether it be public drunkenness, health-threatening overeating or teenage promiscuity are all immutable and unchangeable. The urge and desire to commit acts of this type cannot be curbed far less removed therefore public, social and health policy must all be orientated towards mitigating the effects. "

By contrast he calls for action to address the root or underlying cause which he claims is marriage breakdown and the fracturing of family life stating; "Scotland has one of the highest divorce rates in the Western world we also have one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates and STI statistics, which are both alarming and growing. These trends are connected they are not coincidental. A report published in 2007 revealed that if you have experienced family breakdown, you are 75% more likely to fail at school, 70% more likely to be a drug addict and 50% more likely to have alcohol problems."

Cardinal O'Brien concludes with a call for more investment in marriage preparation reconciliation services and tax reform, saying;

" For couples intending to marry we should offer at public expense universal access to marriage preparation courses, for those facing difficulties in their marriages we should ensure remedial and reconciliation services are easily and quickly available. The cost benefits of preventing breakdown hugely outweigh the gargantuan costs of dealing with the after effects.
As a matter of urgency, we must (also) reform the tax credit system"

The Cardinal's full text is shown below.

ENDS


Peter Kearney  
Director  
Catholic Media Office  
5 St. Vincent Place  
Glasgow  
G1 2DH  
0141 221 1168
07968 122291  
pk@scmo.org  
www.scmo.org

Easter Sunday Message 12 April 2009

In recent weeks much coverage has been given to the decision by the Scottish Government to limit sales of alcohol to young people by increasing the selling price through restrictions on a variety of retail offers and by asking Local authorities to consider raising the age for alcohol purchases.

This policy mirrors the approach taken by this and previous administrations to drug use, vandalism, anti social behaviour, obesity even promiscuity and might usefully be called the command and control model of public governance. Advocates of such a model take the view that bad behaviour whether it be public drunkenness, health-threatening overeating or teenage promiscuity are all immutable and unchangeable. The urge and desire to commit acts of this type cannot be curbed far less removed therefore public, social and health policy must all be orientated towards mitigating the effects.  

It is an approach, which is deeply flawed and utterly discredited. It is also however the logical destination for a polity that resolutely refuses to judge or differentiate between actions conducive to the public good and those, which threaten it.

When our fellow citizens err and lapse we seldom focus on them or ask why they behaved as they did. Rather we rush to impose legal restraints on such action forgetting dangerously that no external restrictions can ever match the effectiveness of self-restraint.


When a toddler is shot with an airgun we regulate the sale of such weapons, alcohol abuse by our young people is met with legislation to restrict sales and sexual promiscuity with regulations aimed at ensuring contraception and abortion are widely available. In every instance we seek to mitigate the effects of bad behaviour and perhaps place barriers in the paths of such acts. We do not as a society take action to tackle the underlying motivation; instead we limit our action to blunting the impact of our excesses. We obsess over the symptoms and ignore the cause.


Scotland has one of the highest divorce rates in the Western world we also have one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates and STI statistics, which are both alarming and growing. These trends are connected they are not coincidental. A report published in 2007 revealed that if you have experienced family breakdown, you are 75% more likely to fail at school, 70% more likely to be a drug addict and 50% more likely to have alcohol problems. Further studies have shown that children born to married parents are twice as likely to spend their childhoods with both their parents than those born to cohabiting couples. The children of cohabitees are more likely to experience disruptions in family life, do less well at school and suffer from emotional problems.  

In the face of all this evidence our parliament has enacted legislation making divorce easier and quicker and giving greater legal recognition to cohabitation, while our taxation system ruthlessly penalizes long-term legal commitment. These attacks on marriage and stable family relationships have caused unimaginable misery, pain and life-long failure for thousands of children. They have led to disastrous social and economic consequences for our nation. As Robert Whelan of the think tank Civitas said, There are strong links between marriage and economic performance, educational achievement and alcohol and drug abuse. Academics have known this for a long time. But politicians continue to insist that marriage doesn't matter.  


The drug and alcohol fuelled promiscuity; hedonism, vandalism and outright nihilism of so many young people today represent a whirlwind will we reap for a long time to come. We have denied them security, stability and morality we have contrived to hide from them objective truth. We have failed them and we are paying the price for that failure in shattered lives and broken, often suicidal children.

As the human debris of our failure accumulates a stifling political consensus seems to compel our parties and our Parliament into further frenzied regulation. Like the manic sorcerer whose spells have gone disastrously wrong they cannot control the urge to cast yet more spells upon the chaos. The alternative is far too frightening and fearsome “ to admit they were wrong!

Is remedial action too late? Can Scotland come back from the brink of social collapse? Or should we assume that offering abortions to schoolgirls, knife amnesties to schoolboys and clean needles to students are now the business of our brave new society?

As ever hope does remain. Recently, the government released findings from a survey by YouthLink Scotland on attitudes, interests and aspirations of young people in Scotland. 2685 children and young people aged 11 to 25 were surveyed. When asked to identify those they most trusted and respected, encouragingly the vast majority put parents at the top of the list. Today s children are tomorrow s parents. To help and sustain them in their parenting we must urgently restore support for marriage. Marriage remains an ideal to which most people aspire, and it still provides the surest foundation for strong and healthy families.   Marriage encourages families to support each other and work together to the lasting benefit of society. Families need all the help they can get “ now more than ever! And families who stay together should not be financially penalised for their commitment and loyalty to each other.

For couples intending to marry we should offer at public expense universal access to marriage preparation courses, for those facing difficulties in their marriages we should ensure remedial and reconciliation services are easily and quickly available. The cost benefits of preventing breakdown hugely outweigh the gargantuan costs of dealing with the after effects.

As a matter of urgency, we must reform the tax credit system, which presently favours children who live with a lone parent rather than with both parents. This couple penalty actively discourages low-income couples from living together and making their commitment unambiguous by marrying. Additionally, transferable tax allowances for married couples would recognise the stability that marriage brings and acknowledge that such partnerships are foundational to stable and law abiding societies.


Unless we reverse course as I have outlined our divorce rate, teen pregnancy rate, STI numbers and alcohol and drug dependency problems will grow and multiply. We cannot micro legislate or regulate our way out of this situation. We cannot possibly predict every conceivable aberration and prepare a parliamentary response to it. Instead we must educate a new generation in morality and objective truth. As the Chinese proverb has it; Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Rather than giving our young people a law a day to keep excess at bay we might try to impart what Pope Benedict has described as true values which give life a foundation."  

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