Dublin, 29 April, 1997

Thank you all for being with us today. Many of you represent the Government or voluntary and statutory organisations who were consulted by the working party during the work of preparation for this initiative. I thank you all for your help and co-operation which is highly valued.

I thank Archbishop Connell for his warm welcome and for hosting this gathering and for making personnel and facilities available for the preparatory work.

I want to thank the people involved in preparing this day and this material. I want to thank Fr. Kevin Donlon for the excellent resource provided by Intercom. The team at Veritas for publishing Breaking the Silence, the Contact People from each diocese in the country, and the working party who enabled this to happen. We are grateful to them for their work.

The initiative we launch today concerns one of the gravest and most pressing problems confronting the world today. Drug abuse is crippling many societies. It is, in the words of the Holy Father, “an insidious social plague”. It destroys, debases and diminishes many lives, while the powerful barons of the drug trade feast on its fruits. It can induce a sense of despair, of helplessness, among its victims, their families, the communities where they live.

Ireland is far from being immune to this plague. Indeed, it could be said to have reached crisis point in many of our communities, both urban and rural. A growing number of our young people abuse drugs. Many families suffer grievously as a result of the drug abuse of one of their members. I wonder, therefore, how the dealers can sleep easily in their beds when they contemplate, even fleetingly, the lives wrecked by their evil trade.

However, it is futile to spend too much time and energy in bemoaning drug abuse and its effects. Concern must be the spur to action. We must take positive steps. We must, as Fr. Kevin Donlon says in his Intercom editorial, learn from this awful experience of drugs, learn how to face it and beat it.

Many are already doing this. We acknowledge the great work being done in healing and rehabilitation by voluntary and statutory bodies. The whole community owes them a debt of gratitude. They have, as we say in our statement, cared generously, taken risks, shown deep understanding and compassion towards the battered and broken. And their work has often been sparsely resourced.

What do we, the Bishops, offer today on behalf of the Catholic Church in Ireland? What is Breaking the Silence all about? Let me say first it is not about duplicating services already provided by others. It is not about setting up competing structures. In fact, it is not essentially about structures at all.

What we have to offer comes, as it must, primarily from our faith perspective. Jesus himself said “I came that you may have life and have it to the full”. The vision we wish to communicate to our people is succinctly expressed in a passage from our statement:

“We Christians are meant to recognise one another as brothers and sisters. We are meant to understand that each of us is part of a solidarity which knows the hunger for happiness… We have the hope which believes that there is a meaning which is stronger than any of the things that frighten us.”

We must try to understand the nature of substance abuse. To understand means that members of the Church try to inform themselves about the nature and the effects of illicit drugs on those who abuse them, on their families and on the wider community. It is not right, as we say in our statement, that the dealers should appreciate the nature of addiction better than those who try to heal or prevent.

So, one of the principal aims of our initiative is to promote a better understanding in all our parishes and communities. We give a pledge here today that the Church will endeavour to pursue that aim with vigour. Our Christian faith and, indeed, human experience tells us that the hunger for happiness can never be satisfied by resort to drugs.

Our speakers today have given us a very clear picture of the nature of addition, of what makes drugs attractive, of how dependence develops, of how denial follows on the path of dependence on drugs. It is vital that every Christian, every citizen, does his or her best to reach a better understanding.

We must try not only to understand. We must reach out to those, hurt by drugs and addiction. We must remember who these people are: some we have gone to school with, we have worked with, or been friends with. Others are part of our personal and wider families. All are our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. They are the prodigal sons and daughters who need to be welcomed home by you, by me. If we don’t welcome them, who will?

We must try to understand and reach out. We must also try to prevent. Prevention is always better than trying to cure what might have been prevented in the first place.

Ten months ago the Catholic Bishops of Ireland decided to address this issue in a co-operative, concerted and co-ordinated manner. We aim to complement and support the work done by so many in the statutory and voluntary sectors. We want to make that work more widely known among our people.

Views were sought from many agencies and groups who have practical and professional experience in the prevention and treatment of substance abuse. A network of contacts has been established by the dioceses of Ireland. The supplement in Intercom contains articles on various aspects of the drug problem and on suggested solutions.

Today I would ask you to read the statements and the materials in the supplement and to pass them on to your friends.

We have listened today to the eloquent testimony of a young person caught up in the cycle of drug abuse and to the mother of someone who has been traumatised by drug abuse in her family. To each of them, and to you here today, we pledge that we will try very hard not to fail you.

This initiative aims to help every member of the Church to play his or her part as fully and as effectively as possible. Many of the contact working through the dioceses, have long experience of helping individuals, families and communities in the area of drug abuse. Where necessary, they can provide excellent information and guidance to those seeking professional help.

I am happy and privileged to launch this initiative. I do so in a hopeful and confident spirit. The hope is that it will empower people to find their own solutions by availing of all the resources already there and, where necessary, by devising new strategies. People in the grip of addiction need to be awakened to hope. The Christian community is the instrument of God in this awakening and in bringing what help they can to their sister or brother in need.