Clerical sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church have led some to feel they can no longer trust the church’s message, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin has said.
Mr Martin said the church faced a challenge in finding new ways of communicating “sincerely held perspectives” about the family.
The Archbishop of Armagh made the comments at the World Meeting of Families event in Dublin on Wednesday.
Mr Martin replaced US cardinal Donald Wuerl as the keynote speaker on the first day of the five-day congress.
The Archbishop of Washington pulled out of his scheduled appearance after he was criticised for his handling of child sexual abuse allegations in Pennsylvania.
Mr Martin said: “In the aftermath of child abuse scandals and other shameful episodes of the past, there are those who feel they can no longer trust our message, perhaps because they have been directly hurt and betrayed in their families by their experience of Church, or because the revelations of such heinous crimes have shocked them to the core.”
The All-Ireland Primate told several hundred Catholics who had gathered for his speech that Pope Benedict XVI had alerted the institution in 2010 to the fact that the sins and crimes of sexual abuse in the Church have not only had tragic consequences in the lives of victims and their families.
Mr Martin told the gathering that the State must be encouraged to support the exclusive union between a married man and a woman as a “cherished” space for raising children.
He said: “We must work together with all people of goodwill to encourage the State to support the family, and especially the uniqueness of the faithful and exclusive union between a married man and a woman as a cherished space for the bearing and upbringing of children.
“In doing this, the State is not only caring for its citizens, but it is also strengthening and nurturing the foundations of society itself.”
The archbishop added that the Church was not suggesting that it wanted the State to overly intrude into, or replace, the important autonomy of the family.
But he said the Church believed that if the institution of the family was harmed, then all of society suffered.
“The family is much more than an economic or social unit,” he said.
“It is a privileged space for care, education, health promotion, mediation, security, community cohesion and safety.”
The World Meeting of Families event is expected to attract more than 37,000 people and families from 116 different countries to the RDS.
Hundreds of thousands more will attend the celebrations that will be led by Pope Francis this weekend in Dublin and Knock.
The WMOF will culminate with the closing papal mass in the Phoenix Park on Sunday.
The event has gained huge significance since the Pope made a statement on Monday apologising for the atrocities of clerical sexual abuse.
Meanwhile, gay rights campaigners have called for the Catholic Church to remove its stigma against the LGBT community, in a move to cooincide with the Pope’s visit.
Launching the Equal Future campaign in Dublin to coincide with the beginning of the World Meeting of Families (WMOF), campaigner Tiernan Brady said he wants to highlight the damage being done to children and young people.
The campaign is the largest global initiative of LGBT groups, including 60 countries worldwide.
Mr Brady said there is a “clear message” that members of the LGBT community were not welcome at the WMOF event in Dublin.
“We want to highlight the damage that is being done to children and young people as they grow up thinking that to be LGBT would be wrong, a disappointment or just bad luck but none of those are true,” he said.
“The sad truth is there is a clear message they are not welcome at the World Meeting of Families.
“LGBT looked to have stands and they were denied.
“Images of same-sex families were removed from all the material and I can’t think of a clearer message to show LGBT people you are not part of this and you are not wanted in here.
“That’s not what Catholic people feel and it’s about time the upper management caught up with this.
“No child should ever grow up feeling they are less than others if they are or were to discern they are LGBT.”
The founder and director of the Equality Campaign said he wants to raise awareness of the damage done to young people when the Synod of Bishops takes place at the Vatican in October.
Mr Brady added: “The Synod on Young People is a once-in-a-generation moment for us to shine a light on the role stigma against LGBT in its various forms affects the mental health of children and young people, and has for too long been overlooked.
“It is important for the Church to look at this as part of their stated desire to consider situations where young people face exclusion for social or religious reasons.
“Equal Future 2018 is calling on the Synod on Young People to consider the damage done as a consequence of the Church’s teachings and reconsider its teachings on LGBT,” Mr Brady said.
Wednesday’s press conference, held beside the Royal Dublin Society where the WMOF is being held, heard directly from people from around the world and their experiences growing up Catholic and LGBT.
One of the contributors, Eros Shaw, was raised in a traditional Catholic family in China.
“As my sexual orientation became more and more apparent, stress from studies and uncertainties about the future also became more intensive, as did my feelings of guilt towards my parents,” he said. “But it did not stop my feelings from growing.
“From one day to the next, I struggled in agony. Later I participated the events of China Catholic Rainbow community.
“In there I met a great priest friend to be my spiritual director and friends who are seem with my case. I feel that I am free from the burden. It is not my fault that I am gay, I am also beloved by God.”
Xorje Olivares lives in New York where he belongs to what its advocates term a “queer” ministry in a progressive parish.
He grew up along the Texas/Mexico border spending 10 years volunteering as an altar server.
He said: “Towards those later years I already knew I was gay but couldn’t quite figure out God’s plan for me.
“The Church was no help, nor was my heavily Latino community, both of which were seemingly unwelcoming to kids like me back then, based off of comments made by certain authoritative figures.”
On Wednesday evening, members of the LGBT+ community spoke of being welcomed into a parish in central London.
In 2013 LGBT+ Catholics joined the main congregation of Farm Street Church in Mayfair for evening mass.
Since then they contributed to every aspect of liturgical, spiritual and pastoral life of the church.
LGBT+ community member Nick O’Shea said he had been unsure of how to reconcile his beliefs and his sexuality before finding Farm Street.
“I’m from London and the key thing about London is that it’s almost easier to be gay than be a Catholic,” he said.
“I was lacking a framework for being gay and Catholic and how was I going to live a life that would be pleasing to God.”
Then Mr O’Shea said he googled “gay” and “mass” and “London” and learned of the church.
Fr Dominic Robinson said the aim was to create a safe environment for everybody.
“This was part of the whole process of what we call opening our doors,” Fr Robinson said.
Mr O’Shea called on more parishes to create an inclusive environment for members of the LGBT+ community.
“If we’re not careful churches could be empty and what we’ve got here is a thriving community of people,” Mr O’Shea said.
“Do I think we need a gay mass on every street corner? No, personally I don’t but I think what we do need is a welcome in every parish for people who no longer find it easy to associate with the Church.”