Matt Moran: The Theology of Integral Human Development

Carol Nolan TD launched “The Theology of Integral Human Development” – a book, written by Matt Moran, which explores the role of faith in international development and public affairs. The Foreword to the book was written by Dr David Begg who served as CEO of Concern Worldwide, as a Board Member of Trócaire, and is now Adjunct Professor at the Institute of Social Sciences at Maynooth University. Prof Fainche Ryan, Director of the Loyola Institute at TCD also spoke at the launch in Dublin.

The 274-page book explores the meaning of integral human development; the pioneering role of the Catholic Church in development; the intrinsic values that faith brings to international development; the unique missionary approach to development interventions in the Global South; human dignity and right relations that enable people to flourish and live life to the full; Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation; the importance of inter-religious dialogue for peaceful co-existence; and the faith inter-face with the UN, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNAIDS, World Bank, WHO and the EU.

The author also delves into the receding place of faith in public affairs in an increasingly intolerant secular Ireland; the relationship between Church and State in Ireland; the Irish Government’s interface with FBOs in the provision of health and social care services; the fractious relationship between the Catholic Church and the Irish media; the proposal for a dialogue of hope to imagine an alternative narrative in Ireland; the evolving clash between Christian values and human rights as in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the un-challenged findings on bias and serious dysfunction within the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The book can be purchased online at

and at,

as well as in Knock Shrine Bookshop and the Fr Patrick Peyton Centre at Attymass, Ballina, Co. Mayo.

In 2016, Matt Moran published “The Legacy of Irish Missionaries Lives On” detailing how the missionary work commenced and carried on for many decades in the Global South is now being continued by local religious and indigenous missionaries whom they recruited and trained. He is a former Chairman of the Board of Misean Cara and served on the Board of Nano Nagle Birthplace at Ballygriffin, Co. Cork.

Address by Carol Nolan TD launching

The Theology of Integral Human Development

My first impression was that this book is physically weighty. After reading 10 to15 of the 274 pages, I quickly realised that it is equally weighty in academic thought and expression. It is brimful with information that is brought together with evidence and presented as a story in a convincing manner. Its messages are supported by relevant quotations from a broad spectrum of expert thinkers and practitioners. It is easy to read but it is definitely not a coffee-table book.

Matt has done a vast amount of research to describe the important role of faith in international development and in public affairs. He was in a good position to do that having worked in development for 10 years with Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, having served on the board and being Chairman of Misean Cara for 5 years… and then publishing “The Legacy of Irish Missionaries Lives On” a few years ago.

Up-front in the Introduction he identifies the core values that underpin faith-inspired organisations. He quotes the 2010 research report which Theos – the UK-based public theology think-tank – published in partnership with CAFOD and Tearfund which stated: “Underpinning the work of faith-based aid agencies is the integrity and dignity of every life, at whatever stage of development, of whatever social class, or gender, or race, or religion.”

So, the foundation and focus of the narrative in the book are on “the integrity and dignity of every life at whatever stage of development.” I like the way that integrity and dignity, as faith-inspired values, are incorporated into the creative graphic of a tree on the front cover, and the graphic is nicely explained on the back of the fly-leaf of the book.

That focus is also the basis upon which the All Party Oireachtas Life & Dignity Group, of which I am Vice-Chair, is grounded. It is only when we respect the integrity and dignity of life that we can engage with human rights in a credible and meaningful way.

For people of genuine faith, their faith and religion are not an optional add-on to their lives but part of their fundamental identity as persons. Its values are part of their DNA.

Matt reminds us of the words of Pope Paul VI – “it is not enough to point out injustice and to utter pious words and denunciation; such words lack meaning unless they are accompanied by responsible political and social action.” I suppose that could be applied to politicians too, especially those in government who have the power to implement policy.

The book also explores how much of the public interest in faith-based organisations has been highly secularised in that it focuses narrowly on the extensive influence and instrumental benefits that flow from working with religious leaders in achieving worthy objectives, generally of a social nature. In other words, these leaders and faith-inspired organisations are sort of weaponised by the state to achieve its objectives.

Matt tells us… and I quote from his Introduction:

“Whilst international development NGOs are generally a product of the period from the mid-1900s onwards, public support for faith-based and missionary organisations dates back centuries. The Catholic Church was a pioneer in development infrastructure with 1822 being a significant year when the first Pontifical Mission Society was founded by a visionary French woman, Pauline Jaricot. The Catholic Church globally is the second largest aid donor after the United Nations, working sometimes in countries where even the UN has withdrawn its workers because of the risks. It is the most significant civil society organisation in the world.”

No church leader did more than Pope Paul VI to promote development based on Christian values. His 1967 encyclical – Populorum Progressio – not only contributed to the new concept of development in Catholic Social Teaching and developed the Church’s preferential option for the poor, but it helped the growth of social and foreign aid agencies to combat poverty and social exclusion, and to support development programmes.

Two of those overseas aid agencies were founded in Ireland…. Concern in 1968 with significant involvement by Irish Spiritan missionaries, Fr. Raymond Kennedy and the Finucane brothers, Fr. Aengus and Fr. Jack, who were instrumental in shaping the organisation’s vision. That was followed in 1973 by Trocaire set up by the Irish bishops, and then in 1974 came what we now know as Irish Aid that was modelled on the Irish missionary experience.

There is so much in this book about faith in the public sphere in Ireland. The book is a valuable record in that regard. If draws attention to the 2018 Report of the Independent Review Group established to examine the Role of Voluntary Organisations in Publicly Funded Health and Personal Social Services. Voluntary organisations in the review included a large number of Catholic agencies and a small number of Protestant ones.

That report acknowledged that historically that the delivery of many of our health and social care services today is dependent on voluntary organisations, which form an essential and integral part of the overall system.

Think of that dependency for a moment…. 25% of acute hospital services and 66% of disability services. Prior to these facts established officially by the report being published, the Minister for Health and others were bullish about dispensing with faith-inspired service providers to give the state 100% control. Isn’t it interesting how that report is now buried somewhere and there’s little noise about faith-inspired service providers? Appreciation is sometimes replaced by ideology.

Matt identified a weakness in the report. I quote him from Page 158:

“Remarkably, the report of the review group makes no reference to the example of the partnership agreements between faith-inspired organisations and UNAIDS or the WHO in which their faith values are both recognised and respected. It may be reasonable to conclude that the review group’s understanding of ‘partnership’ was one of a financial relationship where the state uses its dominant power to drive its agenda and bring religious organisations under state control.”

The ‘command and control’ philosophy of the state using its financial muscle to dictate its terms does not sit comfortably with true ‘partnership’ which must include shared values as well as shared objectives and targets. This book deals at great length with this issue of partnership vs financial relationship… indeed, Chapter 6 is devoted to it.

I took particular note of one description attributed to Kenyan NGOs in a Dochas 2010 report on Partnership in Practice: A Kenyan Perspective on the Nature of Relationships with Irish NGOs that is mentioned on Page 77. It said: “The Irish partner organisation typically expects the Kenyan partner to work to its values…”

That imbalance in power relations is not about empowerment which is foundational in development… rather it is a form of cultural or ideological colonisation of communities in the Global South who have their own values but who are dependent on external support.  

The book illustrates in considerable detail how the UN and many of its agencies have developed a very constructive interface with faith leaders.  Of course, there is a practical reason for that as was demonstrated by Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon in his message for Interfaith Harmony Week in 2013.

He alluded to how “For billions of people around the world, faith is an essential foundation of life. It provides strength in times of difficulty and an important sense of community.  The vast majority of people of faith live in harmony with their neighbours, whatever their creed, but each religion also harbours a strident minority prepared to assert fundamentalist doctrines through bigotry and extreme violence.  These acts are an affront to the heritage and teachings of all major religions.  They also contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms the right of all to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”

We hear quite a lot from the EU leadership about ‘European values’, but I think many people would agree that European values today – whatever they are – are adrift from their moorings and are floating in different directions. The European People’s Party to which Fine Gael is affiliated states that its values, “which derive from our Christian Democrat tradition are the dignity of the human being…” and goes on to say that it “acknowledges Judaeo-Christian values as its foundation…” I doubt if many independent observers analysing some of the policies the group pursues in the European Parliament, or in individual member states including Ireland, would agree that that dignity applies to all human beings, for example, those in the womb.

Matt’s research on what he calls the fractious relationship between the Catholic Church and the media in Ireland is both thorough and enlightening. I think his message is well summed up by a quotation he used from a talk given by Sr. Kathleen McGarvey as President of the Association of Leaders of Missionaries and Religious in Ireland at a World Missions Ireland symposium in Thurles in October 2019.

She said: “The mass media today seems to have taken over from the Church as the shaper of Irish culture, the new voice of moral authority in society.  Many perceive our new Ireland to be ‘less stuffy and more tolerant, vibrant and outward looking, willing to absorb many influences and listen to many voices.’ However, instead of being inclusive, the tendency today is to exclude faith communities from public discourse, portray anything that refers to faith, especially Christian faith, as unjust, prejudiced and as a threat to individual freedom and autonomy, and even try to remove religious and cultural symbols from public spaces.”

Her views re-echoed those of journalist, Carol Hunt, who admits to having “leftie / liberal credentials.” But, writing in the Sunday Independent on 1st May 2016, she said: “The new censorship of the regressive left is akin to the old censorship of the Catholic Church or right-wing conservatives. They all know what is best for us to say, think, read and listen to – this is the antithesis of what liberalism means.” Cancel culture and censorship to suppress a plurality of opinions is a danger to democracy, and that is set out well in this book.

Finally, another chapter in the book that is compelling reading deals with Faith and Human Rights. The 33 pages that Matt devotes to this indicates the importance he attached to the topic.

When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated that human rights derive directly from dignity as a human person, it was pointing out that these rights are innate – inborn – and not earned or conferred by any human authority. The book explores in great detail how that interpretation and understanding of the basis of human rights is now being questioned and challenged by some academics and secular organisations who reject the human dignity argument and advocate that human rights must be grounded only in legal instruments proclaimed by the state, but which can be changed at a political whim or by the level of pressure interest groups can exercise on politicians and institutions.

The modern push on human rights is well explained in a 2019 quotation Matt uses from Daniel Philpott, Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, who wrote: “Countless observers have blamed activists and various organs of the UN, and other international bodies, which have proliferated new, spurious human rights to such an extent that they water down all rights. Human rights have become self-negating, less important, and harder to protect …”

The evidenced-based analysis in this book points to the entire human rights project, as envisaged in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, heading into stormy waters.

But the analysis paints an even more alarming picture of the dysfunction of the European Court of Human Rights pointing to an interview given by the court’s longest serving judge in 2019 to the Director of the European Centre for Law & Justice in Strasbourg. This really exposes the corruption of the machinery of human rights.

In the interview, this widely experienced retired judge pointed out some extraordinary detail about the workings of the court and the attitudes of its judges. I think it is best to quote some of what he said:

“The European Court of Human Rights has 47 signatory states and 47 different judges. They do not share a common understanding of human rights, and even less of its philosophy. What they do share is their legal reasoning.

“Over the years, the Court has gradually reduced its self-restraint, stating in hundreds of judgements that the European Convention is a ‘living instrument’ which should not be taken literally, but the meaning of which should be interpreted ‘in the light of current conditions’, thus, allowing its scope to be extended… judges not directly elected by the people behave like a mini-parliament. But that is not their job. The consequence is a ‘judicial activism’ – the government of judges. This appears with the use of the term ‘living instrument’. This activism is present in many cases.”

On the politicisation of human rights, the judge said: “Human rights are no longer just an ideology. They have become a religion. For what purpose? Obviously, to justify anything. It does not seem to bother the people involved in human rights that no one knows what human rights actually are. On the contrary, this nebulousness works for them because they can, in their propaganda, project onto the human rights screen everything they consider politically useful.”

That was a truly extraordinary revelation by such a senior judge, and it should raise the most serious concerns at many levels, not just in the Council of Europe which has oversight of the court. Indeed, the serious issues involved were discussed in a number of parliaments, but not in Ireland.

I like how Matt uses relevant quotations to hit home a point. I will conclude with one such quotation from William Reville, Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry at UCC, writing in the Irish Catholic newspaper on 20 April 2017 when he pointed out: “As European Christianity loses its influence, negative consequences are clearly emerging. We now live in an age where individualism is rampant and the person is increasingly seen as the sum of his / her wants and desires. There is widespread pressure to facilitate these wants / desires and to attach a human right to as many as possible, but little pressure to accompany new rights with responsibilities. Absolute values are denied and the notion of transcendent realities widely scorned.”

It is easy to see why this book was endorsed by a number of eminent theologians from different continents. It is a very practical and inspiring polemic that even Cardinal Turkson in the Vatican commended as “encyclopaedic and provides good reference material for others wanting to study the subject.” He even saw it as ‘challenging us here’ in the Vatican.

I am happy to formally launch this book, and to recommend it to you.

(Carol Nolan is Vice-Chair of the All Party Oireachtas Life & Dignity Group)

Similar Posts

Join the Discussion

Keep the following in mind when writing a comment

  • Your comment must include your full name, and email. (email will not be published). You may be contacted by email, and it is possible you might be requested to supply your postal address to verify your identity.
  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger. Comments containing vulgarities, personalised insults, slanders or accusations shall be deleted.
  • Keep to the point. Deliberate digressions don't aid the discussion.
  • Including multiple links or coding in your comment will increase the chances of it being automati cally marked as spam.
  • Posts that are merely links to other sites or lengthy quotes may not be published.
  • Brevity. Like homilies keep you comments as short as possible; continued repetitions of a point over various threads will not be published.
  • The decision to publish or not publish a comment is made by the site editor. It will not be possible to reply individually to those whose comments are not published.