MANY children from broken homes are born "losers" and so deprived of love that they grow up to be dysfunctional adults, according to a Catholic bishop.
Bishop of Elphin Christopher Jones said that during his 17 years working in social services in Sligo he had seen the damage wrought on children as a result of marriage breakdown.
The bishop, who is president of the Catholic marriage care service Accord, stressed that he was not criticising single parents, many of whom were making "heroic efforts".
But he insisted that "the greatest good" would "come ultimately from the family in marriage".
Speaking to the Irish Independent yesterday, Bishop Jones said the breakdown of married life could result in social unrest and even violence.
He said the risk to society from the disintegration of family life was not simply the church's view but was backed by extensive social research.
He acknowledged that some marriages broke down "for unavoidable reasons" and that in those cases, "compassion ought to be our overriding response".
The bishop said that during his time in social services, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he worked closely with families who, for the first time, found themselves isolated on newly built estates, without the support of their wider family circle.
"The husband was away all day and the mother was left with the children," he said. In many cases he saw, children were born into a family that was not secure and they were denied love at an early stage.
"Many of them were born losers. They had no start in life in terms of a loving relationship," he said, adding that in his experience, children who were denied love at an early age were "denied a sense of self-esteem and self-worth".
"They grow up disturbed and dysfunctional," he added.
"When a culture of marriage weakens, an ever-growing number of children will never experience the inestimable value of being raised by a loving, married mother and father," he said.
"This is not to say that children cannot thrive outside of the marital family but if we really value childhood, then we must do what we can to try and ensure that children are raised by the fathers and mothers who bring them into the world."
Bishop Jones stressed that it should not be left to church leaders alone to promote the preservation of family life and called on politicians to do more.
Speaking just one day after 5,000 people marched in favour of marriage equality for same sex marriage, Bishop Jones said that giving same-sex marriage the same status would "undermine marriage in my view".
He said in the eyes of the Catholic Church, same-sex cohabitation was not marriage and it "never" could be. "Marriage is life-giving and between a man and woman," he said.
Since 2008, Accord has seen a year-on-year increase in the demand for marriage/relationship counselling, with 43,627 hours provided last year -- the highest figure on record.