The president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales and archbishop of Westminster told an audience, "The breakdown in family life, the increase of divorce, the ease with which sexual relationships become passing and peripheral, is in danger of inflicting very real and long-lasting damage on our society."
He went on: "The cement which holds society together is family life. Stable families are made and sustained by loving, unselfish and mature relationships. A failure to recognize this simple fact could prove fundamentally destabilizing to our culture."
In the address to students and teachers of the University of Swansea, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor rejected the idea that young people are no longer interested in Christianity.
He said that the Christian faith has been a primary influence in the development of Western culture over 2,000 years, and that it has also been the key to human flourishing. The living tradition of the Church still had an enormous amount of wisdom to offer, the cardinal said.
"As Christians we need to cultivate a careful and sensitive regard for our culture," he told his audience. "It is not from outside or apart from the world that we live as Christians, it is from within. Our culture, our Christianity and our human flourishing are all intimately connected.
"Looking at the world through Christian eyes means seeing more than we otherwise might. Seen with eyes of faith, the world is deeper and richer. It has added dimensions. It is not limited to what we see around us. It is charged with hidden beauty, truth and meaning which we sometimes see only dimly 'as in a glass darkly.' But the draw of that truth and meaning becomes irresistible."
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor encouraged his audience to take practical steps to deepen their faith including paying more attention to personal prayer, the reading of Scripture, life in community and pilgrimage. He said that at times faith calls us to "acts of resistance."
He said: "We live as émigrés within. So when our conscience calls us from within the tradition of our faith, from within our love of Scripture to say no to one or other of the prevailing mores of our times we have to be true to that calling -- we must not be afraid of acts of resistance which speak truth to our world."