.- A two-year investigation into the Church in Ireland has concluded that âwidespreadâ dissent from Catholic teaching is hampering its renewal.
The investigation, which was ordered by Pope Benedict XVI, âencountered a certain tendency, not dominant but nevertheless fairly widespread among priests, religious and laity, to hold theological opinions at variance with the teachings of the Magisterium,â concluded the report, published in Rome March 20.
âIt must be stressed that dissent from the fundamental teachings of the Church is not the authentic path towards renewal,â the report stated.
The findings are based on an âapostolic visitationâ of Irelandâs four archdioceses, religious congregations and seminaries. The Vatican called upon the services of several senior clerics, many of Irish descent, to lead the visitation including Cardinal Sean P. OâMalley of Boston and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York.
Solutions to Dissent
It described the level of dissent as a âserious situationâ which requires âparticular attentionâ directed towards âimproved theological formation.â
This includes âthe need for deeper formation in the content of the faith of young people and adults,â as well as a âbroad and well planned ongoing theological and spiritual formation for clergy, Religious and lay faithful.â
The report also calls for âa new focus on the role of the laityâ so that they can âgive witnessâ in society âin accordance with the social teachings of the Church.â The âcontribution of the new Ecclesial Movements, â must be harnessed more effectively to âreach the younger generation and to give renewed enthusiasm to Christian life,â it added.
Finally, a âcareful reviewâ is needed of the âtraining given to teachers of religionâ in schools and parishes to âensure a sound and well-balanced education.â
Todayâs report was welcomed by the hierarchy of Ireland, with Cardinal SeÃ¡n Brady, Primate of All Ireland and President of the Irish Bishopsâ Conference, describing it as âa helpful snapshot of a key moment in the ongoing journey of renewal,â as well as âa signpost to future priorities and directions.â
The apostolic visitation was announced by Pope Benedict XVI in March 2010 as part of his Pastoral Letter to the Catholics in Ireland. He expressed his sorrow and regret towards those who had suffered abuse by Church figures, stating that âyou have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry.â The visitation was one of his âconcrete initiativesâ to âassist the local Church in her path of renewal.â
Impact of Abuse
The visitationâs report expressed âa great sense of pain and shameâ over clerical abuse and found that the scandal had âopened many wounds within the Irish Catholic community.â
Lay people have âexperienced a loss of trust in their Pastors,â many priests and religious have âfelt unjustly tainted by association with the accused in the court of public opinion,â and others âhave not felt sufficiently defended by their Bishops and Superiors.â In turn, many bishops and superiors âhave often felt isolated as they sought to confront the waves of indignationâ and at times âhave found it difficult to agree on a common line of action.â
At the same time, the visitation was âable to verify that, beginning in the 1990s, progressive steps have been taken towards a greater awareness of how serious is the problem of abuse.â It applauded progress made in both the Church and society towards dealing with the problem.
The visitation was happy that new national guidelines for child safety were being followed and suggested that the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church âshould continue to receive sufficient personnel and fundingâ from the relevant Church authorities.
Itâs also important that those authorities âcontinue to devote much time listening to and receiving victims,â as well as âproviding support for them and their families.â
The report says that the Church needs to show âgreater concern for the intellectual formation of seminariansâ to ensure that their education is âin full conformity with the Churchâs Magisterium.â
It suggests that the pastoral training of seminarians be re-evaluated to ensure âit is sacramental, priestly and apostolicâ and concerned with âpreparing candidates to celebrate the sacraments and to preach.â
It also states that the seminary buildings should be âexclusively for seminarians of the local Church and those preparing them for the priesthoodâ to âensure a well-founded priestly identity.â There had been concern in recent years that there was insufficient separation between the seminarians at St. Patrickâs College and the secular students of the National University of Ireland, which are both situated in Maynooth in County Kildare.
The major superiors of religious orders also have to design new programs to focus on âliving their vows in a contemporary context,â in accordance with âthe Apostolic Tradition of the Churchâs teachingâ and the âcharism of the founder of the Institute.â This should be done with a view to ârevitalizing communities of prayer, community life and mission.â
There will also be a review of the number and structure of dioceses in Ireland. It will be aimed at making them âbetter suited to the present-day mission of the Church in Ireland.â