In a candid talk on May 10, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin discussed the current state and hoped for future of the Catholic Church in Ireland, addressing not only the recently surfaced clerical sex abuse cases but the underlying problem of Catholics within the country experiencing a “crisis of faith.”
In remarks to the local Irish Knights of Columbanus at Ely Place in Dublin, Archbishop Martin gave a blunt and thorough analysis of the problems within the Church of Ireland today and offered a few thoughts on what measures can be taken to strengthen and improve the community for the future. He especially underlined the need for a renewed, “parish-based” evangelization within Irish culture.
“On a purely personal level, as Diarmuid Martin,” he began, “I have never since becoming Archbishop of Dublin felt so disheartened and discouraged about the level of willingness to really begin what is going to be a painful path of renewal and of what is involved in that renewal.”
The most obvious reason for discouragement, the archbishop explained, “is the drip-by-drip never-ending revelation about child sexual abuse and the disastrous way it was handled.”
Although it is a fact that child sex abuse is more prevalent in other institutions, Archbishop Martin said it “should never appear in any way as an attempt to down play the gravity of what took place in the Church of Christ.” “The Church is different; the Church is a place where children should be the subject of special protection and care.”
But the second “and deeper root of my discouragement is that I do not believe that people have a true sense of the crisis of faith that exists in Ireland,” the Dublin archbishop stated.
Citing statistics on falling Mass attendance rates, Archbishop Martin insisted that although the “world around us and the culture of Irish life have changed,” the Church “still continues in many ways to live in a way which fails to recognize that culture has indeed changed so much.”
“Irish culture has drifted from being the culture of an enlarged faith community into a heavily secularized culture,” he noted. “For many, faith no longer plays a major role in their lives and they feel that this in no way compromises their ability to be good, honest and caring people.”
“Perhaps my greatest discouragement,” he continued, “comes from the failure of interaction between the Church and young people.”
“I inquire what is being done to attract young people to parish life and the answers are vague. Everyone knows that there is a missing generation and perhaps more than one, yet there are very few pastoral initiatives to reach out to young people,” he lamented.
Speaking on the future of the Irish Church, Archbishop Martin stated that the “Catholic Church in Ireland in the future will have to find its place in a very different, much more secularized culture, at times even in a hostile culture.”
The Church, said the archbishop, “has to look again at the dominant role it assumed in Irish society, while at the same time not renouncing its prophetic role in society and in the formation of consciences through opening to the teaching of Jesus Christ.”
“This will involve a much greater degree of parish-based catechesis and evangelization within our parishes,” he stated, underscoring that there is “no way that this will take place without a very extensive program of training for volunteer catechists, as is the case in most European countries. Parishes must become real center of on-going faith formation.”
Archbishop Martin also stated that “Parishes must radically re-orientate themselves to become educational communities in the faith and understanding of modern communications is an essential part of that re-orientation.” The Irish prelate also stressed the need for a “radical new look at the formation of priests” within seminaries in the country.
“The agenda for change in the Church must be one that comes from its message and not from pressure from outside and from people who do not have the true good of the Church at heart. We all have reasons to be discouraged and to be angry,” he noted. “There is a sense, however, in which true reform of the Church will spring only from those who love the Church, with a love like that of Jesus which is prepared also to suffer for the Church and to give oneself for the Church.”
“Thank God there are many who love their Church: lay persons, religious and clergy,” the archbishop said in his concluding remarks. “We love the Church because the Church is our home, the pace where we encounter the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ and where we gather in love to break bread in his memory.”