Non-practicing and non-believing Irish Catholics should be honest about their relation to the Church, Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin told the makers of a TV documentary that aired Dec. 11.
“It requires maturity on two sides: maturity of those people who want their children to become members of the Church community, and maturity of those people who say, 'I don't believe in God, I really shouldn't be hanging on to the vestiges of faith when I don't really believe in it,'” he said.
Archbishop Martin's comments were featured in an episode of “Would You Believe,” RTE Television's investigative series on religion.
Its Dec. 11 episode looked at the issue of Irish parents who have ceased to practice their faith, but still want their children to receive the Catholic sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation.
Filmmaker Mick Peelo's interviews showed many self-identified Irish Catholics seeking sacramental preparation for their children, while lacking either the intention or the ability to pass on the principles and meaning of the faith.
People interviewed for the show gave various reasons for wanting their children to receive the sacraments, despite their own lack of belief and practical commitment.
One woman described the rites of initiation as a “platform from which (children) can question” in later life. Another noted that a child often “doesn't want to be left out” when their peers are making their First Communion.
While Archbishop Martin called for honesty among adults no longer committed to the Church's faith, he also acknowledged that the problem's roots run deep.
“Irish Catholics are very weak, and that's the fault of generations of the Church in their understanding of Scriptures,” he said, reflecting on teachings that “taught us things about religion” but “didn't really deepen our faith.”
He suggested that practices of the past may have inspired anxiety, in place of a personal commitment.
“For many people in Ireland, the God we were practicing and teaching wasn't necessarily the God of love at all. It was a God who inspired fear, it was a God who was sort of a 'somebody watching you,' rather than freeing and empowering you.”
The situation calls not only for honesty, but for a more substantial presentation of Catholicism.
“We have to do a radical new look at the way that religious education takes place,” Archbishop Martin said in his interview with Peelo.
“A religious education is not simply for the schools or for school-age. You can't be a mature Catholic in today's world just on the basis on what you learned in primary school or secondary school. But we're not offering an ongoing formation to people in the way that they needed and wanted.”
The makers of “Would You Believe” spoke with several Irish clergy who acknowledged the inter-generational problems surrounding Catholic identity and commitment.
One of them, Fr. John Hassett, is shown baptizing the child of two parents who appear hesitant toward Catholic practice and belief in several interview segments.
But the priest says he encourages parents to show integrity by living up to the obligations of their choice.
“At every Baptism, I finish the ritual, the couples come up behind the altar, and I say: 'This is a fake – this is a fraud, this is hypocrisy – if the next time your child touches this holy space is on the preparation of (first) Holy Communion,” Fr. Hassett explained.