UPDATED: Archdiocese of Dublin may need major organizational changes says Archbishop-elect in Irish Times interview

Screenshot_2021_01_03_at_84121_AM Archbishop-Elect Dermot Farrell of Dublin, Ireland - Photo: Archdiocese of Dublin

In an interview with the Irish Times published on Saturday, January 2nd, the Archbishop-elect of Dublin, Dermot Farrell announced that he is looking into major administrative changes in the Archdiocese. Farrell addressed other issues such as priestly celibacy and women priests, but the newspaper's quotes are too short and confusing.

Currently, half of Dublin's priests are over 70, many of them retiring in the next few years, while congregations are aging and declining. Also, because of COVID 19, income is down by close to 80 percent, and priests' income cut by 25 percent.

According to the Irish Times, the newspaper held a "lengthy interview by telephone" with Farrell, which turned into two stories published on Saturday, but both were heavily edited and therefore unclear about the true thinking of the Archbishop-elect.

According to the paper, Farrell believes that in a world "where there are fewer priests", every parish in the archdiocese will have to change and some will amalgamate, but this will be done in consultation with priests and parishioners, not over their heads.

"[It is about] talking to the people, it's talking to the priests, listening. These are their churches, their faith communities. It's not going to be the Archbishop, or Archbishop's House going round saying, 'Close this church'," the Archbishop-elect is quoted as saying.

Also according to the Irish Times, the future Archbishop of Ireland's capital city supports women deacons, "shows some flexibility" about priestly celibacy, and opposes women priests. But the quotes provided by the newspaper hardly include more than a few words and rarely a full paragraph. CNA has reached out to the author of the interview for the full version.

Pope Francis appointed Dermot Farrell (66) of Ossory, Ireland, as the next archbishop of Dublin. The Archbishop-elect is the Finance secretary to the Irish Bishops' Conference, a position he was appointed to in March 2019.

Update: Full Interview

Below is the transcript of the interview between Patsy McGarry from the Irish Times and Archbishop Elect of Dublin Dermot Farrell, kindly provided as a courtesy to CNA by the journalist.


Going ahead on February 2nd. "There'll be no big hand-over…show papal bull (making the appointment) to College of Consultors. It doesn't need a liturgical ceremony." 

Managing decline 

"Not peculiar to Dublin. I'm involved in a similar process here (diocese of Ossory). Amalgamation is quite an involved process but are pushing parishes together. In Ireland every single bishop is engaging one way or another with managing a situation where there are less priests."

"We do this together, that's really what synodality is about. It's talking to the people, it's talking to the priests, listening. They are their churches, their faith communities, they've been there for, some of them for centuries and one can't drive a coach and four through communities." 

"The other side of that is these communities have all this infrastructure which belongs to a different era and they need to look and see whether we really need this amount of infrastructure to meet our needs today. The problem is if they decided `yes, we want to keep it' then there are costs involved." 

More in Europe

It "will be done in consultation. It's not going to be AB or AB House going round saying close this church. That's very divisive. Communities will have to come to a decision for the next 30, 40, 50 year what do we as a community need to meet our needs for worship."

"They may choose to keep the church open but I cannot guarantee priests to say Mass."

Crisis in vocations

It "has to be addressed through prayer. Maybe we need to work with smaller groups of people who are more committed. Teaching people about prayer. I don't think we've been good at that in the past. We really didn't form people in prayer. Prayers ended up the recitation of formula…A deeper prayer life is more important and also sacred scripture. That has been very badly neglected as a form of prayer, reading a passage and praying out of that. It's a formation problem."

"It was not part of the Irish Catholic tradition and historically it probably the Catholic Church emphasized the Eucharist. That's turning because of an initiative of Pope Francis…"

Agreed that initiative will take time in terms of future vocations, in the meantime greater involvement of laity – "absolutely" – not just in terms of running parishes but in liturgy.

"For example a removal doesn't need a priest. Back in the old days the removal was done by the local schoolteacher. He took in the remains into the church and led the rosary. It doesn't require Holy Orders. In the future it will probably have to be done by a lay ministry team. Marriages can be conducted by a permanent deacon…"

(Story continues below)

"All of this is in God's hands and maybe there's some message for us there. It is a crisis. We should always remember the church was born in a crisis. Crisis is different to conflict, we shouldn't be afraid of it because maybe that crisis is something that's prompting us to look at the way we do things and see if we can do things differently and having the courage to do things differently.

Women priests/deacons 

"Pope Francis has put a new Commission in place. In terms of a way to go, that's a way to go. The issue is what did women deacons do in the early church…in the 60s Pope Paul said that if all the bishops of the world favoured change he would consider it. None came."

"The danger is such change could lead to a schismatic church. You see that in the Church of England where when certain reforms were brought in, some went off and joined the Catholic Church. That's a huge issue. What Pope Francis has done is that he has initiated the debate …but it's going to be slow. I don't think it's going to be done overnight. There'll be a lot of discussion."

Personal views on women priests/mandatory celibacy

"I think that the big issue for women priests for me is that the two pillars of our faith and the Church are scripture and tradition and the biggest barrier to that (women priests) is probably tradition, not the scriptures. That's the hurdle that has to be overcome. Would I like to see women deacons, I would. Women have almost preserved the faith in the church, certainly in this country and probably beyond. They were the ones who handed on the faith or took the responsibility for handing it on. Our mothers were very important in terms of teaching and prayer. They were the ones, more than the fathers. That's where a lot of us got our faith, we got it from our parents. Personally, it came from my mother and father. I didn't learn it."

"You learned catechism in school, but catechism was not the faith. Faith is a relationship with the Lord." 

Mandatory celibacy 

"First of all I don't like the word `mandatory'. There is a value in celibacy, there is a sacrifice involved. I do think it is an important part of the Catholic tradition. It is a rule, it's not a church teaching as such but I think it's an important"

"I don't accept the argument that if priests weren't celibate they couldn't do what they are doing. There are many people who are married and have to go out in the middle of the night, doctors, firemen. That's not an argument against it. There's a different argument."

"For example you have the two tracts in the Orthodox church. You have the celibate language and you have the married language. You have to make a choice before you are ordained, usually, in those churches. Even with permanent deacons who are married, they're part of the clergy but they do undertake that if their wife dies they can't remarry." 

Orthodox choice in the Catholic Church?

"It could be discussed. There has been some talk about the viri probati, of going down that track."

"I think there's a value in celibacy. That is important and I don't think that should be lost whatever decision is come to in the years ahead. Choice on celibacy is something I would favour discussion on. That's not going to be decided by the Irish hierarchy or the American hierarchy. It will have to be by the universal church." 

Teaching on homosexuality/catechism language 

"Pope Francis has given a great lead in terms of outreach to homosexuals. Sometimes they have been victimized in the past and have suffered an awful lot of abuse in society, physical violence against them. That's completely and utterly wrong. Some of that is coming from the culture and the society in which we live, which demonized them almost. That's absolutely completely and utterly wrong. Men or women who find themselves of a homosexual orientation, it's not something they chose. It's something they come to realize or discern. In the past they covered it up, they lived with it or struggled with it because they were afraid if they declared it, it had all sorts of implications. At one stage you'd find yourself in prison. Thank God it was decriminalized (in Ireland)." 

Language of Church teaching on?

"It's a technical description. People misconstrue that then because it is technical theological language."

He agreed that in popular culture "there is a difficulty which can translate into sometimes violence against people where they find there is a huge prejudice against them…"

"I think Pope Francis has discussed that (removal). It came up at the last Synod. Marriage is a different thing."

Blessings… Divorced/remarried, same-sex couples 

"The difficulty with blessings is that they are very often misconstrued as marriage. Priests have given these blessings in the past. I remember one colleague of mine. I had said to him – he used to have this ceremony of the blessing of rings – I said to him I don't have a difficulty with blessing rings if you're doing that here in the house but if you go out into the public domain, in a church, and bless rings as you see it …they turned up with 200 people and they saw it as a marriage. Sometimes people use that phraseology …you're into confusion there. It can be misconstrued as `yes, the priest married us'."

There was "good discussion at the Synod (on the Family) good document produced on dealing with those situations."

"Blessings are always going to be misconstrued and that's where the difficulty arises because once you start blessing things like that people are going to construe that as a marriage. We can't have that sort of situation in the Church because it creates all sorts of problems in terms of our own teaching and these teachings of the church have been constant."

Shared communion/inter Communion

"I've gone to ceremonies in the Church of Ireland and I do take a blessing (at Communion) from the Bishop. Likewise if he is in our church, which he has been." (referring to (Anglican/Episcopal) Church of Ireland Bishop of Ossory Bishop Michael Burrows) 

"The question comes down to how we understand Communion as being union. The reality is that there isn't union and we have to accept that there isn't union. That doesn't mean we're not working towards it or that there aren't fundamental differences there in how we understand the Eucharist. We're working towards it, it's slow… that seems to almost to have come to a halt. Maybe there is a greater acceptance that we are different." 


"I have a very good relationship with Bishop Burrows here and I've been involved in ecumenical matters for 30 years. That dialogue at the human level is so important because we're all serving the one God and the one Jesus Christ. There's much more in common than there is difference, 95 percent of what we believe is in common. So, yes, certainly I would promote good relations with the Churches and other faiths as well, the Jewish community and the Muslim faith.  It's important that the faith leaders give good example. Sometimes the radical take over and good leadership is so important. Christians, Jews, Muslims are all monotheistic, all are serving the one God. I certainly will be continuing on that tradition."

Education. Divestment of Catholic schools 

"These schools are in communities, it's not just by decree. There must be dialogue with the communities. I've often said that if a politician comes up to me and says they'd like to divest that school well then I'd put it to the people. But politicians are very reluctant to come in and say they'd like this school divested. They talk in generalities but when you name a specific school, which is a faith school of a particular community, then they are up in arms and no bishop is going to go against his community if they want a faith school." 

"Many (other faiths) choose to go to a Catholic school. They accept children of all faiths and none and they treat them respectfully, they respect their faith. Schools are not proselytizing. Catholics who go are not all of the one view either. One thing about the Catholic Church is its great diversity. It embraces everyone from the person who might go only once or twice in a lifetime to people who go three times a day to pray and it is able to hold all of those people together." 

Hard-line traditionalists

"They're hostile towards anyone that doesn't agree with them, they're almost close to being intolerant. They're everywhere. I'd be respectful of them, they have a view and probably want to impose that view on everyone. That's disrespectful. They have to respect the views of other people in the Catholic faith who for various reasons may not have the same commitment they have. That doesn't mean they're any less sincere. Why should that (irregular) person be ostracized? It may come to the stage." 

"Things may be objectively wrong but you must take the subjective into account when you're dealing with people that Catholic faith has always had the two sides to it, the objective teaching and how that applies subjectively." 

A national Synod 

"Synod is a point on a journey. Synodality for me is far more important because that's really how the journey is undertaken and how we continue that journey. When Pope Francis is talking about synodality he talks about how we listen and actually hear what the other person is saying. What's vital there is how we are with each other and how we relate to each other and that's a dynamic reality which unfolds over time. People are inclined to jump to synod first but without synodality people are going nowhere, it's an approach. The hand of God is in it, God's providence is in it. The Church for me is more like a marriage than a multi-national or a business."

"I wouldn't start with a synod. The plan, for want of a better word, is only going to emerge is some sort of dialogue, people and clergy, everybody, the stakeholders. You have to empower people, people have huge gifts…"

Income drop of 80% in Dublin archdiocese during first pandemic lockdown

"Finance is a function of numbers and if the numbers decrease your finance will go down. We need to look at different ways of collecting money. Basket collections were not possible during the pandemic. Priests who went a different way of going about this, their parishes didn't do badly. Where the priest was visible, on the webcam, Facebook and he was doing the work, people responded generously. While it didn't come in every Sunday, people responded monthly, Easter, larger donations at Christmas. Parishes where nothing went on, they're the ones who suffered most, locked up the churches threw away the key and disappeared into the undergrowth. People have been generous, I have to say that."

"Inevitably there is a hit on the finances during the lockdown. We probably can sustain a lot over a short period but if this was to go on for four or five years it would be catastrophic."

Priests' income reduced

"We had to reduce our priests' income here in Ossory as well but I say to the guys `your income is reduced but there are many people in this country who lost their jobs, companies collapsed, businesses collapsed, people haven't worked for months and they're on social welfare so while you might be taking some reduction in your income you have an income'. The other side of that is you have a lot less expenses. There was nowhere to spend money. You couldn't drive your car, or very little, so you were spending no money on fuel. You weren't going out socializing, so there was no money being spent on whatever. The opportunity to spend money, while there was less income there was also saving on the other side."

Resignation of Msgr. Micheal Ledwith as President at Maynooth

"I wasn't aware of why he stood down in '94. I wasn't involved. I was there obviously. He announced that he was going to step aside. The reason that he gave for stepping aside to people at the top, people in the leadership at the College at the time, was that the bicentenary was coming up and everybody was anticipating his retirement and he was going to go basically ahead of time. Subsequently I became aware, long after, of the allegations. Obviously somebody knew about them because they emerged later, if you look at McCullough and Murphy (reports), the diocese was aware of them. That would be proper, as the normal way things were dealt with through the diocese and (Catholic Primate) Cardinal Daly was aware. Whether Cardinal Daly informed the trustees I don't know. I don't know what discussions there were between himself and Bishop Comiskey but I can certainly tell you the leadership of the College, and I wasn't the president at that time, I was vice president, I wasn't told, by anybody, either by Bishop Comiskey nor by Cardinal Daly nor indeed by any of the other trustees and I am not too sure when the trustees actually became aware of those allegations."

Msgr Ledwith's 10 year term was to end in 1995, when Maynooth was to celebrate its 200th anniversary.

"I became aware (of allegations against Msgr Ledwith) in May 2002, when trying to assemble what the facts were. I think I was the one who asked for an inquiry and it was out of that, that at the June meeting of the Trustees, Denis McCullough was appointed."

"I said to the trustees they should put out one statement and let's be transparent about it."

Contact with Ledwith since 

"The last time I spoke to him was when that statement was issued. I was asked by the trustees to contact him and to alert him that that statement was coming out. I was instructed by the trustees. I rang him about an hour, a half hour before."

He gave evidence to the (later) Ferns inquiry "He didn't contact me nor did I contact him… he's a distant cousin."

Child safeguarding

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin had "given very courageous leadership in the area, he has certainly been a leader in it. Maybe, cometh the hour cometh the man. It was what was required in Dublin. There was a great reluctance at the time to be transparent, to cooperate with these tribunals. He did that and he had the strength of character to do it. And it was the right thing to do. He has engaged consistently with victims and I've heard him numerous times speak about the importance of listening to victims. You have to bring healing. Bringing healing from the point of view of the Church means there has to be acceptance about what happened. There were awful mistakes and it wasn't peculiar to Ireland. Look at the McCarrick report, terrible. The mistakes that were made in that case… "

"Everybody denied these things were happening or that they were possible whereas now the important thing is that these things are investigated independently. The amount of damage that has been done to individuals and people's lives by those who could have been stopped in their tracks and they weren't….nobody shouted stopped."


"The enemy of safeguarding is complacency. You just have to keep constantly reminding people, keep training people and the danger is, even newer bishops coming down the track – people who weren't involved in this, almost a different generation, forget the turmoil that was caused, the hurt that was caused, the damage to people's lives, because they weren't at the coalface it can get lost very quickly…"

"One church approach in Ireland very good… the national board (for safeguarding children) has done a very good job."

Mother and Baby Homes' report, due to be published this January

"I don't think you can ever be prepared for these reports when they come out. We haven't seen the report. The only ones that have seen the report are people who have contributed to it, namely religious orders who have been shown their own sections. So they're well aware of the contents of that. What's important for now is healing for the people that have been hurt by this who are still alive. There was a huge failure which came out of a whole culture in society in terms of what happened there. You hear stories about parents who brought their daughters to the door and said "bye we won't see you anymore because there was just such shame around pregnancy outside marriage that families disowned these girls."

"Regimes were pretty tough by all accounts …there was almost a punishment element in it…It's a dark chapter in Irish history and like everything else it has to come out, we have to face up to it and society has to face up to it. That's what we did to people that were very vulnerable in 20s. 30s, 40s, 50s, 60,s and 70s."  

"Sometimes it's very hard to think yourself back to that world of the Homes, the society."

This transcript was kindly provided by Patsy McGarry, religious affairs correspondent with the Irish Times. Some words have been adapted to the US common spelling. 

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