Fr Denis O Mahony found himself thinking about the question of the future church, when he read the article by Fr. Gerard Moloney : “What future for the Irish Church?”, in Reality Magazine, this month. He discusses this with Mary Fagan on Horizons Sunday morning and invites a response. The full article can be read below and the four points for discussion and feedback are outlined here:
What do you feel about the following statements?
1.‘It’s all a far cry from 1979, when Pope John Paul at Shannon Airport, congratulated the Irish people on their extraordinary loyalty to the Church down the centuries……..Now less than two generations after Pope John Paul’s visit, all has changed, changed utterly.’ (Moloney)
2.‘What is most striking is the level of antipathy (hostility) towards the Church. Many people haven’t just casually given up on religion; they have consciously and deliberately walked away from it.’
3.Despite the wonderful work and quiet dedication of lay people, religious and priests up and down the country, it seems too late now for a great new dawn of the Church in Ireland.
4.All the rest of us can do, the best any of us can do, is to give quiet witness to our faith every day by the kind of people we are and the example we give.
If you have comments you can send them on by clicking here: Contact Us
What Future For The Irish Church? Gerard Moloney CsrR
Few Dublin archbishops have entered office in more testing times than those facing Archbishop Dermot Farrell. Not only is the priest shortage growing ever more acute, but the COVID-19 lockdowns have also exacerbated the diocese’s financial burdens. There is the challenge of motivating priests and people wearied by abuse scandals and by a society and culture that is increasingly anti-clerical. Few institutions have had as rapid and brutal a fall from grace as the Irish Catholic Church. Archbishop Farrell’s task is unenviable. It’s all a far cry from 1979, when Pope John Paul II at Shannon, congratulated the Irish people on their extraordinary loyalty to the church down the centuries. “Ireland, semper fidelis,” he said. Ireland, always faithful. The vast crowds that turned out during his visit and the extraordinary fervour on display during those three glorious autumnal days testified to the apparent truth of that observation.
To most observers, it did seem as if Ireland would remain semper fidelis. Irish Catholics had always clung tenaciously to the faith of their fathers. It appeared to be a defining characteristic of the indigenous Irish. They had clung to it during Penal times, when to be Catholic meant to lose everything. They had clung to it in famine times when proselytisers tried to woo them with soup and schoolbooks. They had clung to it in the decades after the Second World War when other Western countries slowly lost their religion and liberal values were beginning to take hold. Now, less than two generations after John Paul’s visit, all has changed, changed utterly. If the Irish were tenacious in clinging to the church in the past, more and more of them are now equally resolute in wanting nothing whatsoever to do with it. With extraordinary speed, we have gone from semper fidelis to non-semper fidelis. It has left many clerics and traditional Catholics punch-drunk and disoriented.
What has been most striking is the level of antipathy towards the Church. Many people haven’t just casually or carelessly given up on religion; they have consciously and deliberately walked away from it. The awful litany of Church-related scandals is a major reason for this strength of feeling, but the anger runs deeper than that. It’s a reaction to Church leaders’ arrogance in the past and the overweening control they exercised over so many facets of people’s public and private lives. Many people, including regular churchgoers, have been increasingly turned off by what they regard as the Church’s flawed stance on sexual morality and its refusal to give women an equal voice in its life and ministry.
Many who reject the church weren’t even born when John Paul visited Ireland but Irish people have a residual collective memory of the Church’s role in the Irish state’s early decades. They are now reacting viscerally against it (a memory coloured by media depictions of the Church and its role). Careerism, clericalism, vanity, pietism and pride have been the toxic mix that has so damaged the Church in Ireland, and elsewhere. The only way forward for the Church lies in humility and service – not in power or careerism or ornate vestments or the trappings of office or in waging culture wars against the modern world. In this, Pope Francis is showing the way.
It lies in mercy – not legalism or moral highhandedness or thinking the Church has all the answers. Pope Francis’ famous “Who am I to judge?” comment on homosexuality made headlines because it indicated a more compassionate approach to moral questions. Only when it is seen as slow to condemn and willing to stand in the other person’s shoes will the Church begin to regain some little moral authority. Above all, it lies in being genuinely inclusive – not a top-down, elite club for celibate male clerics that systematically discriminates against women, but a people’s Church with structures that enable the sensus fidei (the sense of the faithful) to be heard, irrespective of gender, role or rank. Those days when popes praised us for our fidelity are gone and they won’t return.
Despite the best efforts of good leaders like Archbishop Farrell, despite Pope Francis’ extraordinary impact worldwide and the hope he has instilled in many disillusioned Catholics, despite the wonderful work and quiet dedication of lay people, religious and priests in parishes up and down the country, it seems too late now for a great new dawn of the Church in Ireland. There has been no ‘Francis effect’ here and, after the extended lockdowns of the past year, and with so many religious services streaming online, who can tell how many regular churchgoers will return to the pews once church doors open again? The Church and religion won’t collapse completely, but they will become increasingly irrelevant to most people, who will use them only to mark rites of passage, if they use them at all. All the rest of us can do, the best any of us can do, is to give quiet witness to our faith every day by the kind of people we are and the example we give. (Reality Magazine April 2021)