Next chapter of Catholic Church in Ireland ‘will be different from last’ – Archbishop of Armagh
Ireland’s Catholic Church could find itself “increasingly marginalized in public debate”, its most senior bishop has warned, but Archbishop Eamon Martin has said it must remain “prophetic”.
Culminating on the release next month of the Synodal Path of the Irish Church position paper, which saw tens of thousands of Catholics across the country take part in nine months of consultations, Dr Martin said the next chapter in the life of the Irish Church will be different from the last.
He said the synodal synthesis would reveal many challenges for the transmission of the faith, including the impact of a “major decline in the practice of faith”, vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and sacramental marriage. .
During the synodal consultations, many people called for more transparency, participation in decision-making and accountability within parish and diocesan structures, he said.
They also highlighted the importance of tapping into the energy and gifts of young people and finding new models of responsibility and leadership that recognize and facilitate the role of women.
The listening process revealed the need to reach out to the many people who have left the Church and who in some cases feel left out, forgotten or ignored, the church leader said.
The synodal journey, the Archbishop of Armagh stressed, comes at a critical time in the history of the Irish Church, as 2029 will mark 200 years since Catholic emancipation and would end “an important chapter in the life of the Church here, while opening a new one,” he said.
From the past, Dr. Martin paid tribute to a Church that “contributed generously to health, education and community cohesion, to the care of the poor and to the help of the marginalized in society”.
But he stressed that the dark side could not be ignored – “mission failures, scandals of clerical and institutional abuse, the maintenance of power and status that have at times obscured the light of the gospel and left behind a legacy of pain and trauma for many”.
The synodal consultations showed a need for healing and hope, he said.
Separately, Bishop Kieran O’Reilly has released a pastoral letter highlighting the aging profile of priests ministering in the Archdiocese of Cashel & Emly.
The average age of the 68 priests in the Archdiocese is 67 and in five years there will be only 35 priests below retirement age, which for priests is 75.
At the moment, the diocese has only one man in formation for the priesthood.
“It is clear that this level of staffing will not continue,” Dr O’Reilly said and warned that in the face of this reality, a change would soon come to the way parish life is organized in the diocese.
As part of a plan to address projected shortages of priests, the diocese will form pastoral units encompassing several parishes and lay people will share the work of the priests. The new pastoral units will be introduced in November.