And it is refreshing to hear a leading member of the hierarchy taking the initiative to talk about the profound implications of the decline of ‘Catholic Ireland’ for the religiously based Irish education system rather than just trying to ‘hold on to’ the past.
From a long address last Monday, here are some brief clips of what he had to say:
Ireland is today undergoing a further phase in a veritable revolution of its religious culture. Many outside of Ireland still believe that Ireland is a bastion of traditional Catholicism. They are surprised to discover that there are parishes in Dublin where the presence at Sunday Mass is some 5% of the Catholic population and, in some cases, even below 2%. On any particular Sunday about 18% of the Catholic population in the Archdiocese of Dublin attends Mass. That is considerably lower than in any other part of Ireland ….
… That the conformist Ireland of the Archbishop McQuaid era changed so rapidly and with few tears was read as an indication of a desire for change, but perhaps it was also an indication that the conformism was covering an emptiness and a faith built on a faulty structure to which people no longer really ascribed. The good-old-days of traditional mid-twentieth century Irish Catholicism may in reality not have so good and healthy after all …
… The change that has taken place in Irish culture requires radical change in the life of the Church of such an extent that in the face of it even experts in change management would feel daunted …
But his main concern is to see spiritual renewal within the Catholic Church in its new and disorientating ‘post-Christendom’ context.
Christian faith is not just a faith about doctrines or about rules and regulations or about ethical standards against which we have to measure our own moral behaviour. It is not just about reforming structures. It is about the ability to preach and witness to the message of Jesus. The leader in the Church is not a manager, but a witness and a prophet. Reform in the Church is not in the first place about the redistribution of power, but about the redefinition of power in terms of the way in which Jesus revealed who God is …..
…. I am convinced that one of the principal ways in which the Church can reform itself and bring its message more incisively to society is through developing a renewed biblical apostolate. The Irish Church at times in its recent history got so focussed on the formulae of orthodoxy that it failed to introduce its people into a real relationship with Jesus and his life and teaching. All our pastoral structures are still poor in scriptural content and approach. Such a biblical basis for its action is also a sound basis for ecumenical collaboration.