17 December 2011

Crisis in the diocese

The Irish Times carries the following editorial on page 15 this today [17 December 2011]:

Crisis in the diocese

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin conceded with admirable honesty this week that the Dublin Archdiocese is facing its greatest crisis in almost two centuries. The number of priests in parish ministry is in decline, church attendance dwindling, and even among regular Sunday Mass-goers weekly giving is not enough to sustain parish life in the diocese. This crisis is partly due to the damaging revelations in recent years about child abuse and the Catholic Church’s ingrained failure to deal appropriately with this crushing problem. But similar revelations have been seen in every other European country. The crisis Dr Martin and his diocese are facing is one created in part by the growth of secularism and the decline in faith.

But among those who still find faith and comfort in the Catholic Church, this is a crisis that cannot be left waiting for episcopal solutions. The number of Catholics who expect the church to be there when they need it is far greater than those who are regular Sunday Mass- goers. The average Catholic still wants and expects the church to be there for the rites of passage – baptisms, weddings and funerals – to provide schools for their children and pastoral care for ageing parents, and to be a moral leaven within society. None of this comes without a cost. Yet only one Catholic family in three in Dublin is contributing to the upkeep of their local parish. And the average contribution of €2.13 is less than the bus or Luas fare from most Dublin suburbs to the city centre.
As Dr Martin knows, cracks have long been visible in the edifice. Now he must fear there is a danger that the building is beginning to crumble. Parishes are being clustered, so some parishes are without a parish priest and share a moderator or administrator with neighbouring parishes. Pressures on the diminishing number of clergy mean many funerals have an evening removal without the presence of a priest. What is afflicting the Dublin archdiocese is soon going to haunt other dioceses in Ireland – if they are not already aware of similar trends.

A crisis can be faced as either a threat or an opportunity. Some solutions can be found within the Catholic Church in Ireland. Dr Martin is aware of the need for a new catechesis or planned teaching for adult Catholics, and there is a pressing need too for the development of lay ministries, although this too is hampered by the ever-dwindling financial resources. But the most obvious answers are outside the control of Dr Martin and his colleagues in Ireland. Yet, for the majority of priests in Ireland today, these are no longer radical concepts.

Now is the time for Irish bishops to put new pressure on Rome to consider other options in ministry: the development and deployment of permanent deacons, both men and women. Remaining on the current course is arguably the road to interminable decline – despite many Irish Catholics wanting the church to be a central part of their lives. In that context, an end to celibacy and acceptance of married priests; and, eventually, the ordination of women to the priesthood, must be considered if a road to regeneration is to be found.

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