The Catholic Church in Ireland seems to be in a constant state of crisis.
A crisis that often by its own actions has caused great uncertainty regarding what exactly does it mean to be a Catholic in modern Ireland. Secular media I suggest has created a very negative image. To be Catholic is a toxic brand.
Our identity is presented as dysfunctional, out of touch and irrelevant. Bishop Nulty’s recent pastoral letter addressing the challenges facing our dioceses is a conversation that every diocese are having on this island. Key to this conversation must be an honest and pragmatic realism coupled with the facts … we are where we are.
Fact: 78% of Irish citizens, in the privacy of their own homes in the last census named themselves as members of the Catholic Church. This is good news. Despite all the scandals and apparent dysfunction of its institution, still the majority of citizens feel a faith connection to Catholicism.
Fact: As a priest, I have never felt as contented or fulfilled in my ministry. Portlaoise is a thriving parish, alive, dynamic where thousands of families feel an active connection too. Not just at key moments in life, but also on Sundays.
It’s fantastic to witness full congregations a fact that is not the norm in most parishes. Our Parish Centre is truly a place of Christian life. Available everyday from 8:30am-10:30pm for the needs of our community. Its management and functioning led by lay people is a model for all urban parishes.
Despite secular media constantly bemoaning the dynamic of Catholic schools, I suggest that these sacred places house our greatest hope. Catholic faith-based schools are deeply inclusive, compassionate and excellent educational places. Places where young people find a moral pathway in their early life.
Catholic schools enjoy great support by families in every parish in this country. We must, in a very positive manner, defend the values and integrity of our Catholic tradition and offer every support possible to teachers in their Nobel vocation in building positive moral values to all students. No matter what gender, creed, culture, orientation, the heart of Catholicism must always embrace diversity and inclusivity.
I have great hope for the future. Yes I see the challenges but my hope is greater than my fears. It’s not my church. It’s a church that fuelled by the presence of Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever.
A church, where Pope Francis encourages us to peel back the layers and unpack its richness in our radical witness and true Gospel discipleship. The hospitality centre where food is distributed to vulnerable people in Carlow town to name as an example of a living church, in touch where Christ calls us to be.
One of the big concerns regarding the future of this Diocese and every Diocese on is the fact that priests are now elderly, exhausted and many burnt out.
Fact: priests are incapable of deciphering how do we manage ourselves, our duties, our parishes into the future, on our own. This most serious task must be managed together with lay faithful.
An aside, I was very disappointed with the lack of real insight that was brought to the recent Ad Limina visit by the Irish Bishops to Rome. Not one women nor lay person was present. That perhaps tells us why we are where we are.
For me I see clearly. Pope Francis encourages us to look forward and challenges us to stop looking to men in Rome for the answers. His pontificate is all about conversation not silencing those who ask important questions.
Clergy must be in the future allowed if they wish the option of marriage and family. Women must be given their proper place in the life of the church. It’s time their presence is as felt on the sanctuary as it is in the sacristy.
It’s appalling that women are not invited at least to partake in the permanent diaconate. Not one bishop made this point during the Ad Limina. It’s time for radical change that reflects an inclusive vision of Gospel values.
Our tradition is a Nobel one. We stand for life, compassion and encouragement. Our future in a progressive contemporary Ireland has a real place.
How we achieve this calls for bold and creative leadership.