The uncertain future of Catholic Ireland

The College Chapel at St. Patrick’s College of Maynooth has 454 carved oak stalls for seminarians and priests. They run in serried ranks down the length of its nave, making it the largest choir chapel in the world. The church itself is a masterpiece of Gothic Revival, and the ceiling of the church offers a kind of visual catechism, taking worshippers through salvation history by means of painted images.

Since St. Patrick’s College’s founding in 1795 in County Kildare as the national seminary for the Catholic Church in Ireland, it has trained over 11,000 priests—not just for Ireland, but for the global church. The seminary also inspired two major missionary societies, the first directed to China and the latter to Africa. Many American Catholics may also remember that the parish priest of their childhood was from Ireland; that man was likely trained in Maynooth.

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When construction on the College Chapel began in 1875, Maynooth was the largest seminary in all of Christendom. It is no accident that the media portrayal in the United States (and many other countries) of a Catholic priest is of an Irish man with a thick brogue. In 1899, 82 priests “for Ireland, America, and Australia” were ordained at Maynooth.

In the fall of 2017, a new class of first-year seminarians arrived at Maynooth to begin their training for the priesthood.

There were six men.

Ireland in the Coming Times

In total, there are 36 seminarians living at Maynooth this year (another 25 are assigned to Maynooth but live elsewhere). The decline in priestly vocations in Ireland is paralleled by similarly stark decreases in numbers for men’s and women’s religious orders. “The decline in vocations is not even the biggest problem we face,” said Stanislaus Kennedy, R.S.C., known throughout Ireland as Sister Stan, a social justice advocate and founder of the charity Focus Ireland, now the largest voluntary organization in the country. “The biggest problem is the decline in participation by the laity, especially by the young people.” Recent surveys confirm this, showing steep declines throughout the Republic of Ireland in religious practice and reception of the sacraments.

More than 90 percent of Irish Catholics reported attending Mass at least weekly in the early 1970s; recent surveys put that percentage at between 30 and 35 percent.

More than 90 percent of Irish Catholics reported attending Mass at least weekly in the early 1970s; recent surveys put that percentage at between 30 and 35 percent in recent years. In the Archdiocese of Dublin, it is less than 20 percent, and some urban parishes report weekly attendance as less than 2 percent of the Catholic population. As many as one in ten Irish now identify as “nones,” claiming no religious affiliation.

The numbers augur an uncertain future for the Catholic Church in Ireland, long a place where Catholicism seemed sure of deep roots and high adherence to practice and tradition. Will Ireland follow the same trajectory as Quebec, an overwhelmingly Catholic culture that almost completely rejected the church in two generations to become one of the most secular societies on earth? Or will it resemble the Catholic Church in the United States, where a community diminished by sex abuse scandals and a decades-long vocations crisis still bleeds numbers but seems vital enough to survive? Or will there be some unanticipated future for the famous “land of saints and scholars”?

How and Why?

There is no single cause for what ails the Irish Catholic church, but without question a primary source of anger and disillusionment is the crisis caused by sexual abuse of young people by members of the Catholic clergy and religious, which was doubly painful in Ireland because of the all-encompassing authority of the Catholic Church over Irish society throughout the 20th century. The pervasiveness of clericalism in Irish Catholic culture contributed to a culture of noblesse oblige among the clergy, and civil authorities were far more likely to defer to bishops and the superiors of religious orders when deciding whether to pursue cases of misconduct. Reports of other kinds of physical abuse in Irish schools, orphanages, “Magdalene laundries” and other church institutions have been legion in the Irish media in recent years. Coverups and transfers of repeat abusers was easier in a society that reflexively trusted religious institutions. That trust has been badly damaged, if not destroyed. “The priests thought they were more powerful than the police,” one man in a pub in Galway told me, “and they were right.”

This disillusionment is not felt only among laypeople, either. I conducted a group interview with the Rev. Michael Mullaney, who is the president of St. Patrick’s College at Maynooth, and the Rev. Michael Collins and the Rev. Tomas Surlis, both directors of formation at the seminary. They noted that the seemingly endless revelations about sexual and physical abuse in the church had deeply affected priests and seminarians too, not to mention potential vocations.

“There’s a sense of bereavement among the clergy as well [as among laypeople], and a sense of fear around intimacy,” commented Father Surlis. “There was a tactile nature to the ministry of the priests and the religious orders, to their interaction with the people, and that is not so much the case anymore.”

“That has affected our work with young people,” Father Mullaney agreed. “That trust and that connection was broken. It’s very hard with that air of suspicion present…. We have to rebuild that trust, and that’s going to take a lot of time.”

A second reason for Ireland’s changing church profile is perhaps counterintuitive when one considers the first. The Ireland of today is an extraordinarily open society, economically and culturally. An English-speaking, well-educated population was poised to benefit from globalization and the technology boom of the 1990s and early 2000s. Ireland also benefited handsomely from joining the European Union (and then suffered deeply from E.U.-mandated austerity measures after the 2008 economic collapse). Full membership in the European Union brought infrastructure improvements, access to new markets and immigration—the last an awkward reality for a largely homogenous population unaccustomed to diversity of creed, culture or ethnicity.

The economic successes of Ireland after full integration into the European Union and the acceleration of globalization were due to two things, commented the Very Rev. Diarmuid Martin, archbishop of Dublin, in an interview in Dublin in November. “We had a very well-educated workforce, and we had an open economy. We were ready for it. But with the open economy comes cultural openness…. That’s a positive thing, but it means we have to realize that the dominant forces in Irish culture come from outside Ireland in many ways.”

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin: "We have to realize that the dominant forces in Irish culture come from outside Ireland in many ways.”

Rapid urbanization has also changed Irish society. The Republic’s population will soon pass five million (still far below an estimated eight million in 1848, immediately before the Famine), but fully 50 percent of that population lives in the vicinity of Dublin. Other studies have noted that fewer than 10 percent of the Irish workforce is involved in agriculture. The church is grappling with how to evangelize a changed society even while that society is rapidly being transformed before its eyes. The Taoiseach (prime minister) of Ireland, Leo Varadkar, recently called for a referendum in May that could make abortion legal, a prospect that would have been unthinkable just 10 years ago. Mr. Varadkar is also the first child of an immigrant (his father was born in Mumbai) and the first openly gay man to be elected Taoiseach.

Traditional roles for women have also changed dramatically outside the church, but not inside. “There’s no doubt that generations of women feel that they haven’t been included in areas of responsibility in the church, not necessarily just the priesthood,” Archbishop Martin said. “Grandmothers feel this way, mothers feel this way, but their daughters feel in a much stronger way that [the church] isn’t necessarily a place where they belong. You can’t deny it.”

For generations, the church relied on Irish society, particularly the schools, to be the primary vehicle for faith formation and transmission.

Archbishop Martin was blunt in pointing out another source of malaise: the Irish church’s unwillingness in the past to engage in significant evangelization efforts or faith formation on its own soil. For generations, he said, the church relied on Irish society, particularly the schools, to be the primary vehicle for faith formation and transmission. Since catechism in schools was almost universal and many were run by religious orders, few parishes invested resources in adult faith formation. The identification of the Republic of Ireland with a persecuted Catholic Church, the ubiquity and hegemony of church institutions, and cultural taboos against lax religious practice all contributed to keeping the pews full.

“An atheist could learn the catechism by heart and regurgitate it all the time, and never move towards faith,” Archbishop Martin said. “We learned all the rules and the norms, and it was presumed that the basic elements of faith were there…. People felt that there was really very little need to evangelize, that being born into Irish society made you a Catholic.”

Some more traditional voices in the Irish church have laid much of the blame for the decline in vocations and church practice on exactly that loss of traditional religious strictures since the Second Vatican Council, but the formation staff at Maynooth thought otherwise. “If we hadn’t had Vatican II, the decline would have been worse. The disconnect with the world would have been more glaring,” said Father Collins. “At least Vatican II has equipped the church in some way to negotiate the huge social changes we could not have predicted.”

“The key and core insight of the Second Vatican Council is the ecclesiology of communion,” added Father Surlis, “this idea that we are together, disciples on the road. It’s almost as if the Spirit is forcing that upon us, at one level. Yes, the decline of vocations into the priesthood and religious life is worrying, but it’s leading to the emergence of a healthier, more balanced church in this country.”

Culture and Contradiction

The outward signs of a deeply Catholic nation are still visible everywhere in Ireland. The post office in one town outside Dublin, for example, advertises in its window, “Signed Mass cards sold here.” In the middle of Dublin, a huge Nativity scene in late November advertised “Dublin City Council lighting up the city at Christmas.” Passengers still routinely make the sign of the cross when their train or bus passes a church. Shrines and crosses are everywhere, alongside highways as much as along the narrow country lanes, and not all are in ruin.

“Culture tends to be consistent, and in my experience there is nearly always a return to the roots of culture,” commented Mary Kenny, an Irish journalist and a founding member of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement as well as author of Goodbye to Catholic Ireland, in an email interview last December. “What has been will be.... I think the deposit of Irish spirituality will remain, and I’m often surprised by how well-attended Mass can be in Ireland. Recently, on Nov. 1 [the Feast of All Saints], I caught a Mass at Clarendon Street [in Dublin]. Standing room only!”

This attachment to a cultural faith is often expressed alongside a dismissal of the church in ways that can appear openly contradictory. One taxicab driver assured me that he would never darken the door of a church again, so angry was he at the sex abuse scandals and at a culture where clerics held unlimited authority over society. And yet he expressed open affection for the priest who buried his father; and when I pointed out that a St. Padre Pio prayer card graced his windshield, he answered, “Well, of course. He’s my patron saint.”

That same man also objected strongly to recent educational policies that exempt non-Catholic immigrants to Ireland from Catholic religious instruction, because “you can’t be Irish if you don’t learn our faith.”

That combination—a rejection of the institutional church alongside open affection for individual pastoral figures, including parish priests and Ireland’s large number of women religious—was repeated numerous times over eight days of conversations. Again and again I heard some variation of “the church is such a part of Irish life” stated by people who then noted matter-of-factly that they had long since stopped attending Mass.

A Numbers Game—or Not

“From one perspective, something is dying,” said Father Collins. “But from another perspective, you can see that we are in a liminal space: Something new is emerging. There’s something very vibrant happening. That sounds almost like a contradiction, but I think it is the reality.”

As positive factors among disappointing numbers, Father Collins and his fellow priests at Maynooth pointed to the endurance and even growth of other sources of Christian nourishment in Ireland, including pilgrimages, public novenas and frequent visits to nontraditional worship sites, such as the Marian shrine at Knock or the many healing wells and legendary “thin places” of Ireland. The philosopher Charles Taylor has called this style of religious practice “the culture of festivity” in his book A Secular Age, noting that a population of mobile Christians, less tied to familial dwelling places or multigenerational traditions, is more open to “religious experiences” than to regular practice. Ms. Kenny agreed with Mr. Taylor’s thesis, noting that despite widespread secularism and consumerism, pilgrimages like the one to Santiago de Compostela in Spain are more and more popular, and “cathedrals are attracting terrific crowds all over Europe. God works in mysterious ways.”

The Irish church can also rely on a pre-Christian Celtic spirituality whose subtle (and sometimes obvious) influence is everywhere in Ireland.

In this sense, the Irish church can also rely on a pre-Christian Celtic spirituality whose subtle (and sometimes obvious) influence is everywhere in Ireland. Lough Derg, an ancient Celtic religious center that became a Catholic pilgrimage site, grows more popular with every passing year. The same is true of Croagh Patrick, the “Holy Mountain” that is dedicated to St. Patrick but whose religious significance stretches back five millennia.

Similarly, both Archbishop Martin in Dublin and the formation team at Maynooth mentioned the coming World Meeting of Families in Dublin, from Aug. 21 to 26, as a highly anticipated event that should draw huge and enthusiastic crowds. Pope Francis is expected to preside at the closing Mass, making him only the second pope in history to visit Ireland. The first papal visit, by John Paul II in 1979, drew more than 2.5 million people to various public Masses and ceremonies—almost half the population of the island.

At the End of the World

Directly west from Dublin by 150 miles, but a world away in almost every other respect, Inishmaan is one of the Aran Islands, three rocky outposts that sit at the entrance to Galway Bay. They are a geographic extension of “The Burren,” a huge limestone formation that forms much of the topography of nearby County Clare. Though the unforgiving climate and scarce resources of the islands made them little more than bird estuaries for much of known history, evidence of monasteries and abbeys from the fourth century can be found on all three, including the purported homes of St. Colmcille, St. Abigail (St. Gobnait in Irish) and St. Enda. The Aran Islands are a reminder that Christianity did not spread organically or in any kind of territorial sequence. There were Christian monks in the Aran Islands before Augustine wrote his Confessions; there were monasteries on Inishmaan three centuries before Britain was converted to Christianity.

The islands became more heavily populated in the 17th century, covered by farms cultivated by rural Irish peasants driven from their lands during Oliver Cromwell’s genocidal persecutions of Catholics. “They can go to hell,” Cromwell is reputed to have said of Ireland’s Catholics while driving them west, “or they can go to Connaught.” Some scholars estimate half of Ireland’s 1.5 million people died in the violence or the ensuing famines. The British also used the Aran Islands to imprison captured Catholic priests before they were sold into indentured servitude in the West Indies.

“They can go to hell,” Cromwell is reputed to have said of Ireland’s Catholics while driving them west, “or they can go to Connaught.”

The islands have almost no natural soil, and the process by which settlers coaxed life out of the hard ground seems born of a superhuman stubbornness. Carting sand and seaweed up the hills and cliffs, farmers cleared land by stacking loose rock in dry-stone walls and then spreading the sand-seaweed mixture directly atop the limestone surface, finally applying a thin layer of topsoil. From this soil could be coaxed a meager crop of potatoes and other vegetables, as well as grass for grazing cattle and sheep. Fishing also provided nutrition, though frequent storms and treacherous wave patterns made this a perilous endeavor. Many a gravestone or memorial marker on the islands bluntly reads “Drowned.”

Even today, the islands are remarkable for their isolation and stark, wild beauty. They are also among the few remaining places in Ireland where all the residents speak Irish fluently. On a walk to the top of Inishmaan at the end of November, I became convinced there was a woman keening nearby in the ruins of a monastery. No; it was the frigid Atlantic wind screaming through the chinks of the island’s endless dry-stone walls. Enda and Abigail, I thought, were of sterner stuff than we; so too the modern-day residents; so too the thousands of priests who listened to that banshee scream as they awaited a prison ship and a life of forced labor. For anyone with an interest in the history and dynamism of Christianity, these islands are a source of fascination.

But today, the Irish clergy shortage means that the three islands share among them one priest. The residents of Inishmaan have Mass in winter on every other Sunday.

Revised Expectations

What is the future for Catholic Ireland? Some of the institutional responses to a diminished church will be familiar to Americans: parish clustering, increased reliance on professionally trained lay ministers, greater stress on evangelization beyond the catechism taught in the schools. “We need to do a lot more catechesis and youth ministry,” said Father Mullaney, “as well as reaching out to people who have been disaffected or alienated because of the [sexual abuse] scandals.” Lay salaries—in parishes and in schools—will need to be funded, either publicly or privately, to a greater degree than those of priests and religious in the past.

“I have heard priests and bishops say that we will be a smaller church, but that we will have a stronger identity,” commented Sister Kennedy. “But I don’t think that’s the way to go—that kind of church will be one that is removed from the life of many of the people. What we need instead is a total renewal, a transformation of the way we imagine ourselves.

“We need to bring laypeople into every part of the church,” Sister Kennedy continued. “The pastoral part, the sacramental part, the administrative part. It is not enough simply to encourage people to be eucharistic ministers or to serve on the parish finance committee. Real renewal will [require] laypeople participating in every aspect of the church.

“In the Irish church, laypeople are the ‘outsiders.’ Until laypeople are seen as an integral part of the church and participate fully in it, the church will continue to decline and become a small congregation with little influence,” she said. “If laypeople participate fully as ‘people of God’ as ‘Gaudium et Spes’ proposes, with preferential support for the poor, the priesthood and the rest will take care of itself. And the church, while separated from the state, will have its own place and a clear role: bringer of good news to the whole of society.”

The “sacramental famine” brought on by clergy shortages may prove even more painful for Ireland than for the United States, as the Irish church has not experienced the huge numbers of vocations to the permanent diaconate that the U.S. church enjoyed in the decades following the Second Vatican Council. And another vocation crisis is no less pressing, even if coverage of it is more muted: an unprecedented decline in the number of women religious in Ireland. These women are some of the most beloved public figures in Irish culture.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin: "We need a church that is relevant more than it is dominant."

Archbishop Martin predicts that the church will seem diminished in many ways but will always be a vital part of Irish life. “We need a church that is relevant more than it is dominant,” he said, and that can sometimes mean looking beyond numbers to larger questions. “There are parishes that have never been as vibrant in the past as they are today, even though numbers may be smaller,” he noted. “But it is a worry that most of those vibrant parishes are middle class. And you have to ask yourself: Why is that? The middle class tends to be the most comfortable and most conformist grouping in society. And the believing community can’t just be a conformist grouping. It must somehow or other be shaking people out of conformity.

“The Irish church has to change gear. And has to notice that the gear has changed.”

Brave New World

Archbishop Martin also cautioned against equating the reality of Irish life with the cultural perceptions of what he called “the Auld Sod brigade,” Irish-American descendants of emigrants whose sentimental memories (real or not) of Ireland are not always or often shared by the nation’s residents. The world of potato farms improbably coaxed out of rocky soil, or of Gothic Revival chapels full of sturdy peasants on the path to the priesthood, has more life in those sentimental memories than in reality. The church may never again look as it did in Maynooth 100 years ago, but the history of places like the Aran Islands suggest it will persist in some vital way. An unexpected personal discovery during my visit suggested that the future of Irish Catholicism, whatever it may be, is tied up with the future of an Ireland that is now far different from what many Americans imagine.

A sister of mine lives with her Irish-born husband and children outside Dublin. I stayed with them for several days during my reporting for this essay. Her eldest son is at Belvedere, the Jesuit prep school in Dublin (its most famous alumnus: James Joyce); her youngest son attends an “Educate Together” school, where catechism is taught after school rather than as part of the curriculum. Both her daughters attend a Catholic school with over 1,000 students. In some ways, exactly what I had expected.

But at one point I heard her on the phone with two of our other siblings discussing future travel plans. A visit from the United States had been complicated because her eldest son had a water polo tournament in Malta, and her eldest daughter had a field trip that same week to Norway. It was a shock to me, and would be that to the “Auld Sod brigade” as well.

The Irish are Europeans now.

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Luis Gutierrez
6 months 4 weeks ago

As long as the exclusively male priesthood remains normative, the shortage of vocations will continue and none of many other pending issues of human sexuality can be resolved. The culprit is the obsolete patriarchal "binary" that defies modern science and common sense.

For the redemption, and the sacramental economy, the masculinity of Jesus is as incidental as the color of his eyes, The church is "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic," but not necessarily patriarchal.

As everyone who can read knows, the 1994 letter "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" was a EXECUTIVE ORDER (to the bishops, and not a dogma!) to stop discussing the absurdity about the church having no authority to ordain women. The 1995 "Responsum ad Propositum Dubium" was FAKE NEWS. How can a doctrine be made infallible by invoking a doctrine, Lumen Gentium 25, that was never proclaimed infallibly?

It is time to stop the systematic abortion of female priestly vocations. After 2000 years, perhaps it is time to start aborting male priestly vocations and ordain only women for the next 2000 years or so.

This proposal would be in perfect continuity with apostolic tradition. See the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1598, which literally says that the exclusively male priesthood is a choice (first sentence) and who has the authority to make the choice (second sentence).

The required revision of the Code of Canon Law would be minimal. Simply replace "vir" by "persona" (as "in persona Christi") in canon #1024. See St John Paul II's "Theology of the Body" for further explanation of "persona" and "communio personarum."

If the Holy Spirit can guide the church through the shame of the child abuse crisis, navigating the transition to an exclusively female priesthood should be a piece of cake. The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Eucharist and Predecessor of the Apostles, will be with us now as we face the minor embarrassment of recognizing that the sacramental priesthood of the New Law is NOT necessarily patriarchal.

Henry George
6 months 3 weeks ago

Luiz,

You never miss an opportunity to beat your drum.
However the use of the word "abortion" is going to far.
You notion that there must be some sort of "payback" for 2,000 years of Male Priests
reveals you do not trust the Holy Spirit to move where He wills.

Nora Bolcon
6 months 3 weeks ago

With all due respect Henry it was never the Holy Spirit who moved us to be sexist and treat women like lesser humans than men and exclude them from priesthood any more than it was The Holy Spirit in our church who made our leaders decide owning and selling black people as slaves was good idea. These are man's ideas. I blame the whole church for the horrid treatment of women over the last 2000 years, male and female. Men because they pushed women down into voicelessness in our Church and women because they let them do so. Some things are worth dying for and justice and human dignity should be considered among these things.

Abortion means to cease something that is in progress - it isn't just a word about stopping pregnancy. So Luiz has every right to use it here in the context that he did. In fact, since the call to priesthood starts in the person's heart by God, and our church law works the will of mere men, to destroy that calling, and even has our leaders threaten with excommunication any women who admits to harboring such a call from God, I think abortion of female priestly vocations is quite an apt description.

Nora Bolcon
6 months 4 weeks ago

One more time!!!!

Dear Catholics in Ireland, and the rest of the globe. The solution to your problem is the following: Demand same sacraments be available to all Catholics, and half, if not all of your problems are remedied.

The Anglican church has more clergy than it has positions for the clergy to fulfill but they have women priests and bishops, and married of both and in both genders. The lesson: stop the hating and discriminating and abusing of half your church members and people automatically think your church is more attractive at least to lead in. After you make this change you need to evangelize your church more since no one goes into a church they don't know anything about. So both Anglicans and Catholics need to hit the streets more but Anglicans are already in a much better position to attract new members than Catholics once they do because they already have equality pretty well in place.

Stop hiding the abuse of the past - deal with it openly and admit wrong from the highest levels and ask for genuine forgiveness and create a clear plan for having any abusers punished by law enforcement quickly. Do not try to keep any child or other abuse in house and covered up. As Jesus tells us there is nothing covered that shall not be exposed. Since women priests would lower sexism which is directly linked to child abuse a fast ordination of many female priests would show some amount of good faith to both women and past abused children. Women religious might increase too if they felt they were respected as equals and had their own women priests and bishops like the male religious orders do.

After demanding women be ordained priests, And not before, as gender segregation under the umbrella of optional priestly celibacy is not an improvement but a much more abusive church than we have now, so only after we start ordaining women priests, we should consider ordaining married men and women to priesthood. We also need to demand women cardinals be created immediately and there should be no restriction on what they can become.

The laity should be trained as Lay Ministers, equally male and female, and not necessarily nuns and monks but each parish's actual laity, and these ministers should take on all the ministries permanent deacons did, both sacramental and non-sacramental because there is no law against them doing these things now so then we should encourage they be trained for this work and we should STOP ordaining permanent deacons everywhere immediately. Permanent Deacons stunt the growth and participation of laity and have added clericalism, sexism, racism, and wealth disparity to the parish level in our churches. This is never a plus.

A more active laity is not enough, we must prove ourselves a Christian Church by treating and ordaining all members equally. There simply is no more room for the hatred of bias, based on gender, race, ethnicity or wealth anymore in any diocese in any country. No diocese can afford to harbor these sins any longer.

We need to demand not ask that Pope Francis face this hatred of sexism himself, make our church face it and repent of it, and lastly act to cast this demon out of our church everywhere in the world and immediately. NO more excuses for waiting longer, blah blah blah.

I agree with what Luis says below:

Hierarchy may have its purpose in our church, but after Christ's death and resurrection, Patriarchy had and has none. It only serves to abuse, rob, demean, oppress and subjugate women. This is not the way of Christ.

Henry George
6 months 3 weeks ago

Nora,

You mean well but you put the 'Cart in front of the Horse'.

To achieve what you desire the Church needs to allow Married Priests.
Married Priests, like all good husbands, listen to what their wives tell them.
In due time you will have married Bishops.
They can petition the Pope to allow women deacons, priests, bishops...Cardinals and Popes.
[ Francis may suprise you and approve Women Deacons. ]

As for the Anglican Church in England, America and Canada -
despite all their attempts to engage modernity - there chapels are empty
and their congregations are very old.
Your wanting to have the Catholic Church follow their changes is only a recipe for disaster.

Alas, the Irish have embraced the modern age and think they are ever more blessed by God
by the more material wealth and modern their ways of thinking.

Why is it they do not attend Mass - the liturgy was drasically changed to meet the
needs of modern peoples...and yet the do not attend.

Nora Bolcon
6 months 3 weeks ago

Well Henry,

If you ask the young of our church why they left and are not coming back, it is due to sexism, and priest child abuse at the top of their list.

I have no use for permanent deacons - of either gender - they do more harm to parishes than help them. So Pope Francis can keep that sad idea in a sack as far as I am concerned. The only deaconate I want women in is the transitional one.

As for good men listening to their wives, our permanent deacons do not support women priests as much as the celibate priests in our church do. Orthodox priests have been marrying for 2000 years, and throughout history have had women claimed to be called to priesthood, just like in our church, and they didn't do a damn thing to help them gain priesthood. Segregation thru optional male celibacy would put men in the place that God has cleared for women to justly be fit in, as priests, and finally begin to bring balance back to our church like it was in the first hundred years, when both men and women were presbyters (priests).

I would protest against gender segregation and recommend any Catholic do likewise and not attend any church that has a married man as any of its ordained pastors or co-pastors unless married women are being ordained too and celibate women have already been ordained priests.

Married men have had no injustice done to them. They could have been priests but chose marriage. Married men are actually slightly more likely to perform child sexual abuse than non-married or celibate men so there is no reason to pick them next for ordination and doing so only causes much greater sexism in our church. Since gender segregation would be a greater sin than the abuse we currently provide all our women, and would cause greater sexism too, it will also likely add to greater amounts child sexual abuse, at least statistically speaking.

Clearly, you suffer from a bit of misogyny yourself since you don't understand there is no reason on planet earth why women cannot be ordained to priesthood before married men and it is a matter of human dignity that they be ordained to priesthood first. Women are not going to put up with trailing behind men any longer.

As for the Anglican Church not being full - neither are we. Also, the parishes in the Anglican Church that have women ministers do just as well as their male counterparts. Our church leaders like to blame women priest and bishops as causing the Anglican Church's problems but they err when they do because when Anglicans survey themselves they come up with different reasons for their losses than women priests or our reasons in our church. They expected less of a decline in their birth rate which is lower than most other churches over the last 30 years, they have instituted LGBT bishops as well as female bishops which cost them some conservative members, they didn't make the change to women priests a central change from the start as a matter of human justice so sexism has continually dragged at the strength of this church even though women have been ordained for decades. We should fix this problem pronto and from the center immediately, and that will save us the constant drain of groups breaking off like what happened in the Anglican Church. Anglican Churches have always been kind of weak in the area of evangelizing too so this is also why their numbers are low. By the way, the brave priests that came from the Anglican Churches to ours in order to hate women and LGBT people more comfortably, haven't done very well for themselves here or in Australia.

Sexism is hate and sin, Henry - you simply need to stop supporting it.

John Walton
6 months 4 weeks ago

To understand the problems of the Catholic Church in Ireland one only need view two video series "Father Ted" and "Moone Boy" . Both highly recommended for a Friday evening chuckle. The vernacular in the Catholic Church of Ireland will be Polish or Ibo within 10 years.

Last Sunday a group interviewed on WFUV (the radio station of the formerly Catholic University of the the Bronx) said that there was more Irish music to be heard in the Bronx than in all of Ireland, Galway excepted.

John Walton
6 months 4 weeks ago

The "catholic College" of the Bronx purports to be in Riverdale, so is not to be accounted as such,...and one can not forgive them for stealing our Ram and painting it green.

Mike McDermott
6 months 4 weeks ago

The lack of faith and the lack of vocations in a historically Catholic country is nothing new. Look at France or Mexico. Both countries violently rejected their Catholic social moorings. It is always the same. We catechize all children with a shallow and weak rooted understanding of the faith. We fail to catechize the adults. We fail to be converted to Christ.

No, the problem is not the male clergy or the traditional teaching on sexual issues. It is a faith that has become a mile wide and an inch deep.

Nora Bolcon
6 months 3 weeks ago

Actually Michael, I would say to some degree it is all three. Yes, I agree there are some Catholics who seem to think Catholicism is everything goes. Even some progressives justifying polygamy in Africa if it will get African men to convert to Catholicism. I call that a drive so left you are actually landing deep in the land of the scary right wing where women are lesser things.

I also took my two kids out of faith formation and am teaching them at home. I did this because they are both 1 and 2 years away from confirmation. Now mind you I am one of the teachers and have been most of their faith formation time up until this year. What I began to notice is my kids were lost in the missal when we actually were worshipping during mass. They were lost because that information really is not taught in the curriculum. They know who the pope is and a basic understanding of the hierarchy, and a little scripture, and a little on The Virgin Mary and the other saints but really did not grasp much of what the liturgy is for or about and weren't really following along. When I quizzed them on the structure of the mass, they were lost. I believe this is because we teachers get them for a whopping 1 hour a week for about 20 weeks maybe and by the time they settle down after prayers there is only 40 minutes really and the curriculum is just poorly chosen as some years repeat what the previous 3 years taught while leaving other basic things having to do with the mass out almost entirely. Even my son the altar server really wasn't very sure why he was doing the tasks he was doing - what the work truly symbolized well.

So although I definitely blame misogyny and unfair use of Holy Orders as a sacrament against women instead of one that includes them and strengthens them equally to men, and our concepts regarding birth control simply need to change asap, I can also agree that there is a lack of good faith formation at all levels in most parishes and a basic lack of integrity or belief that the Gospels mean what they say and need to be followed and there are negative consequences in life when they are not followed.

Joseph Healey
6 months 3 weeks ago

Very well written article. Congrats, Jim.

Barry Fitzpatrick
6 months 3 weeks ago

Well done, James. And my hat is off to Sister Kennedy, quoted in the article, who seems to have a better grasp of the danger of the so-called Benedict Option than most. That is the "smaller but more faithful and stronger identity" group in the Church. SIster is right on the mark when she says that is not the way to go as it will push us further to the periphery, removed from the lives of many. No, the way to go, while filled with apprehension and the unknown, is to start fresh, start anew, and take what is best about us (not the rules and regulations) and form a new identity, rich in the tradition that the Catholic Church enjoys, yet ever welcoming of all things and all people that lead us closer to Christ. I returned to Ireland for the 8th time this fall and found it refreshing, certainly not the Ireland I visited for the first time in 1957, and a country alive to the growth that is so evident within it. I also found that to be true at Mass in Carndonagh, Donegal. Not the muted, barely audible responses of years gone by, rather a welcoming spirit and a parish filled with ministy outreach as well as strong sacremental presence. Sister Kennedy is so wise to lead us to one key element of the way forward, "real renewal will require laypeople participating in every aspect of the Church." And when we get there, terms of distinction like "lay" and "clerical" will give way to all of us who wish to know Christ taking part in all aspects of that journey.

Aidan McAleenan
6 months 2 weeks ago

As an Irish priest living and thriving in an African American parish in Oakland California I feel sad reading this piece on the Irish church. I recognize that the writer, James T. Keane, is a visitor and therefore might miss significant elements of what the church in Ireland is doing or not doing. Having been a Redemptorist seminarian in Ireland from 1980-through 86 and then taking a slight break of 15 years working in San Francisco, to be finally ordained for the Diocese of Oakland in Ireland in 2005, I see things a little differently from James. In my personal experience, orders like the Redemptorists embraced Vatican 11, and some priests I know in my home diocese of Dromore did also...but my feeling is that apart from turning the altar around and using the venacular little more was done to embrace the spirit of the council. When you reported to clergy and lay about the gift of the Catholic Church on left coast and the joy celebrated in many parishes and diocese you would hear "thats an oul American thing". As an example standing at the door of the church and greeting people. Irish people are shocked when you do that...they wonder whats up? As opposed the the proverbial walk from the sacristy, mass and a return to the sacristy. I do that when I go to Banbridge and I find the people are delighted. Last time I was there a nieghbour told me her dad, who was with her, was turning 90.
During the Mass I honored him in the prayers of the faithful...well the poor man and his daughter nearly levitated with delight. Smiles all over the church. Such a simple thing.
What is also missing from this report is a critique of Jansanistic anti-hunman sexuality that destroyed many lives...not just in Ireland but was exported to the church in the USA. The well educated young of Ireland have used their church given open education to decide this is wrong. They understood with the recent referendum on gay marriage that they should use their own God given intellect and sence of humanity and vote contrary to the bishops of Irelands missive on the said subject. Recently I did a retreat in my diocese of a large school. I joked about having 16 aunts and uncles and over 40 cousins....and said contriception was not an option in 1960's Ireland. Two of the teachers walked out... After the retreat I asked the principal for the teachers names and I went to their classrooms where they accused me of being against church teaching and Humane Vitae. I protested strongly...that I was giving a statement of fact. Today in Ireland there is no room in families for priests, nuns and brothers because families are not 10 or more but 1 or 2. A large contributing factor to the decline of clergy and religious.
Lastly what is missing from the church is leadership. Let the lay people in for God's sake they are fully functional good people who are educated and they know what is necessary to help the Irish church survive.
Francis is coming to a very different church than the one Pope John Paul 11 came too.... I love Pope Francis ....and I know he will lead and speak to the reality of the Irish church as it is today and what it could become.
Of course there will be those who will say ...what does he know...he has lived in California for 30 years...well I know a "wee bit".

Richard Neagle
6 months ago

The faith is dying in Ireland as it has been in the rest of modern western civilization since Vatican 11. The sexual abuse scandal was certainly a knife through the heart of the church , but it was already mortally wounded by modernist destroyers of faith filled with the "Spirit of Vatican 11".
The only way back is traditional solid catechesis of the youth and especially to reintroduce preaching on the four last things. Death , judgement,heaven and hell. Also the mystery and wonder of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist should be preached by true believers again and again to the lost generations of youth.

"Catholic lite "has had fifty years to produce fruit , but we see only decay. Forget the folk masses and the" church of accompaniment" , we need a church that preaches the truth that has been handed down to us for two thousand years , not one that strains to adapt to a corrupted secular society.

Dr.Cajetan Coelho
5 months 4 weeks ago

God bless Ireland.

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