Radical overhaul may see reduction in dioceses

A radical overhaul of the Catholic church in Ireland may see a reduction in the number of dioceses in the Irish Church, says Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin.

Martin has also called for a radical overhaul in the training of priests.

Outlining his vision for renewal which would include a “reduction and rationalisation of dioceses” and a “revision of the arcane workings of the Irish Episcopal Conference”, Martin recalled the Apostolic Visitation to Irish dioceses announced by Pope Benedict XVI in his 2010 ‘Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland’.

Martin said: “It is well known that I was unhappy with many aspects of the Visitation and its results.”

Despite being well-intentioned, Martin said “the visitation froze the renewal of the Irish Church for some years” and the results were “disappointing.”

This led a number of dioceses being left vacant for years. In addition, some of the ideas of the visitation were put on hold, including the rationalisation of the number of dioceses.

“We need to take a radical new look at the formation of future priests. A culture of clericalism is hard to eliminate. It did not come out of nowhere and so we have to address its roots in seminary training. There is no way we can put off decisions regarding the future,” Martin said.

At present Irish bishops are preparing to draw up a new programme for the formation of priests. The new programme will see seminarians spend more time working alongside priests in parishes.

Martin says at present the Church in Ireland is coming out of one of its most difficult moments in its history.

He said the Irish Church would have to live with the fruits of its actions and its inaction and with the grief of its past, “which can and should never be forgotten or overlooked.”

While there was “no simple way of wiping the slate of the past clean, just to ease our feelings”, he also stressed that the Church in Ireland cannot be imprisoned in its past.

From being the culture of an enlarged faith community into a heavily secularised culture, in Ireland faith no longer plays a major role in people’s lives, Martin noted.

He also sounded a note of caution over Catholic education, which despite investment in the structures of school-based religious education and enormous goodwill, was not producing the results that it set out to achieve.

“We have great teachers in our faith schools. The system is also such that teachers who do not share the faith find themselves at times teaching something of which they are not convinced.

“There are fundamental fault-lines within the current structure for Catholic schools that are not being addressed and unattended fault-lines inevitably generate destructive energies,” he said.

He added that future leadership must represent lay, clerical and religious, women and men, young and old.

“We all agree on this, but nothing seems to happen.” As a result, he stressed, “The alienation of so many women only increases.”


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