Jury out on Irish Catholic Church’s future

The “jury is out on whether the Irish Catholic Church has a discernible future,” a founder member of the Association of Catholic Priests.

Apart from being a “convenient scapegoat for the ills of Irish society”, the church has virtually disappeared in the media.

It has also vanished from public debate, modern Irish writing and the lives of the young.

“Once we mattered too much in too many ways, now we’ve moved beyond antipathy into apathy,” Fr Brendan Hoban says.

It may have a ceremonial presence on the official sidelines of Irish life or be a refuge for those ill at ease with the modern world, but that would be its limit, Hoban suggests.

Refusing to face the truth about the state of the Church in Ireland is “a form of religious treason”, he says.

Hoban claims the people who want to move forwards “can no longer afford to indulge those who cling to the wreckage of the past”.

“For the Irish Catholic Church, the tectonic plates really have shifted” but people were still “trying to build a scaffolding around a house that has already collapsed.

“All the targeted parish programmes, all the parish councils in the world, all the experts sitting in offices with secretaries and computers, all the prayers in Christendom, won’t put the old church back together again. Its day is done,” he said.

Hoban says two papal visits – one in 1979 and the other last year “bookended the decline of Irish Catholicism”.

In his view, the first visit falsely promised Ireland’s Catholics new glorious age of Irish Catholicism was about to begin.

The second “announced the end of a version of Catholicism no longer acceptable to the vast majority of Irish Catholics”.

Hoban says today’s Catholicism is expected to focus on:

  • intellectual rigour
  • a communicable theology that connects with the lived experience of people
  • a robust commitment to a respectful re-imaging of our church
  • an honest acknowledgement that clergy in the interests of the gospel need to divest their control and authority
  • a consensus that a robust synodality is the obvious and only way forward.”


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