DUBLIN, Ireland, MAY 10, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The archbishop of Dublin and primate of Ireland admits he’s discouraged about the future of the Church in this country, but affirms there are many who love the Church, and it is these people who can bring reform.
In an address given today at the Ely House of the Knights of St. Columbanus, which was posted on the archdiocesan Web site, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin gave a wide-ranging look at the Church in Ireland.
He spoke of the sexual abuse scandal so prevalent in the country, but also of staple Church priorities such as Catholic education and the level of parish dynamism.
“The Church is a reality of faith,” the archbishop said. “As a person of faith I know that the future of the Church in Ireland is not in my hands, but that its future will be guided by the Lord, who is with his Church at all times.”
And he added: “Renewal is never our own creation. Renewal will only come through returning to the Church which we have received from the Lord.”
Archbishop Martin affirmed that the most obvious reason for discouragement is the sex abuse scandal, but a deeper reason, he said, “is that I do not believe that people have a true sense of the crisis of faith that exists in Ireland.”
“We have invested in structures of religious education which despite enormous goodwill are not producing the results that they set out to do,” he stated. “Our young people are among the most catechized in Europe but among the least evangelized.”
The prelate observed: “There are clear indications that in the face of so many other curriculum pressures and extracurricular activities religious education is in fact being shifted to the margins of school life in many Catholic schools. […]
“[T]he system is also such that teachers who do not share the Catholic faith find themselves teaching something of which they are not convinced. […]
“Our system of religious education […] more and more bypasses our parishes, which should together with the family be the primary focal points for faith formation and membership of a worshipping community.”
Archbishop Martin also noted that often “discussion focuses around challenges in the area of sexual morality where the Church’s teaching is either not understood or is simply rejected as out of tune with contemporary culture.”
But, he said, there is “very little critical examination of some of the roots of that contemporary culture and its compatibility with the teaching of Jesus.”
The culture at large is another source of worry, the prelate suggested. He said it has “drifted from being the culture of an enlarged faith community into a heavily secularized culture.”
“For many, faith no longer plays a major role in their lives and they feel that this in no way compromises their ability to be good, honest and caring people,” the primate reflected. “Believers, albeit unknowingly to themselves, often view the reality of faith through a secularized lens.”
Archbishop Martin attributed his “greatest discouragement” to the “failure of interaction between the Church and young people.”
“I visit parishes where I encounter no young people,” he said. “I enquire what is being done to attract young people to parish life and the answers are vague. Everyone knows that there is a missing generation and perhaps more than one, yet there are very few pastoral initiatives to reach out to young people.”
The prelate admitted that “I have perhaps raised more questions than provided answers to the theme about which you asked me to speak this evening: the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland.”
But, he said, planning should begin with “hard facts, which are inevitably today troubling facts.”
The prelate noted that in the archdiocese, there are 10 times more priests over age 70 than under age 40. “There is no way we can put off decisions regarding the future,” he affirmed.
But Archbishop Martin ended on a hopeful note, suggesting there is no lack of true reformers for the Church in Ireland.
He explained: “The agenda for change in the Church must be one that comes from its message and not from pressure from outside and from people who do not have the true good of the Church at heart. […] [T]rue reform of the Church will spring only from those who love the Church, with a love like that of Jesus which is prepared also to suffer for the Church and to give oneself for the Church.
“Thank God there are many who love their Church: lay persons, religious and clergy. We love the Church because the Church is our home, the place where we encounter the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ and where we gather in love to break bread in his memory.”