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Transform Church structures, Irish archbishop suggests July 18, 2005

The Catholic Church in Ireland must "revolutionize our structures of faith formation" to answer the challenges of the 21st century, according to the Archbishop of Dublin.

"The pastoral structures of the Church must be structured in such a way that the believer, young and old, knows that he or she belongs to a community which desires that they be free, responsible and fully human," said Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, in a July 18 speech. He continued: "A Church with participatory structures will be more effective in this task than an authoritarian one." Archbishop Martin's lengthy speech was an answer to the question: "Will Ireland by Christian in 2030?" In framing the question, the archbishop said that he was surprised by the "superficiality and the anecdotal evidence" that is regularly introduced in answer to that question.

The Primate of Ireland produced his own answer by noting that only 60 percent of Ireland's people attend Mass each Sunday, any political party would be delighted to have 60 percent attendance at their regular meetings. He concluded: "There is no room for complacency, but Christianity is healthily present in Irish society."

The archbishop argued that many observers have inaccurate ways of measuring religious belief and affiliation. "There are non-practising Catholics who are genuine believers and there are also many who practice but who may not really believe," he said.

Regarding popular attitudes toward Christian faith, Archbishop Martin continued: "Too often that faith based on love and forgiveness has been distorted into an exacting, negative rule-book."

"I am amazed," the archbishop repeated, "at the insecurity that surround the faith of so many." He added: "A relationship which engenders insecurity, anxiety, and fear is not the Christian relationship of faith in God."

Rather than a faith based on authority, Archbishop Martin argued for a faith based on active involvement. He said: "A Church with participatory structures will be more effective in this task than an authoritarian one." Mature Christians should bring their faith to bear on the secular world, the archbishop said. "If creation is the Lord's," he said, "how can we not share the wealth of the world equitably, how could we squander the resources of creation, how could we maltreat or abuse or exploit any other person?"

At times, the Irish prelate said, the Christian approach to society "may have to be counter-cultural." He called attention to the need to preserve the family, and mentioned his concern about "pervasive secularization and individualization of the institution of marriage."

While he expressed optimism about the future of the Church in Ireland, the archbishop offered a more restrained answer to the question that formed his topic. "I would be very surprised," he said, "if in the year 2030 Ireland was a totally pagan land," he said-- "if there was not residual presence in Irish society of the values of Christianity and that that presence was not the major inspiration for the ethos of the country, even though it would be a question of generalized adherence to such an ethos with a generous range of interpretation and tolerance regarding what that ethos actually implies."

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