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Ireland: Archbishop Martin laments slowness of apostolic visitation

Catholic World News - June 03, 2011

Stating that “the coming five years will be among the most critical in the history of recent Irish Catholicism,” Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin called for the speedy release of the results of the recent apostolic visitation of the Church in Ireland.

“I can say that I am impatient to learn about the path that the Apostolic Visitation will set out for renewal for the Irish Church so that our renewal will move forward decisively,” Archbishop Martin said on June 2. “At the same time I am also becoming increasingly impatient at the slowness in the process which began over a year ago. This is not a criticism of the Holy Father. It is an appeal to his collaborators. The pace of the change in Irish religious culture is such that the longer the delay in advancing the fruits of the Apostolic Visitation, the greater the danger of false expectations and the greater the encouragement to those who prefer immobilism to reform, and the greater the threat to the effectiveness of this immense gift of the Holy Father to the Irish Church.”

Archbishop Martin made his remarks in an address to national delegates involved in preparations for the 2012 International Eucharistic Congress, which will take place in Dublin.

“Many outside of Ireland still believe that Ireland is a bastion of traditional Catholicism,” he told the delegates. “They are surprised to discover that there are parishes in Dublin where the presence at Sunday Mass is some 5% of the Catholic population and, in some cases, even below 2%. On any particular Sunday about 18% of the Catholic population in the Archdiocese of Dublin attends Mass. That is considerably lower than in any other part of Ireland. For the second time since I became Archbishop of Dublin there will be no ordination to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Dublin and the coming years indicate only a tiny trickle of new vocations.”

“Certainly my greatest concern is the rift which is growing between the Church and young people,” he continued. “We have bright, intelligent, generous and idealistic young people. Most will have been educated for most of their time in school in Catholic schools. However from a relatively early age they drift away from any regular contact with the Church and especially from Sunday Mass. Now it is true Sunday Mass attendance is not the only statistic which indicates an affiliation with the Church and with the mission of Jesus Christ. But it is hardly possible to remain truly a Christian if one has no contact over years with the Eucharist. This is why the Eucharistic Congress can offer an important contribution in the path of renewal.”

Archbishop Martin added:

Too often the renewal agenda of Irish Catholics is driven by an inward-looking agenda of reform of Church structures. Such an agenda will have very little appeal to those who have really lost contact with the Church and regard such reform as interesting but of little relevance to their lives, indeed it might lead them only to further alienation …

I for one believe that the secularization of Irish culture is very advanced. There are those who feel that my evaluation of the current situation is too negative and gloomier than that of others. I do not think so. I believe however that my evaluation is realistic. If we do not address realities realistically then we will not make progress …

For me the great difficulty is that the Church in Ireland too often is trying to address the challenges of today with the pastoral structures which served well yesterday. Many of our pastoral structures and strategies are no longer fit-for-purpose. They presume that the country is driven by a culture of mass-Catholicism while this can no longer be presumed.

A system in which practically every child in second class in our schools automatically makes his or her First Communion and every child in sixth class in elementary school receives Confirmation is no longer in tune with the real realities of faith. The danger is to reduce the sacraments to social events.

What has happened and is happening in Ireland is painful. I am not just talking about the horrors of abuse. I am talking about our failure in passing on the faith to the coming generation. Part of that failure is a failure of believers to witness their faith in coherent forms of service relevant to the current cultural situation …

The Holy Father initiated a process of support for the Irish Church which is set out in his Letter to the Catholics of Ireland. His commitment to the Irish Church is remarkable. I have experienced only support from him in my mission through his teaching and his personal support … I think that you can see from my reflection just how much I look forward to the Eucharistic Congress as a vital element in the reform agenda of the Irish Church.

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