Fundamentalist Catholics are turning people off church in Ireland
We need a new kind of church that attracts those seeking social justice and care of the earth
Fr Joe McVeigh: “The most urgent need in our church is not for deacons or priests but for qualified catechists who would lead the people in reflecting on the scriptures”
The scarcity of priests in our diocese of Clogher has hit home in Enniskillen. There used to be five priests. We now have one parish priest, one full-time curate and one semi-retired priest for 3,000 families and 9,000 parishioners.
During a recent discussion about the future with the other priests in our parish in Enniskillen, it occurred to me that the most urgent need in our church is not for deacons or priests but for qualified catechists who would lead the people in reflecting on the scriptures.
It could be done along the lines of Lectio Divina, but with a strong emphasis on reading the word from the viewpoint of the poor and marginalised. That is how I saw it being done in parishes on a visit to El Salvador. This is the only way that renewal will take place in the Irish church in my lifetime.
There is so much richness that has not been explored. The emphasis has been too much on the sacraments and fulfilling duties. There was little emphasis on adult faith formation, based on reflecting and praying the scriptures in small groups.
Training parishioners to lead bible reading
We urgently need women and men who are competent and confident enough to lead small groups of parishioners in bible reading and reflection. It would be important that those engaged to carry out this missionary work would have an understanding and appreciation of the gospel of the poor and oppressed.
Each parish would identify women and men who might, with some training, be able to provide this kind of leadership. They would need to be familiar with the scriptures and not get carried away with some of the eccentric religious practices of fundamentalist Catholics active in many parishes today.
These are turning good people off the church. The only way to deal with them is to offer an alternative .
Implementing this strategy will need a great deal of planning by the church at diocesan and national level. The positive thing is that there are so many good people willing and able to help in the renewal of the church in Ireland; so many willing to take responsibility for taking the church in the direction of serving the poor and marginalised as envisioned by Pope Francis.
There is no point in hoping that things will get better. They won’t without a definite plan and the sooner our church leaders realise that the better.
Numbers at Mass dwindling
I think that many in the church see no way forward. They realise that over the last 10 to 20 years the numbers going to Mass have been dwindling. Those who have gone away will probably not come back to regular practice. A new kind of church needs to be created which will attract those committed to social justice and the care of the earth.
I think that when trained catechists become available a liturgy of the word might replace morning Mass at least one day a week. This is the only way that I can see any kind of future for the church in Ireland.
I believe it would address the greatest need in our parishes today – the need for a living biblical faith. If we do not offer this opportunity to our people, I believe the church will be finished in Ireland within a short time.
If we offer people the chance to discover the power and meaning of the scriptures, I believe we could be sowing the seeds of a new church and the revival of the Christian community in Ireland.
It would be great to have the blessing of the Irish Episcopal Conference for such an approach and it would even be better to see some parishes piloting such a project.
Fr Joe McVeigh, a priest of the diocese of Clogher, is semi-retired and ministers in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh