IRELAND’S LARGEST Catholic diocese is facing its biggest crisis since emancipation in 1829, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said.
“The change that will take place between now and the year 2020 – just eight years away – will be enormous. I am more and more convinced that they will be the most challenging years that the diocese has had to face since Catholic Emancipation,” he said.
He was speaking after a report found that weekly Mass attendance in Dublin is down to 14 per cent (164,000 out of a Catholic population of 1,162,000).
Of those who do attend Mass it found that “all Sunday Mass-goers could almost be accommodated at one Mass per church per week”.
Meanwhile, priests’ incomes have been cut by 15 per cent over the past two years as Mass collections as well as Christmas and Easter dues, which are for the support of priests, are down 4 per cent in the past four years.
Second collections at Masses, the “Share collection” for support of diocesan agencies, the Bishops’ Conference and poorer parishes are down 2 per cent over the past four years.
The average weekly contribution per person at Mass to the first collection (for priests) is €1.34, while the average contribution to the “Share collection” is €0.81.
The average weekly contribution per family to the upkeep of the parish through envelopes, standing orders and so on is now €2.13, with just one in three families contributing anything.
The report by diocesan financial administrator Kieran O’Farrell also found that the number of priests in Dublin will drop by about 36 per cent in the next eight years, from 456 to about 294.
By 2020 just 235 priests will be available to serve full-time in Dublin’s 199 parishes.
The remainder will be serving as chaplains or at central services.
The basic income of Dublin’s priests has dropped to an average €24,079 per annum, with increments for years service ranging between €840 and €2,820. A parish priest or administrator gets an additional €4,827 per annum.
Separately, 153 clerical abuse claims have been settled by the archdiocese at a cost of €14 million. All money for such claims comes from the general fund, which is made up of bequests and donations to the archbishop, to be used at his discretion.
Such bequests and donations average between €1 million and €2 million a year. No money used in such settlements comes from collections or parish funds.
In reaction to the report, Archbishop Martin said there was “a real change in the religious culture of this diocese”.
He said that “societies like our own, where faith and the Christian life once flourished and faith communities were strong, are now undergoing a far-reaching transformation.
“Today we encounter not so much a situation in which people are torn between two realities, one God’s and the other Caesar’s, but a world in which in many ways the reality of God is slowly being eclipsed and men and women live their lives as if God does not exist.”
The cultural infrastructure “which for decades supported belief and the transmission of the faith began slowly to show signs of wear and tear”, but “for many, the recent sexual abuse scandals – and the mismanagement of the response to them – were the final disillusionment with the church, and from indifference they moved to anger at the church,” he said.
“We are going down a road which is uncharted. That can be unnerving,” he said, but, “we should not overlook the signs of hope that are present within the church in Dublin.”
Numbers attending church may be down, “but there are parishes which have never been as vibrant in their history as they are today,” he said.