Many Irish are Catholic by culture rather than conviction – bishop

Abortion vote: Bishop of Kilmore Dr Leo O’Reilly says church no longer dominant in society

The Catholic Church is in a "new reality" in Ireland where it is no longer the dominant voice in society, a senior bishop has admitted.

Bishop of Kilmore Dr Leo O'Reilly said the new reality is that many people are now Catholics by culture rather than by conviction, judging by the results of the abortion referendum.

Bishop O'Reilly spoke at the Kilmore diocesan pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine of Knock. He suggested the Catholic Church could no longer impose its will on people, but would seek instead to "welcome all those who shelter in its shade".

He said the outcome of the abortion referendum had left many Catholics with a “mixture of shock and sadness”.

That sadness was, he suggested, a result of the end to the “culture of life that marked maternity care in Ireland. It has now been fatally undermined. At this time we are all in need of new hope and encouragement.”

However, he discerned from the referendum campaign an “army of people, young and old, who campaigned to retain the Eighth Amendment”.

‘Decisive turn’

The Church in Ireland had taken a “decisive turn” towards the laity who were dominant in the campaign to retain the Eighth Amendment.

He said lay people were now the “new evangelists”, who for the first time in his life were in the vanguard of proselytising for the Catholic Church.

"The dream of the Second Vatican Council for the role of the laity in the Church is coming true," he told the congregation at the Marian Shrine.

“For the first time in my life we have had a nationwide mission of evangelisation led and carried out – not by bishops, priests or religious – but by lay people. A mission, not preached in churches, but rather in radio and TV studios, in hotels and homes, on doorsteps and streets. That is truly a quiet revolution.”

Bishop O’Reilly confessed to being “lost in admiration” for the people involved in campaigning to retain the Eighth.

He told them:“You may be disappointed with the results, but do not be. I pray that this will be the beginning of a new phase in the Church’s mission of evangelisation, and especially of spreading the Gospel of Life. The campaign to protect the lives of unborn children in Ireland has not ended. It has only just begun.”