Catholic Archbishop of Dublin says belief has ‘vanished’ in Ireland

Reduced numbers may afford an opportunity ‘to reimagine the institutional Church’

Evidence of Christian belief in Ireland today "has for all intents and purposes vanished," Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell has said. This "underlying crisis of faith" was "particularly acute among the younger generations," he said.

“Public commentary in the media in Ireland has not been positive in its understanding of the Church and its need for vocations, and for public support of those trying to preach the Gospel,” he said.

Archbishop Farrell made the comments in an interview with the 2021 edition of 'Síolta', the annual journal of the national seminary at St Patrick's College, Maynooth.

“The challenges facing me are pretty clear. We have an ageing clergy and very few vocations to the diocesan priesthood or religious life. There is a major decline in the number of people who actively practice and live their faith.

“Faith needs ritual, embodiment. One must see in people how faith is lived. Today the visibility of faith has for all intents and purposes vanished. I am also dealing with the legacy of sexual abuse scandals which have damaged the Church’s credibility. Since finance is a function of numbers, financial issues will arise which will be accelerated by the global pandemic and its aftermath,” he said.

“The current model of the Church is unsustainable,” he said. In Dublin there was need “for an effective programme of catechetics throughout the diocese to add to and, eventually, replace the current teaching of faith to the young. With the gradual decline of family socialisation in religion, the role of the qualified catechist will be essential. In my opinion, the handing on of the Faith to the young is one of the most serious challenges facing our Church today.”

Not pessimistic

Bishops and priests needed “to encourage a participatory institutional model of Church with a leadership of service,” central to which “is the People of God, who comprise 99.99 per cent of the Church’s members. When this is grasped all else changes,” he said.

Generally, he was “not pessimistic about the future of the Church in Dublin.” He said that “when young people volunteer to look after the sick, or the elderly, or the poor, when accompanied, it may facilitate a dynamic where the Lord starts to speak and move the heart of the young person. We need to start here rather than telling people to go to Mass.”

“This time of reduced numbers may well afford us an opportunity to be creative and to reimagine the institutional Church. We have not been abandoned by God. God is to be found in this situation,” he said.