Many of those who attended church services before Covid-19 will never return to public worship, while the Catholic Church will be a "significantly different" entity after the pandemic has passed, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said.
Speaking during his homily at St Mary’s Pro Cathedral in Dublin on Saturday, Archbishop Martin said the religious culture of Ireland – and especially Dublin – is “at a crossroads”.
“It is not the crossroads of martyrdom or oppression,” he said. “Certainly there is hostility towards the church from some quarters. The current change in religious culture is inspired more by indifference, uncertainty and at times voluntary rejection.
“The fact that there are in Ireland today more civil weddings than religious marriage ceremonies is not by imposition. The fact that, according to the last census, ‘no religion’ is the second largest population group after Roman Catholics is the fruit of choice.”
Archbishop Martin said the demographics of church attendance have already been impacted by the pandemic.
‘Another challenging moment’
“I believe that the challenges of church life due to the current pandemic are pointing the way towards another challenging moment for the church,” he said. “Many whose attendance at church services before the pandemic was fragile will never return to public worship.
“When churches were reopened for public worship for the summer period, numbers were low and the demographics of those who returned were different. Younger faces were noticeably missing.
“The numbers who will attend public worship in the foreseeable future will be significantly lower. It would be foolish to imagine that many of those who do not return to worship will not find themselves also drifting away from wider bonds with church life.
“The post-pandemic church will look significantly different to the church we traditionally knew.”
Archbishop Martin added that the church would need to bring its message beyond the doors of it buildings.
“In our current situation where attendance at public worship is suspended, we have constantly to remind ourselves that the Christian life is not suspended,” he said.
“Our church doors may be closed for public worship, but the message of Jesus Christ belongs not just within buildings. We must bring that message to those who are open to it, whether they are near to or distant from church, whether young or old.”