Sunday Mass in every church to become a thing of the past, Dublin Archbishop says

Future of Catholic Church ‘must be different’, and active participation of laity is ‘essential’, says Dermot Farrell

Dublin’s new Catholic Archbishop has said celebration of Sunday Mass in every church will become a thing of the past and a declining priesthood will require a greater role for lay leadership.

In a interview on the day of his formal installation, Archbishop Dermot Farrell set out the current state of his diocese in numbers , 197 parishes served by 350 active priests with an average age of 70.

He said there was now a need to reorganise parishes both in terms of how they are divided out and the possibility of lay leadership.

“We need to talk to the people on the ground. Eventually we will only have possibly one priest per parish and maybe not even that many priests as we go forward,” he said.


“So more and more lay people are going to have to take responsibility in terms of the leadership that’s provided at parish level.”

Speaking to The Hard Shoulder on Newstalk , Archbishop Farrell also said a lot of church infrastructure has been in place since earlier centuries when things were very different and is probably no longer needed. He said decisions on church closures would be required.

“It’s certain that we won’t be able to celebrate Sunday mass in every church in every parish in this diocese,” he said.

“I think the Lord is probably saying to us at this time: I don’t want you to keep doing the things that you were doing 100 years ago, 200 years ago.”

Earlier on Tuesday, at a live-streamed mass from the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin to formally mark his installation, Archbishop Farrell said the future of the church must be different. “If I may turn LP Hartley’s famous phrase on its head: ‘the future is a different country, we must do things differently there’.”

This was “not to forget the past, and especially not the painful past where so many were hurt because our Church lost its hunger for the Kingdom and its justice .We must never again put what we consider the needs of the Church before the needs of the little ones ,” he said.

Attendance was limited due to pandemic restrictions but included his predecessor Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and papal nuncio Archbishop Jude Okolo.

In the future to which he had referred, Archbishop Farrell said “the active participation of the laity becomes essential. They constitute the vast majority of the people of God. Indeed, as St John Henry Newman, remarked perceptively, ‘The Church would seem foolish without them’.”

In that light “leadership in the Church is not about telling people what to do; rather it is about promoting co-responsibility and overcoming the mindset which runs the risk of relegating the baptised to a subordinate role, effectively keeping them on the edges of Church life.

“That is what we mean by a synodal Church – a church on the way with each other. The very first place synodality is expressed is at parish level. If it doesn’t happen in the parish, it will not happen at all,”he said.

Warmly welcomed

“I come to Dublin knowing very few of you,” he said, and that “there is no pre-packaged plan to address the reality in which we find ourselves. There is a direction, there are way markers,” he said, “they call us to build, or to re-build parishes marked by welcome, openness, forgiveness, resilience, and courage”

He thanked papal nuncio Archbishop Okolo for “his kindness, his humanity, and his infectious spirit of joy” and Archbishiop Martin who, he said, “provided forceful and unambiguous leadership, especially in the safeguarding of children where you took courageous positions. The Church and wider society owe you a profound debt of gratitude. We must do everything ‘never to slip back’.”

Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson has warmly welcomed Archbishop Farrell.

They had already corresponded, he said, and that the new Archbishop “takes up office in circumstances that challenge the pastoral heart of every Christian. For almost a year now, we have been working hard to stay together by staying apart,” he said.

"I personally look forward to the revival of the Good Friday Walk of Witness in a shared way and on the streets of Dublin. This walk bears visible witness to the faith in Jesus Christ that the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic traditions share," he said.

He assured Archbishop Farrell "of a heartfelt welcome on my own part and on the part of the clergy and people of Dublin and Glendalough. I wish him everything that is best in an arduous task for which I have every confidence that God will give him the strength and the compassion."

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times