Faith formation


Sir, – In 2005, I wrote to Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh, strongly advising that research be conducted on the effectiveness of Irish Catholic schools in forming faith. That advice was based on three decades of experience of teaching in such schools in Northern Ireland (1966-96), as well as the experience of my own children who were educated in those schools.

Archbishop Brady wrote back to say he would recommend that suggestion to the next meeting of northern bishops. I never received word of the result.

Subsequently a 2016 query to the Irish Conference of Bishops –on whether any such research had been conducted or considered – received no response either.

No such research has been published since.

Meanwhile in 2011 our bishops published a 10-year plan – called “Share the Good News” – to make adult faith formation the pivot of a new catechetical plan involving schools, parishes and parents.

By next year, 2021, that plan should have been fully implemented and visible everywhere – but last year, in your own pages, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin asked, “Where is it?”.

Why do Irish bishops collectively meet four times annually in Maynooth to kick the most obvious cans down the road?

Is there any more road? – Yours, etc,



Co Derry.

Sir, – Anthony O’Leary (Letters, September 16th) warns of the Catholic ethos being diluted at church-run schools, so that faith is not passed to the next generation.

He contrasts this with the relative success of evangelical churches in transmitting their faith to younger members.

Many traditional churches have seen declining numbers of members; and this needs to be set in the context of major societal changes.

If we were to step back from detailed sociological analysis, and treat the question as a chess puzzle for a couple of minutes, what would readers see as the wisest endgame on offer to church leaders?

I am not sure that successful indoctrination of children is the main reason for spectacular evangelical church growth.

Where many evangelical churches score positively is on the teaching of apologetics to adults, respecting people’s autonomy and encouraging them to look at the evidence for faith for themselves (see and the Zacharias Trust website). From a more scholarly angle, website by Rev David Robertson is magnificent.

As a member of the Church of Ireland, I often cast an eye over the fence at evangelical churches, and envy the range of internet resources which the tradition produces.

Much has been written about “plausibility structure” when the decline of religion in western countries has been analysed.

A great problem is the sheer weight of positive evidence for the Christian faith in an age when people are sceptical, tired and information overloaded. The final words, from the Gospel of John, suggest that this is by no means a new problem: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” – Yours, etc,