Are there big changes coming for the Church in Ireland?

From the Irish Examiner comes something that makes sense.

Vatican has ‘dramatic’ plans for Irish Church

By Jennifer Hough

Saturday, August 13, 2011

THE Vatican is planning “something dramatic” for the Irish Church in the coming months which could see the number of dioceses significantly reduced and most of our current bishops replaced, it has been claimed.

Writing in the Irish Catholic, David Quinn, founder of the Catholic Iona institute, said “rumours” are circulating in Rome that a new, slimline hierarchy might be on the cards.

Mr Quinn said “we should hope and pray” that the Vatican is bold enough to make such a move because if the Church in Ireland is to have any hope of recovery then it needs a hierarchy that can look the public in the eye again.

It is not the first time such suggestions have been raised.

Theologian and former student of Pope Benedict XVI, Fr Vincent Twomey, emeritus professor of moral theology at Maynooth seminary, has also said we have too many dioceses — 26 — for such a small Catholic population.

“At the very most, 12 dioceses would be sufficient in Ireland, including a reduction of the size of the Archdiocese of Dublin to the present county boundaries,” he has said.

He suggested that the size and the nature of the Bishops’ Conference works against effective leadership at local or national level. Each bishop fears to tread on the toes of the others, not to mention criticise them.

He has also advocated for every Irish bishop appointed before 2003 to resign, claiming that the Catholic Church in Ireland has been without any leadership effectively for the last 15 years.

Maybe all of Ireland could be placed under the new Re-Propaganda Fidei – er um –  New Evangelization?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Jackie L says:

    Of all places…

  2. Glen M says:

    I wonder if this “Marshal Plan” will be extended to other countries – like all of them?

  3. Scott W. says:

    Anyone heard anything more about the legislation in Ireland and Australia regarding confession? I ask because my prediction was that the states wouldn’t have the stones to do it (plus the deadly precedent it would set for any profession with confidentiality aspects), and I haven’t heard anything since the story first broke.

  4. sea the stars says:

    Big changes are necessary for Ireland. The only way to restore the Faith is to apply the axe, however painful it maybe. Father Twomey speaks a lot of sense.

    To paraphrase a quote from Yeats:
    “Catholic Ireland is dead and gone
    It’s with O’Leary in the grave.”

  5. asperges says:

    For English Catholics of “a certain age”, the Church in Ireland has always been a bit of an enigma. Some Irish clergy in the past who served here and tried to impose their ways had a manner which did not sit at all well with us. Of course most were kind and good and did wonderful work. Despite all this, one always had a sneaking admiration for Ireland as a Catholic country which we were not.

    Listening now to even nice old ladies interviewed on Irish radio, to say nothing of the sheer nastiness of the recent political outburst, there seems now a very bitter popular opposition – nay, hatred – towards the Church and a freefall of trust and faith which is very marked. There is a particular enmity, it seems, suddenly towards the Vatican (and presumably the Pope) for reasons I do not fully understand: towards their own hierarchy might have been more expected.

    Rome is not deaf to these things, and it cannot afford to lose Ireland which it seems to be doing fast. One would expect some sort of shake-up, but possibly the only real way to make an impact and bathe these deep wounds, may be, as I have also heard in vox pop interviews, that the Holy Father should himself visit Ireland. What is worrying is what sort of reception he would get.

  6. shane says:

    The proposal for an amalgamation of dioceses is floated constantly by Fr Vincent Twomey, a former student of the pope. I suspect (and hope) it will not happen. As I said on the Rorate Caeli blog, the problem with the Church in Ireland is not the dioceses but rather the men who govern them. Amalgamating dioceses will do nothing in itself to solve that. While it may be necessary in some instances, because of demographic changes, the excessive focus on it as some sort of panacea for all our problems is a distraction. Small dioceses have many advantages; they allow the bishop to administer greater pastoral care and supervision over his diocese — the lack of which was clearly a contributing factor to the scandals (and the negligent handling of them) in the first place.

  7. Johnny Domer says:

    I’m afraid that this rumor was leaked to the media in order specifically to keep it from happening. Is that a reasonable fear?

  8. Ioannes Andreades says:

    I also share the scepticism that reducing the number of dioceses will have the effect that Fr. Twomey envisions. Why would fewer bishops mean that bishops would be less reluctant to criticize each other? I agree with shane about the advantages of smaller dioceses. Think about Los Angeles and Boston. Those were enormous dioceses in the U.S., the dioceses where most of the damage took place. Bishops, not just vicars for clergy, need to know their priests.

  9. shane says:

    Catholic World News thinks this is very unlikely and I have to agree. (Fr Twomey — who is actually retired and has little influence — has been saying this for years and it still hasn’t happened.) If bishops can’t properly govern the small dioceses they have now, how they are supposed to manage larger ones?

    I like the idea of sacking bishops — but ALL bishops — not just those appointed before 2003 and for reasons that are only partly/nothing to do with the sex scandals. Fr Twomey’s suggestion that greater lay involvement is needed in the appointing of bishops is also a very bad idea.

  10. frjim4321 says:

    Don’t know if any changes will bring the men back to church in Ireland. Seem only the women and children are going anymore.

  11. Dave N. says:

    It seems like if this were the direction that the Vatican is headed, their first step would have been to accept the resignation of Irish bishops Walsh and Field last year. But no. Now if these very same bishops are sacked, the Vatican is going to look very foolish. Maybe someone is willing to eat crow on this on this issue, but I remain pretty skeptical. But I do hope it comes to pass–I think many people would see this move as the Church finally taking the cover-up piece of the sex abuse scandal seriously.

  12. Re: fewer is better —

    There’s a lot of research that shows that, if a group is too small, people have trouble starting a discussion; and if a group is too big, most people drop back to invisibility, and discussions are dominated by a few particularly active and assertive people (sometimes even just one or two). Then there’s a sweet spot where there are just enough people for everyone to have their say, as well to have their own identities and projects within the group.

  13. TNCath says:

    Oddly enough, I think the crisis exists more in the larger cities (Dublin and Limerick) than in the small towns, where the churches are still quite full despite the scandals, shortage of priests, and unbelievably bad liturgies that take place almost universally there. I’m with Fr. Z: under the New Evangelization perhaps bishops from other countries (who have an understanding of both Ireland and the situation) need to be appointed to oversee the reform of the Church on the Emerald Isle.

  14. shane says:

    An interesting take here by a young layman (..I disagree with him about bishops and I think he oversimplifies historical Church-State relations, but he’s right that the Church will survive..) :

  15. UncleBlobb says:

    Has either the mass consolidation of dioceses of a nation or group sacking of bishops anywhere ever occurred in history?

  16. robtbrown says:

    frjim4321 says:

    Don’t know if any changes will bring the men back to church in Ireland. Seem only the women and children are going anymore.

    The men left when the liturgy was Protestantized–just like everywhere else in the West.

  17. jbpolhamus says:

    I have said for some time, most recently to a most esteemed hierarch of my acquaintance, that a radical alteration in the episcopate in many countries is necessary, perhaps something reflecting the vicariates-apostolic in countries where the church has been persecuted and suppressed in times past. In todays cases, the church’s identity is being persecuted by its own bishops, as well as having its material well being endangered by the same, and it’s time they were canonically prevented from doing it any further. The “diocesan” model of church governance is in a failure state, for one reason or another. Models of governance based on Personal and Universal prelature, or large scale vicariates-apostolic are needed. The time is now to make radical changes in the administration of the church, and there are plenty of models in line with tradition, from which to draw. I hope the pope does bypass the vandal bishops of Ireland. Perhaps it will put the actual fear (respect) of God back into those who retain their authority…for now.

  18. Tantum Ergo says:

    The situation in Ireland demands radical measures and decisive action for correction. If heads roll, perhaps other bishops throughout the world will sit up and take notice. The liberal coup d’etat after Vatican II has bequeathed the Warm Fuzzy Era to to the Church, the era of “wine into water theology.” Isaiah 22 speaks about the Chancellor Shebna, one bad dude, who gets his position and authority yanked and given to Eliakim who “will be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” There IS precedent for the removal of shepherds who feast on their flocks… a precedent directly from Scripture. Great care must be taken not to condemn the innocent with the guilty, but a major house house cleaning is clearly in order.

  19. salve95 says:

    The Church in Ireland is doing so badly compared to her previous glory. :/
    This hits home particularly for me because I’m an Irish Catholic by heritage and Abp. Michael Neary of Tuam is my cousin (though I’ve never met him) and it makes the sense of suffering in the family more intense because it literally is family suffering, we should pray for all the bishops.

  20. anna 6 says:

    Unfortunately, I fear that what ever occurs with the Vatican’s response, the media and ultimately the faithful will not be happy…

    They were assured by the media of resignations of certain bishops last year. When that didn’t happen people were angry.

    The pope’s beautiful, and heartfelt letter to the Irish Church was largely dismissed because people had been led to believe (through rumors and by the media) that the pope would lay out a business plan to change aspects of the Irish Church…despite the fact that it was always clear that the letter would be strictly “pastoral” in nature.

    I do hope that there are big changes in store for the Irish Church, however the dictates of the media will not be the criteria that the Vatican will use. The faithful will be told to be bitterly disappointed and surely, many will follow the order.

    Ireland remains in my prayers.

  21. Maltese says:

    “Rome is not deaf to these things, and it cannot afford to lose Ireland which it seems to be doing fast.”

    She’s already lost such Catholic stalwart countries as France (with 3% of the Catholic population attending mass on any given Sunday).

    I spent a month studying the European Union at Trinity College in Dublin in 2000. Then the “Irish Tiger” was really gaining steam.

    Ireland sold her soul to mammon with her 26th Amendment (which ratified the Treaty of Nice and Maastricht). Initially, it seemed a great thing: an influx of Euros building up Ireland’s infrastructure with new roads, etc. Now that parts of Europe are on the brink of economic collapse, including Ireland, might she have been better off without capitulation to Brussels? Interesting question!

    Brussels has also been pressuring both Malta and Ireland to allow abortion for many years. Just weeks ago Malta finally caved-in on the question of divorce. It will only be a matter of time before they cave on abortion. Liberalism is a steady stream which slowly infects a society. The liberalism of Vatican II infected the Church pell-mell.

  22. Stephen D says:

    Whatever is done, I hope that it induces consternation, apoplexy and fear in (most) of the bishops in the rest of the British Isles. Bring it on.

  23. Athelstan says:

    As I said on the Rorate Caeli blog, the problem with the Church in Ireland is not the dioceses but rather the men who govern them.

    There is the difficulty that the current diocesan structure was created in a time when the Irish Church was a lot bigger than it is now.

    But that aside, perhaps Twomey’s concern is that it may be difficult to find sufficient number of really high quality priests suitable to promoted to the episcopacy in its current size in Ireland any longer. I have no close acquaintance with the situation on the ground, but what I do hear doesn’t fill me with confidence that that concern may be misplaced.

    But either way I would take my chances with a whole scale replacement of the bench.

  24. jaykay says:

    Athelstan: “There is the difficulty that the current diocesan structure was created in a time when the Irish Church was a lot bigger than it is now.”

    No, not really. The diocesan structure was basically established in the 12th century reforms (there have in fact since been mergers and reorganisations, particularly after the seventeenth century devastation). The population of Ireland was a lot smaller at that time, even if everyone belonged to the church, with no real cities or even towns of any size i.e. a dispersed rural settlement pattern. One might even say that the current church-going population, albeit shrunk from 19th and 20th century glory days, is probably equal to that of the 12th century.

    As to whether amalgamations are the solution, I’m not sure but I would tend to disagree. People in Ireland still feel an incredible loyalty to parish and county (less so to the province) as can be seen in sporting events, but I don’t know anyone who identifies with their diocese. On that level I would say that any diocesan reorganisations would be met with a shrug of the shoulder. But, as others have said, will a larger unit necessarily “respond” better than a smaller one? We’re not talking about a commercial organisation looking for increased efficiency through merger and take-over, but this almost seems to be the impression given. I think this managerial mentality has already played enough havoc with the church here, when what is needed is actual on-the-ground and visible leadership in fidelity to the Magisterium – something conspicuously lacking in many cases heretofore. From that point of view I can’t see how larger diocesan structures might solve many (or any?) of the present problems.

  25. Supertradmum says:

    Changing diocesan structure will not stop the rot, which is caused by the secularization of the Irish people for three generations now. An Irish priest told me this week that the people were “being stupid” about the Church, demanding a Protestantization, which is an insult to all the Irish martyrs, such as Oliver Plunkett, who died for the purity of the Faith. Can we not pray to him for guidance? The people want to blame everyone except themselves for the demise of faith. Diocesan changes will only hurt the old and infirm in the country, who have a hard time getting to Mass as it is. As to the bishops, one can hope for better, but there is a leadership crisis among priests who would be the pool for bishops in Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England. Where is the leadership? In the Republic, as well as in Great Britain, the Church is dysfunctional, like a family without a father. This may be changed with new bishops, but from where are the new ones coming?

  26. asperges: Rome … cannot afford to lose Ireland


    Our Lord said that the hell would not ultimately prevail against the Church, but He didn’t make any promises about Ireland. Consider the once thriving Churches of Asia Minor and North Africa. In North Africa, where there were Cyprian and Augustine and Catholics of fierce faith, there is now only sand and scorpions.

    Why should Ireland not fall away into the abyss of faithlessness and relativism?

    As they have sown so do they now reap.

    Yes, it is sad to see Ireland and pretty much everywhere else in Europe slide away into darkness. But people cannot be forced to be faithful.

    If Ireland is to the “saved” for the Catholic Faith, then something very new needs to be tried there. It is time perhaps for penance on the part of those who still practice, and return to traditional practices.

    Now that I think of it, isn’t that what Pope Benedict recommended in his Letter?

    A new missionary spirit, and even perhaps missionaries, must rekindle the Irish people.

    Otherwise, good luck with that whole judgment thing on the other side.

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