The Archbishop of Dublin has decried the rise in Ireland “of groups which are clearly populist and racist”.

Driving the news

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin spoke to the Irish Independent December 24 about the next general election, which could be held in 2020 and which the archbishop insisted “will have to be fought on the things which will make Ireland a more egalitarian and a more just society”.

“People will always be fearful about security, about jobs, about the standard of living. If those are assuaged, then they can’t be exploited by these people”, Martin said.

The archbishop added that, in any case, political parties campaigning on anti-migration platforms can’t call themselves Christian.

“Racism is a sin”, Martin stressed.

“Irish people are genuinely generous and welcoming and want to be that – it is part of our tradition”.

The big picture

As well as populism and racism, Martin also expressed his worries over the “violent criminality” in the inner-north of Dublin.

Gangs in the area are “an extraordinarily dangerous presence in our society” who are “showing two fingers to democracy”, the archbishop deplored, decrying especially that they’re turning children into drug mules and addicts.

“Once you get trapped into that, you never get out of it. If you get out of it by dying – your family then has to pay the debts”, Martin lamented.

But the archbishop rejected intervening in the gangland warfare, explaining that “a mediation between these gangs would only allow them to come back to their day-to-day work of killing – not killing one another, but killing people through the drugs that they flood on the market”.

Go deeper

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Martin also defended the changes he introduced earlier this month in the system of preparing children for First Communion, shifting emphasis away from schools and on to parents and parishes.

“We are not pulling religion out of the schools”, the archbishop insisted.

“We are not even pulling First Communion and Confirmation out of schools, but we are having a much greater involvement of parishes and parents in that”, he explained.

Martin clarified that the changes were necessary to put an end to practices such as €800 communion dresses and limousines for first communicants, which he said were “exaggerations” based on “a wrong understanding of what First Communion is”.

Downplaying claims fewer children will sign up for the sacraments as a result of the new diocesan first sacraments policy, the archbishop insisted the theological understanding will improve and “the quality of the entire effort” will go up as a result of the changes.

Where it stands

One other issue the Archbishop of Dublin spoke to in the interview was the future of the National Seminary in Maynooth, presently celebrating its 225th anniversary.

Clarifying that neither Maynooth nor the Irish College in Rome “are finished” for good, Martin said both schools’ “rich history… of ups and downs” didn’t mean it wasn’t time for a “new chapter”.

“Nobody thinks we are going to go back to a seminary of 500 people”, Martin lamented.

“We have to prepare that new chapter and the new chapter will mean that another chapter will be closed”, the archbishop said, warning that turning the page will require “courage and openness”, especially in the face of inevitable resistance to change.

The plan drawn up by a working group of bishops for the future of Maynooth currently envisions the “successor of the current seminary” become “a centre of formation”, a centre of theological training and a vocations office, all at the same time, Martin explained.

“All of those three could be focused in Maynooth but not in a closed-in Maynooth”, the archbishop added.

For the record

One final point Martin addressed in the interview was the question of his succession as archbishop, which could come as early as next April, when Martin turns 75 and is obliged to offer his resignation to the Pope.

Nuncio in Ireland Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo said last week that the Vatican is in no rush to find a successor to Martin, but Martin said the decision “is up to Pope Francis”.

“Pope Francis knows what I think. I have no ambitions to hang on to power. If anything, the opposite”, Martin commented.

“We are in a situation in Dublin where we’re in a positive mood to move forward. But it is much more difficult for an elderly bishop to make the decisions that have to be made”.

As to who exactly might take on his mantle in the Irish capital, Martin said there could be a surprise there.

“The Pope also has his own ways of doing things. In a number of cases recently he has appointed people totally outside the decision-making process to a major diocese”, the archbishop recalled.

Martin continued playing his cards close to his chest in another interview December 26, saying only that the man to follow him “needs energy”.

“I did say to [the Pope] that I believe that the amount of change that’s needed now in Dublin, that’s underway, is such that it needs someone with more energy than I have”, Martin revealed, adding “I basically believe that change would be good”.

“The church in Dublin is moving in the right direction. We’ve got begrudgers, but I think we’re moving along in the right direction”, Martin continued.

He gave as an example of a positive sign the fact “that parishes are being revitalised by a really effective ministry of lay men and women who carry out a lot of the services”.

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