The Dublin archdiocese is looking for new lay ministries to connect beyond people around in the Church and ensure that it “thrives into the future”.

– “We need new ministries to make contact with those beyond the gates of the church, especially younger people”

Jo O Sullivan, the chair of one of the Irish capital’s parish pastoral councils (PPCs), revealed March 15 on the website of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) that the Dublin archdiocese had requested that PPCs look into what new lay ministries are needed if the Church is to “thrive into the future”.

“We need new ministries to make contact with those beyond the gates of the church, especially younger people and young families”, the Dublin archdiocese explained in its request to O Sullivan and other local Church PPC chairs.

By way of argument for the need for new ministries, the archdiocese quoted from Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world, Evangelii Gaudium, where the Pope writes:

“I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities” (EG 33).

– “Many who are disaffected perceive Catholicism to be a misogynistic, homophobic, rule-ridden ‘Thou shalt not’ institution”

In her inspiring article on the ACP website, O Sullivan shared her thoughts on the archdiocese’s request for ideas for new ministries.

But she warned that the Church would not be able to understand how to reach people “beyond the gates” until it understood why those same people never enter a church in the first place.

While admitting that there’s no “simple answer” to the question of why so many people now feel so alienated from the faith, and that “there’s a multiplicity of factors involved”, O Sullivan said she firmly believes there are a “few glaringly obvious” reasons why people don’t come to church that “need to be addressed” immediately.

“Many people who are disaffected perceive Catholicism to be a misogynistic, homophobic, rule-ridden ‘Thou shalt not’ institution”, O Sullivan denounced.

“So I believe that, as a long term initiative, the most needed lay ministry is one which addresses that perception by working towards reform within the Church”, O Sullivan continued.

“I also believe that a lay ministry which deals specifically with community building is a more immediate necessity”.

– A new “reform ministry”: changing the Church’s view of women, gays, the remarried, the laity and the handling of abuse

At the heart of O Sullivan’s proposals for new and necessary lay ministries in the Dublin Church, then, were two particular forms of leadership: a new “reform ministry” and a new “community building ministry”.

The first – the new “reform ministry” – “would work towards changing the role of women in the Church, Church attitudes and teaching re homosexuality [and] persons in second relationships etc., the role/authority of the laity and the handling of all forms of abuse”, O Sullivan wrote.

But the reform ministry, she continued, would not achieve anything without “a paradigm shift in our understanding of Sacramental Priesthood” with the aim of forming and keeping as priests “people who are part of the ‘real’ world”, and also without similar drastic change to Catholic sexual morality, to discern and set down doctrine on relationships not drawn up just by celibate males.

– A new “community building ministry”: “The Church has to meet [people] in the ordinary everyday aspects of life”

O Sullivan’s second idea for a much-needed new lay ministry in the Dublin archdiocese was that of a “community building ministry”, so that the Church can offer people “a sense of wanting to belong” before it tells them what to believe and how to behave.

The Church “has to meet [people] in the ordinary everyday aspects of life”, O Sullivan warned.

“Many people are reticent about being involved in the “holy” side of parish life… but would gladly participate in community building events and activities”.

“A community building ministry team would look towards ways of providing enjoyable activities to involve the wider community and would meet regularly to plan, monitor and evaluate all such activities within the parish”, O Sullivan continued.

“Such monitoring and evaluation would help lead to the development of a strong community aspect to parish, which, in turn, would engender a sense of belonging and a desire to be part of parish life”.

– Reform now: “The excuse ‘change comes very slowly in the Catholic Church’ just doesn’t suffice”

“I get annoyed and frustrated by the fact that many, many people – clerics and lay alike – claim that they know the Church has to change, but they don’t seem to take any real steps to change it”, O Sullivan concluded her reflections.

“The oft trotted out ‘Ah, but change comes very slowly in the Catholic Church’ just doesn’t suffice. Irish Catholicism cannot afford the luxury of time. To use another well-worn phrase ‘The dogs in the street know it'”.

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“Something very wrong”, “clock is ticking”: “crisis point” in Irish Church reaches apocalyptic level

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.