An association of Irish priests is renewing its call to the country’s bishops to remedy the lack of lay involvement in parishes.

Driving the news

The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), a group representing over 1,000 priests in Ireland, confirmed January 2 that each of the Irish bishops received at their Winter 2019 General Meeting a copy of an October Exploratory Pilot Study of Lay Involvement and Co-Responsibility carried out by the Association of Catholics in Ireland (ACI).

That pilot study – which looked into the situation facing laypeople in 36 parishes across the island – found, among other things, that:

  • 67% of Irish Catholics had parish pastoral councils but 54% regarded them as ineffective;
  • Only 41% had adult faith development activities, though limited;
  • 50% reported no encouragement for family catechesis;
  • Only 52% had lay-led prayer services in the absence of a priest;
  • Lay parishioners prepared the Prayers of the Faithful for Mass in only 17% of parishes but were read by laity in 54% of parishes.

Go deeper

The ACP contributed to the ACI pilot study, and called attention in the study conclusions to “the likelihood that parish pastoral councils are either not existent or not effective in a majority of Irish parishes”,

In the face of that observation, the ACP made a series of recommendations to the Irish bishops in the ACI report which it repeated in a note Thursday.

Those recommendations of the ACP included:

  • That a professionally designed all-Ireland survey be conducted to ascertain the full picture of lay co-responsibility in Irish parishes;
  • That an explanation should be sought in this survey of the apparent reluctance of many Mass-goers to involve themselves fully in parish life, e.g. in parish pastoral councils;
  • That an understanding also be sought of the absence of so many young people from sacramental observance;
  • That the readiness of parish clergy to delegate responsibility to lay people – in cases where clergy themselves feel unable to promote lay involvement – also be assessed;
  • That an explanation be sought for the apparent reluctance of many lay people to have their names associated with any report they might make on these issues in their own parishes;
  • That synods – representative gatherings – be planned for all dioceses, with a view to an All-Ireland Synod eventually – as a necessary process in the renewal of the Irish Catholic Church.

Why it matters

The Irish Church is currently suffering through a crisis of biblical proportions, with a wave of church vandalism, the sell-off of real estate assets to fund abuse compensation claims, a dramatic drop-off in priests, vocations and Mass attendance, severe cuts to scheduled Mass times, a disconnect with young people and a general attitude in wider society of “ridicule, insult and aggression” towards the faith, as one bishop put it.

On top of that, the nuncio in Ireland, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, revealed in December that a “process of amalgamation” of the number of dioceses in the country “has already started”.

But the ACP was still hopeful that some good could come out of the Church crisis, and particularly out of what it expects will be “a radical reduction in the overall number of dioceses” in Ireland.

The diocesan amalgamation process “points to the urgency of the proposed survey of lay involvement also, to alert all who still claim an Irish Catholic identity to their own essential role in addressing a crisis that is also an opportunity for a new beginning”, the ACP said.

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