Empty pews in Ireland (stock)

Tensions boil over in Irish Church as priests, laypeople beg bishops for real reform

Tensions and frustrations are boiling over in the Irish Church as priests and laypeople beg their bishops for real reform.

Driving the news

Father Brendan Hoban, a founding member of the thousand-strong Irish Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), launched a powerful appeal to the bishops of the country to listen to Pope Francis when he says “again and again and again” that “the world has changed and so must the Church”.

“One thing is clear, priests are disappearing in Ireland. We’re an endangered species. Just give it a decade or more”, Hoban warned.

Go deeper

But rather than push again – as he has many times before – for a married and female priesthood as an answer to the vocations crisis, the ACP priest took the opportunity to deplore the “failure” of the Irish bishops to address “the elephant in the living room” of “the virtual disappearance of Mass and the Catholic Church in Ireland”.

“We’ve watched for decades as vocations to the priesthood have melted away. Now there are hardly any young priests, a few middle-aged, with most either elderly or old”, Hoban decried.

“The simple truth is that the present priests are left carrying the can for at best the prevarication of their bishops or at worst their conspicuous lack of leadership”, the ACP priest denounced.

Why it matters

But if “the present cultural context for the Catholic Church in Ireland is almost invariably hostile” and “we’re swimming against the currents of Irish life”, as Hoban put it, what are the Irish bishops doing to get back in the game?

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Nothing at all, Hoban declared:

“All we can see is more of the same – fewer and fewer priests, older and older priests, ever-increasing workloads and progressively more and more ill-health”.

“We’re not being offered any hope”, the ACP priest decried, lamenting the bishops’ “vague and sometimes daft ideas about importing priests from abroad or amalgamating dioceses or other versions of the deck chairs being moved on the Titanic”.

“There’s no Plan B – just a vague, unconvincing sense that we all have to keep doing what we always did, keep saying what we always said, yet (against all the odds) keep expecting something different to happen, as if some day we’ll meet a bend in the road that will lead to some promised land”, Hoban complained.

“All the evidence would suggest that we’re at the beginning of the end, a fracturing of church life that wasn’t just predictable but avoidable. Yet the Irish bishops still seem to be sitting on their hands”.

For the record

Priest Hoban’s frustration with the state of the Irish Church and its lack of credible leadership was echoed this week in a letter to the editor of the Irish Independent.

Reader Alan Whelan wrote that “2020 is likely to be a momentous year for the Church in Dublin and the island of Ireland”.

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That’s why, with the compulsory retirement age of 75 for Dublin archbishop Diarmuid Martin coming up in a few months, “now is the time to think about possible successors”, Whelan said.

“I suspect the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, would welcome suggestions from faithful Catholics for the three names to be submitted to Pope Francis when the time comes”, he continued, adding that in other places both priests and laypeople have felt “empowered” by having a say in the election of their bishop.

“The world has changed and so must the Church”. Would giving Irish Catholics a say in the election of their bishops be enough of a change?

Probably not, given the depths of the Irish Church’s crisis.

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But it might be a start.

Next on Novena:

Irish priest weighs into celibacy debate: “Married priests should be the most normal thing in the world”

Irish laypeople, clerics rally around suspended priest, push for his reinstatement

Irish priests renew call to bishops to remedy lack of lay involvement in parishes

Irish priest warns “shuffling deckchairs won’t do” in “Titanic” times for Church

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Cameron Doody

Director and editor at Novena
PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.