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Bishop of Ossory laments “very clerical” Irish Church

By Sarah Mac Donald - 27 November, 2018

The Church in Ireland cannot continue to be “priest-centred” and clerical, structured solely around priests, the Bishop of Ossory has warned.

In his address at St Kieran’s College in Kilkenny last weekend, Bishop Dermot Farrell warned representatives of the diocese’s laity and priests that if the clergy are too self-referential nothing will ever change in terms of how the Church operates pastorally.

He expressed the hope that the conference would help tease out what the Diocesan Pastoral Council has proposed, and assess its suitability for the Diocese of Ossory.

“We need to raise awareness of the inadequacy of the current situation and to encourage a participatory institutional model of Church with a leadership of service. Putting all our eggs in the ‘priest or vocations’ basket’ is like going around wearing a blindfold.” He added, “We have a very clerical Church.”

Bishop Farrell told the conference delegates that Ossory needed to put in place practical arrangements that shape the diocese’s response to the pastoral, spiritual and evangelising needs of its parishes, where the liturgy maintains and nourishes the Christian life.

“A service model will not sustain the Christian life in the parish,” he stated.

Reminding them that Pope Francis is constantly putting forward a synodal vision of the Church, Bishop Farrell said the question the Pope is asking, and that they should ask themselves was, what kind of Church God is calling priests and laity to be in the longer term.

He suggested that it was one that was less self-referential and more a community of missionary disciples, less clerical and more synodical.

The issue facing the Church today “is not merely the more limited, although more urgent, issue of coping with declining numbers of ordained ministers,” Dr Farrell explained.

He highlighted how there was “little sense of mission within the Catholic Church in Ireland” and no sense of what that mission should be.

The Bishop added that as a consequence, evangelisation was reduced to catechetics, the Gospel was reduced to ideology, and the Christian life was perceived and preached as conformity to a set of norms that have little resonance in the real lives of ordinary people.

“There is a profound lack of faith, or death of faith; this can be seen in the lack of any real interior life in a significant number of the faithful and particularly in the lack of any serious interior journey or endeavour on the part of some of those who are in priesthood and in ministry,” he challenged.

According to the Bishop of Ossory, “Spiritual malnourishment is perhaps the number one problem facing our Church.

We have an aging population of priests; there are already some parishes in the diocese that do not have a resident priest. We have fallen off a cliff edge in regard to vocations to the priesthood. Many speak of a crisis in this regard.”

He stressed that a remedy for the Church’s future would not be found in “clericalising good lay people”.

Instead, crisis demanded creativity. “This time of reduced numbers may well afford us an opportunity to be creative and to re-imagine the institutional Church. We have not been abandoned by God; God’s will is to be found in this situation.”

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