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Bishops’ conference needs to do its business in a different way

By Sarah Mac Donald - 23 April, 2019

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin talks about the workings of the Irish Episcopal conference, Irish seminaries and the need to amalgamate some of the country’s 26 dioceses.

Pic: John McElroy

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has reiterated his criticisms of the workings of the Irish Episcopal Conference (IBC) stressing, “we need to do our business in a different way.”

In a wide-ranging interview with the Irish Times published on Easter Monday, the Archbishop also revealed, “We never have time at these meetings.”

He cited the standing committees of the Italian and German bishops’ conferences, which meet much more regularly.

He also criticised the IBC meetings for being “predominantly male”.

Arguing that there should be other ways of doing business, he said the “danger” was that some of the IBC’s activities are delegated and they become dedicated to one bishop and one group. “They go off and become independent of the Conference. We’re good at making resolutions but the agenda churns out as it was before.

“If you’ve got a day dedicated to a particular theme with bishops, priests, lay people, men and women, young and old, they would have to be robustly planned.”

Dr Martin noted that when Pope Francis spoke of a synod of young people, he said he’d he happy with people who don’t believe. “We’d be afraid of that.”

He said that in the Irish Church’s renewal of young people “we have to make sure that we have a broad cross section of young people not just a small group of the committed. I’m afraid that sometimes we may not be getting the right people …”

Another issue Archbishop Martin raised in relation to the workings of the IBC was the National Catechetical Directory, ‘Sharing the Good News’.

“Where is it?” he questioned.

“It was assigned to a working group of different Commissions of the Bishops’ Conference and it never really took off.”

He said what worries him is the lack of follow-up to the two synods on the Family and the World Meeting on the Family.

He suggested that the answer may not lie in national activities but in getting things done locally in parishes.

“The higher you go up the more you get into meetings and ideology.”

Elsewhere in his interview with the Irish Times, Archbishop Martin criticised the Apostolic Visitation to the Irish Church announced by Benedict XVI in 2010 following the publication in 2009 of the Ryan and Murphy reports.

“There was somehow the idea that the Irish Church could be reformed from outside. That’s not the case. The Visitation was not very well planned. It was carried out with generosity and the conclusions were vague. They were very little. The one thing that came out was that they found that the Irish Church was following the norms regarding child protection.”

He also accused the Visitation of delaying the reform of the Irish Church.

“… a three-year period in which the natural progress that should have been taking place in the Irish Catholic Church – home-grown and home-led – was put in the freezer. It delayed reform.”

On the issue of Irish seminaries, he admitted that having two seminaries in Maynooth and the Irish College in Rome was probably not financially sustainable.

He said one seminarian in Dublin, for various reasons, was currently living in a parish and going to theology.

“We formed a small group to accompany him on that. It would be better if we had two or three. I think we have to be open to … we have to be very open. But people have to be out and in the reality of the culture in which they are living.”

On the matter of the Irish Church’s 26 dioceses, and whether there is a need to amalgamate some of them, he responded, “I think there is no way around it. Whether it’ll happen just tomorrow or … I feel that it could have been done quicker. It should have been done quicker.”

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