Connacht Tribune - Opinion Piece
Tackling the issues at the heart of the Catholic crisisAugust 29, 2012 - 7:56am
Did you know that – whatever about the ordination of women priests and all of the kerfuffle that might entail – there is nothing at all to stop the Catholic Church from electing female Cardinals and showing the first semblance of equality at the Vatican’s top table?
Imagine the choice we’d have on our own doorstep of women who might inspire a real revival in a country where the census found that 84 per cent of us are Catholics, and yet only one in three is a regular Mass-goer.
There’s a Parish Priest in Mayo, a founder member of the Association of Catholic Priests, who has recently published a thoughtful, measured and yet revolutionary book that looks at the state of the Church in Ireland now, traces the reasons it finds itself where it is, and looks at how it can evolve for the better into the future.
Most importantly, Fr Brendan Hoban’s book – Where Do We Go From Here, subtitled the Crisis in Irish Catholicism – isn’t some kneejerk reaction the clerical sex abuse; rather it is a forensically constructed examination of the problems and perhaps the solutions, with just a degree of lateral thinking thrown in for good measure.
It should be recommended reading, not just for those who consider themselves practicing Catholics, but for anyone who has even a tangential relationship to religion. Which just about covers the vast majority on this island.
The selection of women Cardinals is one of his suggestions, but he doesn’t pull it out of thin air; it is partly to send out the right signals but mainly because, among the many crises facing the Church, the dramatic fall-off in ordinations is up there with the biggest of them.
As it stands, the average age of priests in Ireland is 64; in ten years time it will be 74 or unless there's an increase in vocations – which is highly unlikely given current trends – it will be in the eighties by 2032.
It’s the same as you go up through the ranks, because 23 of our Irish Bishops are over 65, and 15 of them over 70; six dioceses have no bishop at all.
And if they retired at 65 – as they would have to do if they were Bishops of the Anglican Church – only four dioceses would still have their present bishop. That’s hardly the age profile for a Church trying to recover lost ground.
So Fr Hoban, who is the PP in Moygownagh and a regular columnist with the Western People, has some solutions; controversially perhaps he wants to see those priests who have left active ministry – particularly because of the laws on celibacy – coming back into parishes.
He also suggests a role for more mature members of the parish in active ministry – and if the debate on women priests is an impediment to progress, he suggests that we move higher up the hierarchy because Cardinals do not need to be ordained.
With that in mind, he throws out the names of Mary McAleese and Nuala O’Loan for a start – two pioneers in their field who also have strong and deep faith – as role models on this front. It’s an interesting place to start.
The level of practice in Ireland has fallen from 92% to 35% – although that’s still 1.6 million, so it’s not exactly on its last legs either – so it’s not unreasonable to assume a level of disconnect between the congregation and the hierarchy.
And yet turning over more of the power or the authority to the laity isn’t a solution on its own – Fr Hoban points out that the Lutheran churches in Scandinavia defer to their members on teaching and they've declined in numbers anyway.
For more, read this week's Connacht Tribune.