Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s address in Limerick on ‘The Church of the Future’ is likely to set the cat amongst the pigeons in Irish Catholic circles with its forthright appraisal of the state of Irish Catholicism, and his willingness to acknowledge the Church’s role in its own decline.
There will be many unhappy with what they perceive as his pessimistic analysis of the state of the Irish Church and his willingness to identify the neuralgic issues dogging efforts at renewal.
There is a courageousness in this address which may pass unnoticed by the vast majority of people. He has taken on the conservative elements who sought to dictate the agenda at the World Meeting of Families last August – these are Catholics who constantly harry him and anyone they perceive to be out of line with their ultra-orthodoxy. They are the Catholics who ask “is Pope Francis Catholic?”
Rejecting their quick fixes, namely a return to pre-Vatican II tradition, Dr Martin is shining a light on the agenda of these “cultural warriors of certainty” who want to retreat into comfort zones of the like-minded where they can build “firewalls between their belief and the world in which they live”.
He identifies clericalism as one of the factors in the demise of Irish Catholicism. It has already been named as a major contributor to the mishandling of clerical abuse in the global Church.
Dr Martin not only identifies the need for a root and branch reform of seminary training, which won’t be welcomed in many quarters, but he also reveals his disillusionment with the Apostolic Visitation of the Irish dioceses in 2011 at the behest of the Vatican.
He says it “froze the renewal of the Irish Church for some years”.
A number of prelates in Ireland and in Rome will have gasped at such forthright criticism of the organisational dysfunction of the structural fabric of the Irish Church.