Covid Pandemic Intensifies Existential Crisis of Irish Catholic Church
Well before the Coronavirus crisis closed Irish Catholic Churches in 2020, and again in early 2021, the Irish Church was in a critical state. Decades of clerical scandal, unaccompanied by the frank discussion those scandals so obviously called for, had left the clerical institution in what the outgoing papal nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown called a ‘cliff edge’ by 2017.
In the background an unaddressed collapse of trust in hierarchy had followed global evidence – over three decades — of the inability of bishops to prioritise child safeguarding, left to themselves. The abandonment of religious practice even by the pupils of Catholic secondary schools had also been ignored for decades by the same Irish hierarchy. Worst of all, no regular opportunities had been provided in most Irish dioceses for coming to terms, as a community of faith, with these developments, since the second Vatican Council of 1962-65.
At ground level, in parishes, ACI’s 2019 findings, from a pilot research study, that probably less than a fifth of Irish parishes have working pastoral councils have not been challenged by the Irish Bishops’ Conference – but not even by early 2021 have Irish bishops committed themselves to removing the canonical obstacles to full lay collaboration in restoring the church.
With the coronavirus raging still in early 2021 it is at least clear that an emergency situation now prevails, with observant Catholics dependent as never before on electronic media for ‘communion’ and information – and a hopeful vision of the future. Family prayer – and family faith formation – seem certain to be features of the future church, with the role of women paramount. Yet none of us can see a complete picture of the developing situation, or predict what will follow.
Committed to full lay participation in the guidance and governance of the Irish church we in ACI are also in ‘lockdown’ mode, certain that this crisis must hasten the end of a situation that was unsustainable even before the Pandemic hit us. However, the following issues seem likely to be paramount if there is to be any recovery:
Dialogue Involving All – addressed by our Lumen Gentium 37 campaign – and by a series of Zoom online meetings, through 2021.
Co-responsibility of lay Catholics in the Mission of the Church
Faith Formation in the Family and the Parish
Equality of Women in the Church
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