Irish Mission Now?

Aug 14, 2017 | 7 comments

Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry

“The challenge for Church is not just to find personnel to maintain traditional structures but how to look forward, and not back, and adapt in such a way that we cease to be focussed on maintenance, and develop laity and clergy in a way that they are fit for mission – making, forming and sending new disciples of Christ.”

So said Derry Bishop Donal McKeown to Derry Now in the week ending August 12th, 2017.

He was speaking in the context of a looming critical shortage of priestly manpower  – with only two seminarians currently in training for his diocese.

“Yes, I keep encouraging people to pray for more vocations to priesthood and to religious life as there remains a huge demand for spiritual support and growth.

“But there is also a parallel call to laity to take up their various apostolates that are part of being a Christian.

“That change of culture will involve a diocesan wide process of training and formation.

“So I find this an exciting and energising time as we become a missionary Church in Ireland.”


Informed that we in ACI are highlighting his call to mission, Bishop McKeown has welcomed this in an email on Sep 19th, 2017 – and referred us to his address on the ordination of Charles Lafferty of the Pallottine order on June 29th, 2017 – especially this passage:

“The task for the modern Irish church is to be re-energised by the mission of every baptised person to evangelise and bless our hurting country with the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

“But the temptation to clericalism has often reduced the call to a lay apostolate to that of lay ministry. That can end up with being just a clericalisation of some laity who help the priest to do his things – distributing Holy Communion, holding weekday services or even burying the dead. But it is not a development of the vision of Christifideles Laici. The real apostolate that Vincenzo Pallotti prophetically made space for is the mission of the ordained to preach, sanctify and lead and the mission of each member of the non-ordained to have an apostolate within the missionary people. The service of the ordained minister is to teach, sanctify and lead in Christ’s name so that the evangelising apostolate of the church can be carried out by every baptised member. A church of clericalised clergy and laity will not attract and inspire young people because it is not faithful to the Gospel idealism of Jesus.”

Bishop McKeown finally adds this:

“The role of the laity is not to help the clergy in their evangelising role. It is the role of the clergy to equip the laity to take their evangelising role. The former is quite cosy for all concerned. The latter is very challenging for clergy and laity.”

We can only add: “Bring that on!”


Members of ACI will welcome Bishop McKeown’s eager adoption of a ‘mission’ stance – and especially his prediction of ‘a diocesan wide process of training and formation’.  

However, this raises many obvious questions – especially our typical state of readiness for a proactive ‘missionary’ role, following decades of church scandal, decline and absence of dialogue.

Obviously training will be a must – but who in Ireland is equipped for that training role?

And to whom exactly will that ‘mission’ be directed in the first instance?  To ‘all and sundry’ or to a specific sector of the Irish population that might be deemed ‘most promising mission territory’?

And what ‘good news’ will be brought to that ‘target audience’?

For example, if our current typical manner of ‘celebrating’ Eucharist is deemed ‘boring/irrelevant’ by so many of the young, do we need to begin by re-learning what a mission-oriented Irish Mass would look and feel like?

Convinced that Bishop McKeown is correct to insist that a reliance on mere ‘maintenance’ is a failed strategy, and that ‘mission’ must be attempted if the Irish church is to recover, we begin a series of articles here, focused on ‘Irish Mission Now?’ – the feasibility of such a project—and the strategy required to move the church into an effective missionary stance.

Convinced also that no one yet has all of the answers – and that a missionary Irish Church could take decades to come fully into being – we call on our members to help us find some of those answers.

Almost certainly you are already thinking about these issues – and perhaps already engaged in activities that could be a seed-bed for ‘mission’.  If you have already tried ‘pushing the boat out’ in your own sphere, please let us know – even if you have suffered more reverses than successes.  We need urgently to become a learning church—and learning is often a matter of making mistakes to begin with.

To tell us your story, or to offer a considered opinion on ‘Irish Mission Now?’—even if you are pessimistic about such a project—click here to email us.

ACI Submission to Irish Bishops’ Conference 1st Oct, 2019
ACI moderators’ rules for commenting below


  1. Mary Vallely

    Just been reading and fervently agree with Robert Mickens that the present outdated model of the Catholic Church’s structure ” no longer incarnates the reality of the lived experience of believers, the staggering majority of whom live in societies that are becoming more and more, and to varying degrees, participatory and representative democracies. A Church where the most important decisions are made almost exclusively by a celibate male clergy, and where bishops are held to little or no accountability, is unsustainable in a world where patriarchal and monarchical societies-begrudgingly, but steadily-are ceding rights and duties to those who are not part of the nobility, the clergy, or one specific gender.” ( ARCC)
    I can’t see any meaningful reform happening unless this fact is acknowledged.
    Bishop Donal’s passionate statement that he finds this

    ” an exciting and energising time as we become a missionary Church in Ireland”

    leaves me slightly puzzled. Are we not supposed to be and have we not always been a missionary church, trying to lead more people to become followers of Christ?
    I wish to God we could face up to the fact that the problems of evangelising go much deeper than starting programmes of diocesan ‘training and formation’. We need to allow people to have a voice and then listen to the reasons why so many just do not have a sense of belonging or feel a sense of worth in this Church of ours.

    • Aidan

      I think most fair minded Catholics discerning objectively the pastoral situation of the Catholic Church over the past 30 years would agree with you Mary. Your historical perspective made a very valid point as did your comment on the proper focus for Christ centred evangelisation.

      And thank you for the link to the article by Robert Mickens; interesting and very relevant.

      Worth asking what effective changes have been made since Mickens wrote that article to prepare for, or reverse, the ongoing, and almost now inevitable, decline of the Catholic Church in the northern hemisphere, apart from closing and amalgamating parishes and ordaining laymen into the ranks of clergy as deacons, with no sacramental ability to do anything that any baptised layperson could not do without being ordained a deacon. That is not a comment on the spiritual qualities of many of those who are deacons or preparing for ordination as a deacon but a much deeper question as to what problem they have been ordained to solve within the wider problems currently facing the Catholic Church. Is it a real and effective solution to the shortage of priests or a ‘sticking plaster’ while the wound continue to get worse.

  2. Noel

    While cautiously welcoming Bishop McKeown’s statement I believe that progress in terms of church reform and renewal is not possible without an honest acceptance by the hierarchy of the current reality. Aidan’s recent article ‘Failing to prepare is preparing to fail’ sets out many of the issues which need to be confronted. I particularly agree with his comments on the scale of the reform required. Aidan says “Tinkering at the edges will no longer work. Being dishonestly positive by refusing to admit that there really is a deep-seated crisis in both the Irish and universal Church is irresponsible. It will only accelerate and deepen the crisis further. What is required is a complete paradigm shift”. Aidan calls for the paradigm shift to incorporate “the role of laity, the requirements for priesthood and new, open and accountable structures for Vatican /diocesan and parish governance. Root and branch reform is required, not a mere tinkering at the edges”. What will it take for our bishops to acknowledge the scale of the crisis? Why can the ordinary people in the pews clearly see the life draining from our parishes and church communities year on year yet our ‘shepherds’, apparently ‘blind to the crisis’, offer nothing but uncoordinated, piecemeal solutions which attempt to address one or other symptom rather than the root causes of the ever-accelerating demise of our church? Until the hierarchy accept that the ‘old game is up’ and that their traditional authoritarian approach no longer works it will be impossible to even begin the work of reform and renewal. The collective and individual leadership of the bishops has largely failed our church in recent years. Surely it is time to acknowledge the rightful role of the lay faithful and, putting our faith in the ‘census fidelium’, let us work together in an appropriate forum to consider how we can best achieve the necessary ‘paradigm shift’. Is this the only way to arrest the decline or is there another way forward?

  3. Anthony Neville

    We must acknowledge Bishop McKeown’s recognition of the challenge facing the church but I don’t find this an exciting time. I wonder will he find support among his fellow bishops for the development of laity and clergy or will he be another lone voice at the ICBC? Will that be a real ‘call to laity to take up their apostolate’ or an Irish ‘sure you must drop in and see us’.

    Training and formation for the laity is a key strategy in every diocesan plan but where are the results? In the Dublin Diocese with 199 parishes there are only 24 parish pastoral workers.

    As Mary says, people must be allowed a voice and as Noel says, we need an appropriate forum where we can work together to find the way forward.

    Bearing in mind the poor effort at parish and diocesan level in responding to Pope Francis’ invitation to contribute to the preparation for the Synod on the Family, it will be interesting to see the engagement in parishes with the World Meeting of Families 2018. Will the Irish bishops grasp the opportunity?

    • Aidan

      Since the Second Vatican Council the laity have been told repeatedly that ‘they’ are the Church and the clergy their servants. ‘Servant of the servants of God’ is one of the many titles of the pope and is still used, I think, at the beginning of papal bulls.
      Let me give you an example of how that is operating currently in my parish. This is a parish with three churches and hence three Eucharistic communities, each with its own identity: traditions, SVP conference, workers, music ministry, lay ministers of the Eucharist and Word, particular needs, strengths and weaknesses.
      Our part-time curate, who has other major diocesan responsibilities, informed the congregation at last Sunday’s Mass that he had been reappointed to another parish. To the shock and dismay of many present, no mention was made of a replacement. Many in the congregation are concerned, in the current climate of church closures and parish amalgamations, that their church may now close, along with the third church some six miles away, leaving only the parish church open, to which all may be expected to travel. The circuit model of the Methodist Church, whereby the minister travels around his various local Methodist communities to conduct Sunday services, does not seem to be the current Catholic model for restructured parishes.
      What I find shocking and disappointing is that neither bishop nor parish priest thought it appropriate or his duty to come and explain this decision to the congregations effected by it and to listen to their genuine concerns and suggestions. How can it be ‘their’ Church when they have not been consulted about a major change that may seriously impact their, and their children’s, religious lives long into the future? How can clergy define themselves as ‘servants’ when it is they who hold all the power and make all the decision without accountability to, or consultation with, the relevant laity?
      The bishop and priests concerned are not thoughtless or uncaring people, no more than is Bishop McKeown; quite the contrary. They are hard working, committed and dedicated priests. However, they live in a mostly clerical culture which is very different from that lived in by the laity. In their seminary training and lives as celibate priests, collaborative ministry with lay people and open and accountable diocesan and parish structures can still be seen as alien concepts – at best inappropriate, at worst dangerous to the successful future of the Catholic Church in its pre-Second Vatican Council structures.
      Is the above situation, not uncommon in Ireland, part of the ‘’traditional structure’ Bishop McKeown wishes to continue, and is that a reflection of the “exciting and energising time” he has written about?

      • Teresa Mee

        ‘Surely it is time to acknowledge the rightful role of the lay faithful and, putting our faith in the ‘census fidelium’, let us work together in an appropriate forum to consider how we can best achieve the necessary ‘paradigm shift’.
        Yes, Noel. The hour is upon us to launch into effective action ‘from the base’. What are the options open to us? ‘Work together’. How? Could it be that the preparation for the projected World Meeting of Families is offering a challenging invitation to do just that?

    • soconaill

      Recent comments here by a ‘john derevolt’ have been removed as clearly in breach of the necessary ACI rule of avoiding personal abuse of any named individual. An attempt by a member of ACI to engage contructively with ‘john’ received no response in kind, convincing the moderators that ‘he’ was not writing in good faith but merely to ‘troll’ those who disagree with ‘him’. That this should happen in the midst of a global health crisis is clear proof of the bad faith that motivated the content of the deleted comments, and of the timeliness of our campaign and urgent prayers for Irish Catholic Church reform. Bishop Donal McKeown‘s perception of the Irish Church as ‘on Exodus’ to a very different ‘way of going’ is now incontrovertible by any Catholic of sincere and loving faith.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

4 × 3 =

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This