Irish church not strong in numbers but still vibrant, says archbishop

DUBLIN – While the Irish Catholic Church might not be as numerically strong as it was in the past, there is still a great vibrancy in Irish Catholicism, said Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin.

“The church is not on the way to extinction. It is carrying out a vital role in society,” he said March 15 at a seminar on church-state relations.

“It is easy to point to areas where the church failed its people, failed society, failed its mission and, sadly, failed its most vulnerable … but the balance of the activity of the church in Irish society is one where the message of Jesus produced goodness and care and deep reflection on the meaning of life and of society,” he said.

“Alongside its failures, the church over the years has never been absent from the most alienated sectors of society,” he added.

In the political sphere, he said, the church does not have all the answers, but Catholics “cannot simply adopt politically correct positions.”

“The church must always have the internal freedom to take positions that are culturally unpopular,” he said.

While not referring directly to the new Irish government’s plan to hold a constitutional convention to bring forward legislation on same-sex marriage, Archbishop Martin said that marriage between a man and a woman is “a fundamental good in society” and deserves protection. He said “constitutions should be and must be changed to address challenges in society, but not at every whim.”

“Constitutions are not there in general to be played around with lightly and often,” he warned.

Underlining the need for renewal in his Dublin Archdiocese – Ireland’s largest with about 1.1 million Catholics and almost 1,500 priests – he said “a renewal of structures alone would be sterile.”

“The great reformers of the church in history were never primarily strategic analysts, but saints,” the archbishop said.

He said in the midst of shock and shame about the clerical abuse scandals “the church is robust.”

“Parish communities are renewing themselves. Priests are carrying out their ministry with enthusiasm in difficult times. Laypeople are taking their part in the structures of the church, both as full-time pastoral workers but above all in the parish councils and in a wide variety of ministries in our communities.

“We have parishes which were never so vibrant at any other time in their history. All of this should not be forgotten,” he said.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.