Archbishop calls for merger of dioceses as 'crisis of faith' deepens
Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin has said Ireland is in the grip of a "crisis of faith" and called for the number of dioceses to be reduced.
In a wide-ranging speech on the future of the Church, he also spoke about the "fundamental fault lines" in the current structure of Catholic schools which see teachers at times "teaching something of which they are not convinced".
Acknowledging a decline in Church attendance, he told an audience in Limerick last night that "numbers may be reduced but perhaps in the past we placed far too much trust in our numerical presence".
He said he does not believe that people "have a true sense of the crisis of faith that exists in Ireland".
In a bleak picture of the future of the Church in Ireland, he added that while there are many "residual elements of faith in our society", these are being weakened with the passage of each generation.
Dr Martin said the Church faces major challenges in the area of women's issues and sexual morality, "where the Church's teaching is either not understood or is simply rejected as being out of tune with contemporary culture".
He said that the Church must represent lay, clerical and religious, women and men, young and old. "We all agree on this, but nothing seems to happen. The alienation of so many women only increases," he warned.
He called for a reduction and rationalisation in the number of dioceses and the "revision of the arcane workings of the Irish Episcopal Conference" as well as an overhaul in the training of priests.
In a call for action, he said: "We need to take a radical new look at the formation of future priests. A culture of clericalism is hard to eliminate. It did not come out of nowhere and so we have to address its roots in seminary training. There is no way we can put off decisions regarding the future."
On the issue of Catholic education, the archbishop, who has been a strong advocate for divestment of Catholic patronage, admitted that the Church had "invested in structures of school-based religious education that despite enormous goodwill are not producing the results that they set out to achieve".
Describing himself as "a strong proponent of denominational education", Dr Martin said Catholic education had a solid track record and he saw an important future for it alongside other vibrant forms of education, including that of minority churches.
Paying tribute to the "great teachers" in faith schools, he also sounded a note of concern over the fact that the system at times requires teachers, who do not share the faith, to teach something they don't believe.
"There are fundamental fault lines within the current structure for Catholic schools that are not being addressed and unattended fault lines inevitably generate destructive energies," he warned.