Catholic parish life is being born again thanks to lesson of 'Presbyterianism'
AN eminent scripture scholar has said that the Irish Catholic Church is going through a process of "Presbyterianisation".
Fr Kieran O'Mahony, head of scripture at the Milltown Institute, Dublin, told the twentieth Pobal conference at the weekend that a main trend in Irish Catholicism today was greater participation of lay people in church administration, especially at parish level.
This "Presbyterianisation of parishes", he said, was taking place at "an extraordinary moment" in the history of the Irish Catholic Church.
It was happening at a time of steep decline in numbers of priests, and after "the self inflicted wounds of the institutional Church" as a result of clerical child sex abuse scandals. In Presbyterianism, the system of Church governance is rooted in the rights of elders - lay persons - to appoint and regulate ministers.
An annual General Assembly is the principal authority in Presbyterianism composed of ministers, elders and its parish members. As the Presbyterian Church ordains married women as well as married men, implicit in Fr O'Mahony's observation that the Catholic Church's celibacy rule will be modified to allow for married men priests and for women priests.
He said that only the future would show where this trend would lead but he added: "The impact of cultural change on our lives is enormous.
"We live in a different world from the 1960s, the decade when the Second Vatican Council defined the Church not just as a clerical Hierarchy but as the People of God."
It was his belief that the Irish laity was ready for married men priests and for women priests, and that despite the current opposition of Rome, these changes could occur sooner than expected.
While there were no quick-fix solutions, declericalisation was taking place, he said, and if Church leaders did not listen more to the voice of the laity, they would be unable to survive simply on the traditional pattern of Mass-going and prayers.
Ailin Doyle, lecturer in Moral Theology at Milltown Institute, told the Pobal members that the late Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae condemning condoms even within marriage "did immense damage to the Catholic Church from which it has not recovered".