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'The engine is still running but the wheels are going nowhere' - priest laments decline of Church


Fr Roy Donovan pictured at the Mercy International Centre, Baggot Street, Dublin.
Photo: Frank McGrath

Fr Roy Donovan pictured at the Mercy International Centre, Baggot Street, Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath

Fr Roy Donovan pictured at the Mercy International Centre, Baggot Street, Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath

A parish priest has called for a major change in Irish Catholicism as he recalled how one of his past duties was policing the back of the church to stop people talking during Mass.

In his address, 'What Does It Mean To Be Catholic Today?', Co Limerick priest Fr Roy Donovan, who is a leader of the Association of Catholic Priests, lamented that he had been made into "a policeman" when he served as a curate in the parishes of Drimnagh and in Borrisoleigh.

Speaking in Dublin, the parish priest of Caherconlish and Inch St Laurence asked: "What happened to us priests, how did we end up like that? How did we get it all so wrong? What bubble were we living in?"

Admitting that there was "something very wrong with priesthood", he said priests in Ireland had "suffered from a massive dose of clericalism" and had perceived themselves as "the special ones".

He added: "We had no sense of the common priesthood of all believers."

Elsewhere in his address, which was hosted by the lay reform group We Are Church Ireland, Fr Donovan added it was not only young people who had become disassociated from the Church as an institution, but people across all generations.

"People up and down the country are beginning to see that our systems, structures, parishes are no longer fit for purpose. We have too many dioceses, parishes, too many churches - more than we need.

"We have too many celebrations of masses on Sundays with small gatherings. We have reached a crisis point in the Irish Church," he said.

The priest highlighted that Irish diocesan structures were put in place in the 12th century, while the country's parishes have their roots deep in the Middle Ages.

"The faith we now have developed in the 19th century. This 19th century Roman Catholicism entailed a profound pacification of the laity - keep people happy with all kinds of devotions," he said.

He added most of the congregation attending weekend masses in rural churches were to be found at the back of the Church, with no one in the upper middle or top pews of the church.

"This demonstrates the huge distance that people have been taught to keep," he said.

He likened the Irish Church today to an old car that has gone off the road into boggy land and has become stuck.

"The engine is still running, but the wheels are spinning and going nowhere. Can't go forward or backwards. As in the U2 song, 'stuck in a moment you can't get out of'."

He explained that part of the problem was "holding on to what we know", but he underlined that this was "a dead horse".

"A lot of priests are saying 'sure it will see me out' and continue to work out of the old model.

"There is not enough appetite for change which would require major reversals," he said.

While there were still bishops, priests and people praying for "tonnes of vocations", he highlighted that there had been no vocation in his own Limerick parish for 40 years.

Criticising priesthood as "very elitist" because it was reserved only for celibate males, Fr Donovan said the injustice at the heart of the Catholic Church was the exclusion of women from the priesthood.

Their treatment as second-class citizens was a scandalous corporate sin, he said.

Irish Independent