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Garry O’Sullivan: Struggling diocese can't recover until Dr Martin faces up to reality

The Archbishop of Dublin sits in his palace in Drumcondra, surrounded by acres of real estate, while the Pope lives in a hotel room, having abandoned the Apostolic Palace. From the Drumcondra palace, illegal pay cuts are applied to junior diocesan lay staff on top of the morale-crippling cuts already imposed upon overburdened priests.

These are just some of the effects of the sharp edge of a short-sighted policy in the Dublin Diocese that lacks vision and lacks leadership.

A cash-strapped administration, which, until recently, was gobbling up 69pc of the second church collection – Share – which was supposed to be going entirely to support poor parishes, is prepared to pick off the already low income of priests and workers rather than face up to the huge financial challenges needed to reform the diocese.

In fact, these workers were the brave few who stood up for their rights and won and were prepared to say that punishing low earners is not a solution to the financial crisis.

These workers understand, as would any reader of the case the Dublin Diocese put forward, that the diocese is in dire financial straits and action is needed, that cutting pay is always the last resort for an employer, and yet entitlements were not cut, suggesting the diocese has massive, immediate cash-flow problems.

Insiders in Drumcondra take the side of the diocese and acknowledge the necessity of the cuts to pay and the need to get more income. They outline problems to what they say might seem on the outside as easy solutions, such as selling property.

There are complicated legal issues, they say. And of course there are, and other dioceses are facing similar problems.

However, what Dublin's priests readily do volunteer is that the archbishop is unable to impose the serious reform everyone agrees is needed.

"From the top officials down from the archbishop, the sense we are getting is a total lack of proper leadership from him," said one senior insider.

The leadership challenges are not new and the road ahead is being clearly mapped by some US bishops such as Archbishop Chaput.

He sold the baronial home of the Archbishop in Denver and is apparently about to do the same in Philadelphia, because he believes that if he has to sell schools and close churches, then the leadership must set the example. And this is the kernel of the issue in Dublin. Dublin needs massive restructuring but it is being stonewalled by the archbishop who intellectually understands the problem but can't seem to translate that into action.

As recently as the end of March, he told Marian Finucane on RTE Radio 1 that "we need to destructure the Irish church in a way that addresses the realities" and that the church is at a "critical juncture".

Churches need to close in Dublin but the archbishop won't take hard decisions. Yet he has bemoaned having parishes with less than 10pc participation, so why keep them open?

This financial crisis has been on Dr Martin's watch for most of his eight years in the job and the easy sound bites and soft interviews no longer cut it.

The 'emperor has no solutions' to coin a phrase, or if he does, he doesn't want to enact them and his managers are frustrated by the stonewalling of the inevitable.

The judgment and leadership of the archbishop has been called to account by lay women with the courage of their convictions.

It's time the Dublin Diocese got on the same page as Pope Francis and addresses the realities with courageous leadership.

Garry O'Sullivan is managing director of 'The Irish Catholic'

Irish Independent