DUBLIN'S NEW Catholic Archbishop has said that Sunday Mass attendance will no longer be a feature of every church and that a diminishing priesthood will require a more prominent role for lay leadership.
In an interview with Newstalk’s The Hard Shoulder, the newly installed Archbishop Dermot Farrell spoke frankly of the church’s predicament.
Though there are currently 350 active priests attending 197 parishes, the average age among serving priests is 70, and dwindling recruitment numbers mean that the number of parishes to priests will be greatly stretched in the years to come.
This, he said, will call for the reorganisation of existing parishes and for laypersons to assume greater responsibilities.
"We need to talk to the people on the ground," Archbishop Farrell said. "Eventually we will only have
possibly one priest per parish and maybe not even that many priests as we go forward."
"So more and more lay people are going to have to take responsibility in terms of the leadership that’s provided at parish level."
Archbishop Farrell also spoke of the Catholic church's need to modernise, as much of the church’s infrastructure dates back centuries to a vastly different time and is probably no longer necessary.
He indicated that tough decisions would have to be made about church closures.
"It’s certain that we won’t be able to celebrate Sunday mass in every church in every parish in this diocese," he said.
He told Hard Shoulder presenter Kieran: "I think the Lord is probably saying to us at this time: I don’t want you to keep doing the things that you were doing 100 years ago, 200 years ago."
At a live-streamed mass from the Dublin Pro-Cathedral to officially mark his installation, the Archbishop stressed the importance of the church changing with the times.
"If I may turn LP Hartley’s famous phrase on its head: ‘the future is a different country, we must do things differently there’”, he said.
He stressed that coming changes were “not to forget the past, and especially not the painful past where so many were hurt because our Church lost its hunger for the Kingdom and its justice."
"We must never again put what we consider the needs of the Church before the needs of the little ones," he warned.
Clarifying his remarks about the enhanced role of the laity, Archbishop Farrell said that “leadership in the Church is not about telling people what to do; rather it is about promoting co-responsibility and overcoming the mindset which runs the risk of relegating the baptised to a subordinate role, effectively keeping them on the edges of Church life.
“That is what we mean by a synodal Church – a church on the way with each other. The very first place synodality is expressed is at parish level. If it doesn’t happen in the parish, it will not happen at all.”