‘Church of participation will be more effective than an authoritarian one’ – Archbishop Martin

18 Jul 2005


18 JULY 2005



The Church must revolutionise its structures of faith formation if
there is to be a mature Christian faith in today’s world, according
to the Archbishop of Dublin Dr. Diarmuid Martin.

Archbishop Martin was addressing the 25th Patrick MacGill Summer School
in Glenties in Donegal on the question “Will Ireland be Christian in 2030?”

The Archbishop said the pastoral structures of the Church must be
structured in such a way that the believer, young and old, knows
he or she belongs to a community which desires that they be free,
responsible and fully human. He said a Church with participatory
structures will be more effective in this than an authoritarian one.

He added that authoritarianism is not a clerical monopoly, saying
there is authoritarianism among lay people also: an authoritarian
conservative ideology and an authoritarian progressive one.

Calling for a new dialogue of engagement about faith with young people,
Archbishop Martin said they needed to be “engaged and challenged.”

Full text follows.

Speaking notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland
Patrick MacGill Summer School, Glenties, 18th July 2005

A few weeks ago I was surprised by a remark on a German television talk
show by Gregor Gysi, the leader of the German Communist Party, who when
asked about his worries about German society said: “Ich fuerchte eine
Gottlose Gesellschaft”, “I fear a Godless society”.

It was an unusual comment from the leader of a communist party, with its
roots in the former East Germany. As the television debate continued,
this declared atheist noted that German society needs the moral framework
that only those Christian roots embedded in his society can give. He
noted that even the highly moralistic code of the communist ideology in
the German Democratic Republic was effectively rooted in Christian principles.

These comments struck me in particular since the speaker was never a
Christian. He is personally of Jewish background and the territory of
the German Democratic Republic was that part of Germany where religious
practice was always and still is exceptionally low.

It is hard to deny that there is a sense then in which our Western societies
even when they appear to be de-Christianised still retain vestiges of a
Christian culture which possesses a unique capacity for moral cohesion.
No other philosophical or political basis has ever done so quite so well.

Ireland is undergoing today a process of secularisation which many would
see moving towards the situation described by Gysi: a secularised society
which still turns to a cultural religious ethos to hold together and build
the most effective consensus possible around a network of values which
society needs – at least at certain moments. Perhaps Ireland may be
like that in 2030 – but does that mean that Ireland would be Christian?

Of course one should really begin with the question, is Ireland Christian
today? Is it more or less Christian that it was twenty, fifty or one hundred
years ago? I believe that we do not really have enough solid research
into the nature of the change in religious adherence. As Archbishop of
Dublin I am surprised at the superficiality and the anecdotal evidence I
am presented with when I ask about concrete pastoral options and about
the situation of the faith in Ireland.

There are the regular surveys about how many people say they believe
in God or attend Mass regularly or which denomination or faith they
adhere to. But we need more clarity concerning what questions people
are really answering when they respond to such a survey.

As an aside, let me also note that at times the results of such surveys
are often interpreted and spun in not the most objective way. For example,
if it is said that 60% of Irish people attend regular Sunday Mass, the
comments are that numbers are down, that we have fallen behind Poland
and that somehow we are on the brink of the end. What political party
would be gasping for breath if it were told, not only that it had the
support of 60% of the population, but that 60% of the population attended
Cumman meetings every week! There is no room for complacency, but
Christianity is healthily present in Irish society.

But let me come back to the question of what people mean when they answer
a survey saying they believe in God. Belief is a complex matter. Because
of its nature it is difficult to quantify. People will answer questions
about belief in different ways. Belief is not identical with Church
affiliation. There are non-practising Catholics who are genuine believers
and there are also many who practice but who may not really believe. I
have even seen recently the term “non-believing priest”!

Faith is about a relationship and relationships can be of differing quality.
What I would be interested in learning is not about numbers but about the
quality of the faith relationship. My task as a bishop is to preach and
witness to the word of God and to preside over a Church community which
will lead people and communities to live a deeper personal relationship
with Jesus Christ; a relationship that stimulates hope, meaning, identity
and freedom.

In ordinary language having faith in a person is about trust. Faith is
something that goes beyond seeing or knowing. There is a deeply personal
dimension to the concept of faith, as opposed to seeing or knowing. Faith
requires personal trust and is impossible without that love which recognises
the fidelity and the trustworthiness of the other in whom I place my trust.

Faith is different from seeing or knowing. If what I see turns out to be
an illusion, I may be disappointed. My knowledge may be wrong but I can
set out to find correctives. But when someone I trust fails me, there is
a deep personal feeling of having been betrayed, deceived and misused by
someone to whom I had offered something that is deepest in any human

Religious faith is faith in God, but not in some generic God of our own
creation. For the Christian, God is not an anonymous element or power
within or above the universe; God is first of all a face. Christians
believe in a God who has spoken, who has revealed himself, who has entered
into dialogue with humankind, a dialogue of love. Indeed the Christian God
is in himself relationship, that relationship of the Trinity which is driven
by the desire to reveal a saving love that is superabundant and gratuitous.

Too often that faith based on love and forgiveness has been distorted
into an exacting, negative rule-book. Others have distorted the concept
of freedom and security which faith should bring. I am amazed, for example,
at the insecurity that surrounds the faith of so many. Faith should be a
relationship which makes people free and secure in a mature fashion. A
relationship which engenders insecurity, anxiety and fear is not the
Christian relationship of faith in God.

There are, moreover, forms of new religious experience today which seem
to provide security, but what they really offer is only flight from
insecurity. They seem to leave people secure because they help people
evade reality in its fullness and to avoid especially the risk which is
an essential dimension of faith. Faith in God must be mediated within
the realities of the world in which we live. Christian faith, as faith
in Jesus Christ, is incarnation and not flight.

I have gone to some lengths to describe what Christian faith is like.
It is far from just a vague “cultural Christianity, whether this is
“cultural Catholicism” or “cultural Anglicanism”, terms which at times
seem to reflect a brand, a corporate culture or even a tribe, rather
than what is essential in faith.

Even more so, faith is not just a vague “cultural spirituality”. Spirituality,
despite the seemingly obvious meaning of the word, may in fact be entirely
material, with no true openness to the transcendent. I remember at the
UN Conferences of the 1990’s we would have debates on the appropriateness
of UN documents containing references to “spirituality” and spiritual values.
In general, the pluralist European countries were not enthusiastic, as
they feared that this might imply some positive reference to religion
(which would be a secularist mortal sin). On the other hand, the Russia
of the early Gorbachev administration was appealing for spirituality and
even the Chinese supported the requests of the Holy See conceding that
their system admitted spirituality: “Chinese socialist spirituality”, the
Ambassador hastily added.

There is something fundamental in human yearning that seeks the spirit,
meaning and hope. There is something in the human spirit which aspires
to ask deeper questions about the meaning of life and to identify what
are the deepest realities.

Many will find their path in secular spirituality and they will live
out their worldview with dedication, idealism, generosity and satisfaction.
For others, seeking spirituality may indeed be a sign of seeking the
transcendent and be a first opening to faith. The originality of faith
is however that it is not of our construction, it is response to a personal
action of God. It is response to an invitation made to me in my personal
situation. Faith is the recognition that God loves me personally.

In that sense faith is always surprise and risk. It is the surprise that
God has sought me out personally and asks me to respond. That relationship
was described by Pope Benedict XVI in his inaugural address in Saint Peters’
Square now some months ago: “We are not some casual and meaningless
product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each
of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. There is
nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter
with Christ”

Will Ireland be Christian in the year 2030? It depends on how well the
Church caries out its mission. That mission is determined however by
the nature of faith. I would be very surprised if in the year 2030
Ireland was a totally pagan land, if there was not residual presence in
Irish society of the values of Christianity and that that presence was
not the major inspiration for the ethos of the country, even though it
would be a question of generalised adherence to such an ethos with a
generous range of interpretation and tolerance regarding what that
ethos actually implies.

My primary interest, however, is in seeing that as many Irish men and
women as possible in 2030 will be allowing themselves to be daily
“surprised by the Gospel” and will be attempting to make that leap of
faith and then shaping their lives coherently according to consequences
of their belief.

Whether that happens or not will be determined by the style and the
pastoral structures of the Church today. I believe, for example, that
many in our society fail to make the leap to faith, because we, as Church,
as an institution and as a community of believers, have never made that
leap to the full. We have never fully abandoned ourselves to the God
who can make us free, but still cling on to the things we falsely feel
can bring us security. Faith is always a leap in the dark, but in the
confidence that Jesus has not left us orphans. We will never be able
to lead others into the depths of faith and the joy of our hope if we
remain entrapped in the limitedness of our current world vision.

This does not mean however that believers in 2030 will be sitting back
happy to live passively as a minority within a pluralist society. Faith
cannot be lived in isolation from culture and reality.

On the one hand, the possibility of living faith is influenced by society.
Faith needs a social and cultural environment which will allow it to grow,
to flourish in freedom and to make its contribution to society. Ireland
in 2030 may well be more pluralist, but let us hope that that pluralism
is not that of the intolerant type which attempts to marginalise religious
expression totally away from the public square.

On the other hand, for faith to interact with culture, believers must
be more coherent in their engagement with the realities of the world.
Prayer, for example, is the moment in which our faith is expressed in
its deepest and most concrete form. But prayer is not a flight from
the world. It is the moment in which we recognise that the God who is
other is a real dimension of our reality, of the reality of my life.
When we pray we recognise the lordship and the transcendence of God.
Recognising the lordship and transcendence of God we recognise that we
did not create the world with our own hands and that we should never
attempt to set ourselves up in the place of God. If creation is the
Lord’s, how can we not share the wealth of the world equitably, how
could we squander the resources of creation, how could we maltreat or
abuse or exploit any other person? The deeper the faith of the believer,
the more he or she will bring their irreplaceable contribution to the
dialogue concerning the good of society.

In some areas this dialogue with society may have to be counter-cultural.
I have recently commented, for example, that I am not sure that we have
fully grasped what are the long-term consequences of pervasive secularisation
and individualisation on the institution of marriage. It is not possible
to reconcile every trend with the Gospel. We have to find ways of
stressing the value of mutuality in marriage and the value of marriage
as an institution, and not just in sacramental terms, but in terms of
what it signifies for society. If we simply stand aside and drift along
with contemporary culture we will have failed to bring to our societies
precisely the type of constructive engagement between the Gospel message
and contemporary culture that is needed.

To achieve this type of mature Christian faith in today’s world we have
to revolutionise our structures of faith formation as a life-long task.
I was struck that the first request that the Dublin Diocesan Women’s
Forum, established by my predecessor, Cardinal Connell, was not about a
“women’s issue”, but about faith formation! Being a believer is not an
easy task today.

The pastoral structures of the Church must be structured in such a way
that the believer, young and old, knows that he or she belongs to a
community which desires that they be free, responsible and fully human.
A Church with participatory structures will be more effective in this
task than an authoritarian one. I had here written “an authoritative
clerical one”. But authoritarianism is not a clerical monopoly: there
is authoritarianism among lay persons also: an authoritarian conservative
ideology and indeed an authoritarian progressive one.

We need to enter into a new dialogue of engagement about faith with
our young people. We need to let young people feel that they are part
of the Church and give them responsibility in our communities. They
need to be engaged and challenged.

We are making progress in his area. This is where I see that the data
generally made available is deceptive and deficient. The data can note
a fall in numbers. I would say, however, that alongside a fall in
numbers of those who attend Sunday Mass, I regularly encounter parish
communities that have never been so vibrant than they are today. The
more participation the stronger the Church community is. I have asked,
for example, that Parish Pastoral Councils be established in all parishes.
This might appear to be an administrative measure, but what has happened
is that when the invitation was made seeking those who wished to be more
active in their parish, people came forward in their hundreds. They
came to parish assembles and they have committed themselves to be active
in ministries and services. There are also other examples which come
from new spiritual movements and small groups, most often driven by lay

Will Ireland be Christian in 2030? The answer will not be determined
by this year’s or next year’s survey. This year’s and next year’s survey,
and that of 2030, will be determined by the way we work today to rejuvenate
the Church, to bring new vitality to its structures, by the way our Church
communities and institutions really are Church, places where the knowledge
and the love of God prevails.

Our communities must aim at being communities of mature faith, but they
should not become elitist ghettoes. The Church by its nature must be open
and it must open a path of welcome for those who are still journeying, who
are still seeking, of those who are still weak, of those who are sinners.
If we can continue today to build such vibrant communities they will be
the ones who will put flesh and blood onto that more nebulous Christian
ethos which Ireland will have inherited in 2030. The message of the Gospel
will be as relevant as ever in 2030. We must ensure that the right messengers
are there: men and women formed in faith, authentic witnesses to the love
and healing power of Jesus.

I am confident that the Ireland of 2030 will not be a Godless society, but
one where the love of God lived out by men and women will continue to surprise
and open new ways for all.

18 jULY 2005

Further information:

Annette O Donnell
Communications Office
Archbishop’s House
Dublin 9
Telephone: (01) 836 0723
Facsimile: (01) 836 0793