Bishop Donal McKeown launches Framework Document on Youth Ministry in Ireland

30 May 2009

30 May 2009

Bishop Donal McKeown launches Framework Document on Youth Ministry in Ireland

When we were seeking a date for the launch of this document, various factors were considered – availability of people, appropriate date and, of course, a desire not to be caught in the wake of other events. The theme of the 2008 World Youth Day in Sydney had been You will be my witnesses, and the Vigil of Pentecost seemed to be a good time to take up that theme. 

However, as we know, the Ryan Report has caused huge shock waves around the country and abroad and is a major part of the context in which this launch takes place. We have all heard about the appalling treatment of so many vulnerable young people in church-run homes and about the apparent deafness of Irish society to the reality of what was going in. We have heard about the effect of those experiences on the ability of many people to cope with adult life. We have heard the anger of victims and of the country at large. A response to them has to be our first priority. We have heard so much criticism of the Catholic Church globally and nationally and that hurts all of us in different degrees and ways. We know that there are more painful revelations about past events to come in the Dublin Report. We know that there have been other events that will never come out into the public arena. And we ask what could have gone so wrong in the mindset of a country and church that still continued to produce so many good and gracious things. And that leaves us all confused, disappointed and raw. We know it will take a long time for our pain and distress to be healed. But we are all too aware that, for some, healing will be only a dream as they bear the terrible scars to their grave.

It is important to address these issues before we turn to the document in hand today. This is a major part of the context in which we are Church today just as the days prior to Pentecost saw a band of demoralised and uncertain disciples gathered in Jerusalem. As the disciples discovered at Pentecost and on the road to Emmaus, being in an uncomfortable place is sometimes the best situation if we are to be open to the mysterious workings of God’s forgiveness and resurrection.

So before saying what this document is, it is important to say what it is not. This is not some claim by the Church that we are entitled to privileges in working with young people. This is not a pastoral plan for how to get more young people into active involvement in the various ways in which we are Church. This is not a structure that will replace the quiet – and not so quiet – work done in so many ways up and down this country.

So what is it? It was conceived a couple of years ago and its proud parents were – and still are – two bodies set up by the Episcopal Conference whose work overlapped in this area. The two are

  • The National Committee of Diocesan Youth Directors (currently with Fr Gerry Kearns as Secretary); and
  • The Youth Ministry Sub-Committee of the Episcopal Commission for Pastoral Renewal and Adult Faith Development (and the Resource Person for that Commission is Sr Anne Codd).
Its purpose was to sketch out a framework that would set a context, priorities and methodology for youth ministry in this country. So it asks questions and seeks to sketch out some answers.
  • What is the cultural context and the lived reality of life for young Irish people and how might our various local church structures seek to engage with that reality in order to communicate the Good News of God’s abundant love for each individual and for the whole world?
  • What is the purpose and what are the goals of church work with young people in Ireland?
  • What are the core elements in a structured approach to young ministry and where does evangelisation takes place?
  • What should characterise high quality youth work in Ireland today?
  • How might we start to evaluate current practice or set up new approaches to proclaiming the Gospel in the very varied contexts of church and young people in modern Ireland?

The answers are provided within certain parameters.

  • There is the new National Catechetical Directory which aims to give a specifically Irish slant to the Vatican document on catechesis;
  • There is the vitally important Child Protection guidelines that should ensure that there is no safer place in Ireland for young people than modern church work.

But this publication is careful not to merely try and tell adults how to work with young people. Rather it asking us all how we want to be Church –

  • a church of old and young,
  • in a world of great opportunity and danger, of great wealth and poverty,
  • a church of parishes, schools, chaplaincies, organisations, movements,
  • in a society with so many means of communication.

That is why it fits under the umbrellas of both its parent bodies. Yes, it is about youth work and the very important work of diocesan directors in ensuring a systematic approach to that work in their diocese. And yet it is also part of how we seek to proclaim the Gospel to all ages. Parents and families, schools and parishes are all vital in forming young people in faith. But young people under 25 are half the population of this country. They are part of our faith communities, not just future members in training.

So this launch is the end of a process that has sought to consult widely. I pay tribute to all involved in that process, and especially to Fr Michael Kelleher, the comparatively new Provincial of the Redemptorists for his tireless work and attention to detail. I know that he has had lots of support but the baby would not have been brought to birth without his dedicated and methodical work. Veritas have of course taken on a major piece of work in preparing this for publication and for getting it out into the country. To all involved our thanks are due.

But this is also the beginning of a new process. What we want to have now is an ongoing and structured conversation about how to be a evangelising and youth friendly church in modern Ireland. This book is not the last word. Bt it is saying that, whatever terrible things have happened in the past, we will not be locking ourselves in upper rooms but continue to take seriously our call to live the Gospel and  to proclaim it.  Despite perversions of the Gospel, we will continue to seek the liberating truth and energising grace of Jesus’ Gospel. Thus, the Episcopal Conference is working on setting up an Implementation Group to ensure that this document does not just lie on the shelf but is discussed around the country. Decisions will still be taken locally in dioceses and in the many movements and organisations that have sprung up round the country in recent decades. But this is our best stab at a consistent and agreed framework for Catholic Church youth work in Ireland. It will be reviewed in a couple of years and in some ways I hope that it will be out of sate by that stage. I hope we will have been able to develop out theory, practice and methodology because of this book and we asking new question.

So I’m not sure whether I am here to baptise the child or just as a content old grandfather for it. But I am very happy to offer it humbly to the Irish Church. It is not an assertion of power but a commitment to serve the building up of communities where Gods dream for the world can continue to live. It is not a vision of a closed world but of one that is open to working with other Christian churches, other believers and all people of good will.

On the eve of Pentecost we ask the Lord’s blessing on our work that we might do his work and his alone.


Notes for Editors

  • Bishop Donal McKeown is Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor.
  • Up to 100 young people, representing all 26 dioceses in Ireland, attended today’s launch in St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.
  • Please contact photographer John McElroy on 087 2416985 [email protected] if you require photos from today’s event.
  • A video interview with Sr Anne Codd and summary of A Framework Document for Youth Ministry in Ireland are available on

Further information:
Martin Long, Director of Communications 086 172 7678