Address of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin to the to Oxford University Newman Society

04 Jun 2010

4 June 2010

Address of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin to the to Oxford University Newman Society

Check against delivery

“There are many young people who are struggling to find a reason to remain in the Church”

The title that I have chosen for my reflections this evening – There are many young people who are struggling to find a reason to remain in the Church – may seem slightly puzzling to some of you.  Let me explain its origin.  It is a line taken from the comment of the Parish Pastoral Council of one Dublin parish sent to me in the light of the publication of the Murphy Report into the sexual abuse of children by priests within the Archdiocese of Dublin.

The Murphy Report was a very significant examination of how allegations of sexual abuse by priests were managed by Church and State authorities in Ireland.  The Report was the fruit of a Government instituted Commission which was established to examine a representative sample of how abuse cases were managed in the period of time between 1975 and 2004.

The findings of the Murphy Report were disastrous.  Certainly much of what was dealt with took place in different times and in a different culture.   Medical science and juridical reflection may have underestimated the damage done to children who were sexually abused. But what the Murphy Report narrated was nonetheless catastrophic.   I have repeated on numerous occasions that for me the only honest reaction of the Church to that Report was to publicly admit that the manner in which that catastrophe was addressed was spectacularly wrong; spectacularly wrong “full stop”; not spectacularly wrong, “but…”   You cannot sound-byte your way out of a catastrophe.

The cultural situation was different; abuse takes place in many other sectors of society.  This is all true.  But it cannot be used as an excuse to down-play the gravity of what took place in the Church of Christ.  The Church is different; the Church is a place where children should be the subject of special protection and care.  The Gospel presents children in a special light and reserves some of its most severe language for those who disregard or scandalise children in any way.

It is hard to understand why, in the management by Church authorities of cases of the sexual abuse of children, the children themselves were for many years rarely even taken into the equation.  Yes, in the culture of the day children were to be seen and not heard, but different from other professions Church leaders should have been more aware of the Gospel imperative to avoid harm to children, whose innocence was indicated by the Lord a sign of the kingdom of God.  Where innocent children are failed, the Kingdom of God and the message of Jesus Christ have been distorted.

It is not my intention this evening to enter deeply into the question of the management and cover-up of the problem of sexual abuse by priests.  It is a question which has influenced me deeply over the six years in which I have been Archbishop of Dublin.  I have dedicated a great deal of time to the question and I do not regret that.  I have met with and listened to survivors; I have been often so angry when I witness the horrendous damage that was done to people’s lives.  I have worked to ensure that we have sound child safeguarding procedures in all our parishes.  I have cooperated in three investigations and am now engaged with two others.   I often feel that he Archdiocese of Dublin will turn out to be the most investigated diocese in the world:  It has dealt with the Murphy Commission – for which I submitted almost 70,000 documents; it has dealt with  two large scale police investigations, one currently on-going; it has responded to a detailed audit by the State’s Health Service Executive.  The Church’s National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland is due to conduct a further audit and an Apostolic Visitation of the Diocese have been announced for the coming months.

The Church must recognise the failings and cover ups of the past but it cannot be imprisoned in its past.  That is the challenging dilemma which I have to face as Pastor of a diocese of about 1,200,000 Catholics, by far the largest diocese in these islands.

The Catholic Church in Ireland is coming out of one of the most difficult moments in its history yet the light at the end of the tunnel is still a long way off.  The Catholic Church in Ireland will have to live with the grief of its past, which cannot and should never be forgotten or overlooked.  There is no simple way of wiping the slate of the past clean, just to ease our feelings.  Yet the Catholic Church in Ireland cannot be imprisoned in its past.  The work of evangelization must if anything takes on a totally new vibrancy.  

I would not however like what I say about moving onwards to be in any way interpreted as turning my back on the survivors of sexual abuse. They had their childhood stolen and the words of Jesus about his special care for children will apply to them until that day, whenever and if ever that will be, when the hurt of their stolen childhood will be healed.   In my years as Archbishop I have learned enormously from survivors as they allowed me to know something of their pain and of their hopes and also of the spiritual void which many experience as a result of betrayal by their Church.   I use the term spiritual void because it is an expression which some survivors have used to express how they feel in their lives.  In my encounters with survivors, however, I have found their spiritual fragility somehow has given them in a deep spiritual strength, from which I have profited.  For that I thank them.

I have begun my reflections by looking at some aspects of the effects of the abuse scandal within the Archdiocese of Dublin.  I do so to situate the context in which young people in Ireland today engage with their faith and with their Church.  

There are indeed many young people in our parishes who are struggling to find a reason to remain in the Church.  There are many more who have long since made their decision not to remain.   There are those for whom the Church is totally off their radar screen.   

This is not just the common situation in which the young people of each generation question or even reject the Church at a particular moment in their personal development. I believe that the crisis today goes much deeper.  For many young people who were already doubting their faith, the abuse scandal was just the ultimate confirmation that they had been looking for of the fact that the Catholic Church in its current expression is for them much more than a wounded organization, but a failed organization if not indeed a hypocritical organization.   Parents who go to Church tell me that the have to listen to the comments of their children regarding why they keep going “to those people”.  This is very frustrating for parents who themselves may be still hanging in there by what a seventy year old wrote to me this morning “the fingernails of faith”.

There is no way then that we can underplay the effect that the abuse scandals have had on young people.  But it must be said very clearly that the crisis of belief among young people has far deeper roots and roots which were there well before the abuse scandal.

I visit parishes where I encounter no young people.  I enquire what is being done to attract young people to parish life and the answers are vague.  Everyone knows that there is a missing generation in our Church attendance and perhaps more than one, yet there are very few strong pastoral initiatives to reach out to young people.   Parishes offer very little outreach to young people and I feel that an increasing number of young people find parishes a little like alien territory.  

There are structural and cultural factors which are unique to the Irish Church which have contributed to this alienation of our young people.  The Irish Church has traditionally stressed the central role of Catholic schools.  In the nineteenth century, after Catholic Emancipation, the Irish Church was determined that it would have an education system not just open to Catholics, as had hitherto not being the case, but which gave the strongest possible guarantee of being truly Catholic.  

The only Irish bishop who took a strong strand in favour of Catholic participation in the initial National School system or in the Queens University system was the Archbishop of Dublin, Daniel Murray.  His successor in Dublin, the first Irish Cardinal, Paul Cullen, on the other hand strongly supported the idea of specifically Catholic education in schools and universities and definitively won the Holy See’s support for his views.   

It was Cullen who invited Newman to come to Dublin to establish the Catholic University of Ireland.  There is a fascinating temptation for me to ask the “What if” question: what if the model of Archbishop Murray had been followed with Catholic children attending public schools and secular universities? Might the faith in Ireland have been stronger and less parochial?

Newman’s University, in fact, was not a great success; its degrees were not recognised and apart from the medical school failed to attract public interest.   I have to be careful not to make many critical comments about the effectiveness of Newman’s University, not just because I am addressing a Newman Society, but because I am actually the current Rector of the Catholic University of Ireland which still exists in law.  It exists in law but it has little more than Trustees, a Rector and a beautiful University Church designed in great part under the direct influence of Newman.  I will come back to that Church later.

The particular religious history of Ireland led to great emphasis being placed on the school as the principal vehicle for religious education.  The school in Ireland then became a rather authoritarian school system, with Victorianism, Jansenism and older Irish penitential spirituality combining.  Questioning was not encouraged.  Questions of faith were to be accepted in obedience.   It was presumed that all students in Catholic schools were believers and that they would make the First Communion and Confirmation when they reached the appropriate class.  In my younger days parents were not even allowed to be in the Church for Confirmation. In more recent years, due to the drop in the number of priests and the increase of their work load, the link between sacramental preparation and school deepened and the link between sacramental preparation and parish diminished.

A form of religious education which is separated from the parish or some other non-school faith community will almost inevitably cave in the day that school ends. Sacramental formation belongs within the Christian community which welcomes and supports each of us on our journey.   We need a more demanding catechesis, within a parish framework, for those who wish to come forward for admission to the sacraments.   Admission to the sacraments is not something which is automatically acquired when one reaches a certain class in school.  I have just begun a long term pastoral project in the Archdiocese of Dublin to find new solutions to this challenge.

The curious demography and history of the Irish Church meant also that the Church developed and pioneered all sorts of valuable services within the community.   This was often done at no expense to the State.  As Irish society became wealthier, it was rightfully claimed that such services deserved appropriate support from public authorities because of the social benefit they provided.  

This resulted in two consequences.  Today to many who have no understanding of the historical roots of this situation it can easily appear that the Church uses its role in social services because it wanted to and still wants to maintain dominating control of many aspects of society.  This is another source of alienation for young people.  Secondly as the years went on and salaries were paid by the State, many of these Church services lost something of the Christian concept of gratuitousness and became little different to any other professional service.   A Church which looses that sense of gratuitousness looses something of the essential dimensions of its witness to Jesus.  I believe that it is no coincidence that the consistent generosity people show towards the Saint Vincent de Paul Society comes precisely because of the gratuity of its witness

A further problem emerged as the Catholic Church in Ireland, which was provider of many services, began to be blamed as responsible or co-responsible for the defects of these services.  The situation emerged in which rather than being an uncompromising witness to the values of the Gospel, Church-run institutions became embroiled in all sorts of disputes which were not really matters for the Church.  Again in this context the Church, even in those areas where the it was seeking to provide care and support to the poor, appeared to many young people, as a Church seeking power.

The Church will continue to provide services for the poor and recognises the need for professionalism in its services.  Hopefully the Church has learned the lesson that it should not allow itself to be involved in providing poor quality services for the poor.   When Church services become simply ancillary to State then they run the risk of loosing their ecclesial originality and will one day end up being incorporated into the public service structure and subordinated to its goals.  Already the structures of some Catholic services are being altered to respond to financial policies of the State.

The Catholic Church in Ireland has to adapt itself to the changing society within which it lives.  My reflections this afternoon are principally about the Catholic Church in Ireland.  I am not an expert in nor would I presume to talk much less to lecture to the Church here in the United Kingdom.  For that I have neither the mandate nor the competence.   The pastoral situation in Ireland is quite different to that in the United Kingdom.

The Catholic Church in Ireland has to adapt itself to the changing society within which it lives.  One non-Catholic observer, speaking at a recent meeting of the Dublin Council of Churches, noted that all of our Churches were today “wearing the wrong clothes”, clothes that were measured in times when we were all a lot fatter and when styles were very different.  In the future the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland will have to find its place in a very different, much more secularised culture, at times even in a hostile culture. The Catholic Church has to look again at the dominant role it assumed in Irish society, while at the same time not renouncing its prophetic role in society and in the formation of consciences through opening to the teaching of Jesus Christ.   

This will involve a much greater degree of parish-based catechesis and evangelisation within our parishes.   Our parishes are changing.  In Dublin we are now preparing a third cohort of lay pastoral workers who have brought new charisms and dynamism in to the ministry of our parishes.  It has not been easy.  Parishes are often not yet ready and willing to face the radical nature of the change that is inevitable.  The introduction of full time lay parish pastoral workers has had a number of important effects.   The clearly lay character of the mission of these Parish Pastoral Workers has opened up new possibilities of encounter and welcome to enhance lay charisms both directly within the Church and in the presence of lay Christians in the world in which they work. Their presence challenges any remnants of a culture of clericalism. Lay pastoral workers have found ways of involving more lay people in Church activities and above all in formation in theology and spirituality. Lay pastoral workers are called not to bring volunteerism to an end, but rather to enhance the participation of lat people in the life of the Church.  Parishes must become real centre of on-going faith formation.  

Renewal in the Church requires more involvement of lay people.  Involvement requires also formation and not just structural changes.  Looking at the Churches, especially the Orthodox Churches, which have a long tradition of synodality one sees that synodality is lived out within deep theological, ecclesiological and historical roots.  The tradition of synodality has not been as strong in the Western Church, yet it is quite developed in the current Code of Canon Law.  However for synodality to function at the service of evangelization it requires a deep ecclesiological sense.  Synods are not parliaments; synods are not talking shops.  

Stressing renewal of the sacramental and spiritual dimensions of the Church does not mean that the Church intends to retreat into the sacristy. The Irish Church may once have dominated social reflection.  Those days are gone and the Church must recognise that the weight of its voice in a much more secular society has changed.  To return to my friend’s analogy, the Church must change its clothes, not just as cosmetic change or to look more fashionable, but to have clothes which make us more agile for the task that is ours.  

There are as I have said certain structural challenges in the Irish Church which must be faced, some of which are unique to Ireland and its social and religious history.  But the challenge of helping you people to remain active members of the Church is not simply a structural one.  It is much more about the quality of the faith of young people and the very manifestation of the Church itself. I am struck by the comments I had quoted earlier from parents whose children ask them why they are still going “to those people”.  The alienation of young people is not with the message of Jesus but with “those people” – which means me – which means the current structures and culture of those with responsibility within the Church. Their alienation with the Church is not that “Mass is boring” which we have all felt at some stage or other.  It is that young people fail to find in their experience of Church the experience of a lived and living Gospel community.  New evangelization will only take place within a Church which is purified and renewed.  There will be no renewal without purification and purification is never a half measure.  

Young people today are as idealistic and generous as any generation of young people if not even more so.  The Church in Ireland has failed to capture that generosity and idealism as the foundation for building up a renewed Church.  The generosity and idealism of young people hesitates in the face of remnants of a culture of authoritarianism in the Church.  Such authoritarianism was inappropriate even in the past.   It is especially alien to the culture of young people. There is no way in which faith can be imposed.  Young people need to be led into the fundamental question about God, within a culture where there are many other very attractive gods with which young people encounter day by day.  

One can only be led into the question of God through a process of dialogue and reflection.  To face the question about God, young people have first of all to ask the question about God, to be aware that this is a question which does not just belong to the pre-scientific past past, but needs to be addressed today and in the concrete today of our lives.  They need to see that such dialogue between faith and science, faith and culture are not just taking place here and there but are characteristic of the culture of the Church today at all levels.

There is no way in which the process of engaging with the question about God can be developed on the basis of simple dogmatic imposition.  The process is a much more difficult one where we are all called to be witnesses which attract others to the message of the Risen Lord.   Dialogue between faith and science, faith and culture can only take place outside the framework of ideological pre-conditions and in terms of real honesty and integrity.

The question about God is a fundamental question within our modern Western societies and addressing it is vital if we wish to find ways of rooting the values which should underlie our interaction as individuals and as society.   

But young people need to be initiated into the search for God in another manner, through encountering the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ.  They have to be led to encounter Jesus Christ as a person with whom they can enter into a relationship and who will lead them to understand that God is not just an ultimate cause, but that God is love. The Catholic Church in Ireland needs new form of evangelization which involves strong scriptural renewal.  I have had 250,000 copies of the Gospel of Saint Luke printed this year and distributed in our parishes.  I hope that this will be one contribution to such a biblical renewal.  Each month a group of biblical and pastoral scholars prepare an “e-good news letter” helping priests and people to know how to use and interpret the scriptural texts that will be found in the liturgy in the month ahead.   We have interactive link ups between parish scripture and lectio divina groups.  

I am happy that we are finding good use for new communications technology to reach out to young people.  We need a new dynamic of catechesis which meets people where they are and leads them into the mysterious presence of God in their lives.

Let me come back to Newman’s Church.   I do not know if any of you may ever visited Newman’s University Church.  Walking along Saint Stephen’s Green in the heart of Dublin you would hardly notice that there was a Church there. There is a small porch with a cross on it.  If you enter into a porch you find yourself in a long, nondescript corridor which gives little indication where it might be leading.  Then you suddenly enter a quite unique Church, of great beauty and mystery, quite unlike other Churches built in its time, very much Newman’s Church.

I often link that experience of entering Newman’s Church with the challenge of evangelization.  The task of evangelization is to challenge these who walk our cities to stop and be curious about this small signs of God’s presence which are all around us but which so often we chose to ignore.  We need to stimulate the curiosity of those who walk directionless or just going about day to day activities.  But we have to realise that such curiosity will not provide immediate results. There is still, for all of us, the long, nondescript corridor which gives you no indication of what you might expect if you journey onwards.  This is the challenge and the risk of faith   But through perseverance and especially through the helping hand of other people of faith we can be led to enter into the surprising, into a presence of God which brings us way beyond the sphere of normal human imagination.

Experiencing the beauty of faith is not something that will happen to us every day.  There is no way however we can expect young people to remain in the Church if we do not at least attempt to open up that experience for them or at least glimpses of it which can enlighten and encourage them in the ups and downs of their life within their culture and the characteristics of their generation.

As a Bishop there are many reasons for me to be disillusioned and discouraged.  Yet there are many reasons for being optimistic and hopeful and indeed for being motivated myself to work with others who wish to make that journey from living in the pure day-by-day to finding beauty and love in an encounter with Jesus Christ.

There are many reasons why young people would not remain within the Church.  There are many reasons why they should remain, should feel a part of the Church and should enrich the Church with the charisms that they have received.

We all have reasons to be discouraged and to be angry.  There is a sense, however, in which true reform of the Church will spring only from those who love the Church, with a love like that of Jesus which is prepared also to suffer for the Church and to give oneself for the Church.

Thank God there are many who love their Church: lay persons, religious and clergy.    We love the Church because the Church is our home, the pace where we encounter the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ and where we gather in love to break bread in his memory.


Further information:
Communications Office 01 8360723, email [email protected], web