Statement of the Autumn 2018 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference

03 Oct 2018

The Autumn 2018 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference concluded this afternoon in the Columba Centre, Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.  Please see below topics discussed by the bishops at their meeting:

  • Prayers for those killed and injured by the tsunami in Indonesia
  • Reflection on the visit of Pope Francis and the World Meeting of Families 2018
  • Safeguarding children in the Catholic Church
  • Towards Peace – spiritual support service for survivors of abuse
  • Synod of Bishops in Rome on Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment
  • Canonisations of Blessed Pope Paul VI and Blessed Oscar Romero
  • October is Mission Month: ‘Christian Families are Missionary Families’ (ii) The centenary of the Columban Fathers
  • Trócaire’s work and annual report for the financial year 2017/2018
  • Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery – ‘Day for Life’ pastoral message for 2018
  • Referendum to remove the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution of Ireland
  • Bishops publish pastoral letter A Room at the Inn? on homelessness and housing
  • The right of healthcare professionals to conscientious objection to abortion and to abortion referral
  • Bishops’ Conference membership and staff changes 
  • Prayers for those killed and injured by the tsunami in Indonesia 

During the celebration of Mass in recognition of the contribution of those involved in working and volunteering within the structures and initiatives of the Bishops’ Conference, and in the World Meeting of Families, bishops offered prayers for all those killed and injured as a result of the tsunami which devastated the Indonesian city of Palu on 28 September, and for those working tirelessly to rescue survivors.  Bishops prayed that the survivors and their families may find strength as they recover from the trauma of losing loved ones, their homes and their livelihoods. 

  • Reflection on the visit of Pope Francis and the World Meeting of Families 2018

Bishops reflected on the visit of the Holy Father Pope Francis and on the 9th World Meeting of Families which took place in Ireland from 21 to 26 August 2018, on the theme: ‘Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World’.

Bishops expressed their warm appreciation to Pope Francis for his visit to Ireland for WMOF especially at the Festival of Families in Croke Park, praying the Angelus at the Marian Shrine in Knock and as chief celebrant of the final Mass in the Phoenix Park.  Feedback to bishops from pilgrims who attended – from home and abroad – was that their experience was faith-filled and that families greatly enjoyed the WMOF celebrations which started at local diocesan level and continued over five days at a national level.

Bishops took the opportunity at their meeting to affirm their communion with Pope Francis.  Bishops agreed that, during his short time with us, it became clear to everyone that Pope Francis is a pastor of deep faith, a father who personifies love, a leader who exudes hope.  The faithful were inspired by his words and actions which exemplified peace, healing and good will.  During his visit to the World Meeting of Families Pope Francis greatly helped support the role of the Christian family in all of its vocation and mission. 

Bishops also paid a special tribute to Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life; to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, President of the 9th World Meeting of Families; to Father Timothy Bartlett and to Ms Anne Griffin in their respective WMOF roles as secretary general and as general manager; and to master of ceremonies Father Damian McNeice, for their unstinting efforts and generosity of spirit which helped forge the success of this mammoth undertaking for the Church in Ireland. 

Bishops especially thanked the WMOF volunteers for their hard work and also those families who acted as hosts to visiting pilgrims by providing accommodation during their time in Ireland.

Bishops also expressed their gratitude to the Government, to the departments of State including the Office of Public Works, to An Garda Síochána, to RTÉ in its role as host broadcaster, and to those involved in emergency services, for all their support, professionalism and for providing key resources to meet the large scale logistical demands required for the hosting of the World Meeting of Families.  Bishops also thanked the benefactors who contributed to this international celebration of faith in Ireland.

Bishops acknowledged that WMOF provided an uplifting and joy-filled experience for families and a special time to meet one another.  Many people engaged with this faith experience by way of broadcast media and on social media.  At this time the Church in Ireland has a unique opportunity to examine the legacy of WMOF. 

Bishops prayed in thanksgiving and for the intentions of the Holy Father, and for the success of the 10th meeting of the World Meeting of Families which will take place in Rome in 2021.

  • Safeguarding children in the Catholic Church

Mr John Morgan, chairperson, and Ms Teresa Devlin, chief executive, of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland advised the Bishops’ Conference on a range of activities engaging the current work of the Board.  They also outlined the detail of the Board’s upcoming national conference scheduled to take place in Kilkenny on 26 and 27 October next on the theme: ‘Be not afraid’.

Bishops paid tribute to the critical work of the National Board, and echoed the words of Pope Francis, in August, during his address to bishops in the Dominican Convent in Cabra, Dublin, when he acknowledged the exemplary safeguarding standard provided by the National Board for the benefit of the Church in Ireland.  Bishops renewed their thanks to the thousands of parish-based volunteers across Ireland whose commitment and vigilance to safeguarding children greatly underpins public confidence in the Church’s role in this area.

Bishops acknowledged the anger and dismay experienced by many in response to the reports over the summer, from a number of countries, concerning the criminal abuse of children and its cover-up.  Despite the many reports and serious findings on this subject here in Ireland in recent years, these overseas reports were nonetheless shocking.  Bishops welcomed the decision of Pope Francis to call the presidents of Bishops’ Conferences to a meeting in Rome next February to review the safeguarding of children in the Church. 

  • Towards Peace – spiritual support service for survivors of abuse

On 20 August Pope Francis in his Letter to the People of God reminded the universal Church of the words of Saint Paul, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor 12:26).  The Holy Father spoke of how this utterance forcefully echoed in his heart as he again acknowledged the suffering endured by minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by representatives of the Church. ‘We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.’  And speaking of the deep wound of abuse during Mass in the Phoenix Park, Pope Francis again pleaded for forgiveness.

Bishops discussed the multi-dimensional damage that abuse can cause to an individual, including to her/his relationship with God.  In 2014 ‘Towards Peace’ began as a joint outreach of the Bishops’ Conference and the Association of Leaders of Missionaries and Religious of Ireland in response to requests from some survivors for spiritual support to help them understand the impact of abuse.  Bishops commended those involved in the sensitive and challenging work of Towards Peace which seeks to provide a safe supportive space for people and their families, whose spiritual life has been damaged by abuse.  Through spiritual accompaniment, it offers spiritual support to victims and survivors of physical, emotional, sexual or spiritual abuse perpetrated by Church representatives in Ireland either on an individual level or within institutions.  Towards Peace also supports those who seek to support survivors, including Church personnel, to better understand the spiritual impact of the trauma of abuse.  There is no predetermined roadmap on this journey.  Each person travels at their own particular pace and the service is free of charge.  For more information see  

  • Synod of Bishops in Rome on Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment

From today until 28 October Pope Francis will host a Synod of Bishops in Rome on the theme: ‘Youth, faith and vocational discernment’. 

The Synod is an assembly of bishops from around the world, gathered with the Holy Father, to share their wisdom and experiences in the common pursuit of pastoral solutions which have a universal validity and application.  Taking place every three years, this will be the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.  Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, the President of the Bishops’ Conference and Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry, chair of the Council for Pastoral Renewal and Adult Faith Development, are representing the Irish bishops at the Synod.

As part of the preparations for the Synod, bishops met with representatives of youth ministry from around the country to discuss key themes arising from a web-based consultation which they undertook with young people.  This involved feedback from 2,500 respondents. 

Arising from this information, bishops noted positive examples and obstacles facing young people regarding their faith and growing up in the contemporary world, such as:

  • young people face many challenges including peer pressure, mental health issues and from social media;
  • young people are passionate about justice, equality and fairness, and desire to be listened to even when their opinions are not in line with Church teaching;
  • many young people want to learn, experience and have a greater role in their faith, but sometimes struggle in achieving this; and
  • the positive experiences of chaplaincy services, pilgrimages and other dedicated national and international youth encounter events.

As they reflected on the importance of this year’s theme for the contemporary Church, and on the responsibility placed upon the Synod Fathers, bishops asked the faithful to join with them by praying the Prayer for the Synod by Pope Francis:

Lord Jesus,

in journeying towards the Synod,

your Church turns her attention to all the young people in the world.

We pray that they might boldly

take charge of their lives,

aim for the most beautiful and profound things of life

and always keep their hearts unencumbered.


Accompanied by wise and generous guides,

help them respond to the call

you make to each of them,

to realize a proper plan of life

and achieve happiness.


Keep their hearts open to dreaming great dreams

and make them concerned for the good of others.


Like the Beloved Disciple,

may they stand at the foot of the Cross,

to receive your Mother as a gift from You.


May they be witnesses to your Resurrection

and be aware that you are at their side

as they joyously proclaim you as Lord.


  • Canonisations of Blessed Pope Paul VI and Blessed Oscar Romero

Pope Francis will canonise Blessed Pope Paul VI and Blessed Oscar Romero, the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador, as saints on 14 October next at Mass in Saint Peter’s Square, Rome.  Archbishop Eamon Martin and Bishop Donal McKeown, who are currently participating in the Synod of Bishops on Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment, will attend the canonisation ceremony.  During their meeting bishops asked the faithful to pray, through the intercession of the new saints, asking for a renewed dedication to the universal call to holiness, which was emphasized by the Second Vatican Council, and for a commitment to building a culture of life at all stages.

  • October is Mission Month: ‘Christian Families are Missionary Families’ (ii) The centenary of the Columban Fathers

The theme for Mission month 2018 is ‘Christian Families are Missionary Families.’  To encourage nationwide participation in this year’s theme, World Missions Ireland (Pope Francis’ official charity for overseas mission) is offering resources on and is hosting a number of activities during October:

  • ‘Children’s Day of Mission Prayer’ on Friday 12 October;
  • ‘Miles for Mission’ in association with the Vincentian Lay Missionaries on Saturday 20 October.  This involves a 5 kilometre run, walk, or jog in the Phoenix Park;
  • ‘World Mission Sunday’ on 21 October in parishes throughout the country; and,
  • ‘Mission Month Thanksgiving’, a closing event on Saturday 27 October in Saint Mary’s College, Rathmines, will include the celebration of Mass followed by a screening of the documentary Biafra Misean Dearmadta.

Bishops asked that the faithful be generous in their offerings for World Mission Sunday on 20/21 October next.  Mission Sunday collections are expressions of practical support for dioceses around the world where the Church is too young or is struggling to support itself.  Mission Sunday also helps promote hope and love for the work of missionaries in impoverished and remote communities.  Funds raised help to build much-needed infrastructure, including churches, medical clinics, nurseries and schools.

In this their centenary year, bishops acknowledged with prayerful gratitude the great worldwide contribution of the Missionary Society of Saint Columban (the Columban Fathers) which was founded with the Maynooth Mission to China in 1918.  Bishops praised the work of the Columban missionaries who were at the forefront of teaching about reconciliation and justice, caring for the earth, our common home, and pointing out how the poorest peoples of the world suffer most from the throwaway culture of greed and waste.

  • Trócaire’s work and annual report for the financial year 2017/2018

Bishops expressed their gratitutde to parishioners for their very generous contributions as detailed in Trócaire’s annual report for the 2017/18 financial year, with income up by 19%.  The generosity of the  public in helping to raise €29.1m meant Trócaire was able to assist 2.8 million people in the developing world last year, with significant contributions made during the Lenten campaign and a national church collection for hunger in east Africa.

In relation to Trócaire’s work, bishops expressed their grave concerns at the continual threat of violence in Nicaragua following the human rights crisis that emerged since social protests against the government began last April.  The violence has resulted in over 300 deaths and 2000 injuries, directly impacting on Trócaire staff and their families as Gerald Vasquez, the grandson of one member of staff, was shot dead while taking refuge in a church.

Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, Archbishop of Managua, was among the local hierarchy to ask for the prayers of the Irish people to enable a peaceful resolution to the crisis in their country. Cardinal Brenes said it was important that international organisations such as Trócaire are present in the country to offer much-needed support.  The situation remains very tense and Trócaire is continuing to work closely with the Church and other partners in Nicaragua.  

  • Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery – ‘Day for Life’ pastoral message for 2018

‘Day for Life’ is celebrated each year by the Catholic Church in Ireland, Scotland, England & Wales.  It is a day dedicated to raising awareness about the meaning and value of human life at every stage and in every condition.  Next Sunday, 7 October, we celebrate ‘Day for Life’ Sunday in parishes throughout our country.  The 2018 ‘Day for Life’ theme addresses the Church’s response to human trafficking and modern slavery.

Bishops thanked Ruhama for its support in the preparation of this year’s pastoral message.  Bishops praised the work of Ruhama for its work in advocacy and for assisting women affected by prostitution, including victims of sex trafficking.  Bishops encouraged the faithful to deepen their understanding of Catholic social teaching on this important issue by reviewing the pastoral message and related content on

  • Referendum to remove the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution of Ireland

Bishops discussed the decision by the Government to hold a referendum on 26 October next to remove the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution of Ireland.  Bishops reflected on the November 2013 submission of the Irish Council of Churches and the Irish Inter-Church Meeting to the Convention on the Constitution which considered this issue at the time.

Bishops reaffirmed their position that the current reference to blasphemy in the Constitution, under article 40.6.1.i, is largely obsolete, and may give rise to concern because of the way such measures have been used to justify violence and oppression against minorities in other parts of the world. 

Bishops reiterated that the promotion of freedom of religion, and the freedom of conscience, for all in society greatly enriches the social fabric of a country, and is one aspect of respect for the dignity of human persons.  The human right of faith communities to contribute to public life, including public debate on issues that are of importance to everyone, without being subjected to attack or ridicule, needs to be acknowledged and respected.

Bishops stressed that it is vital to ensure that the rights of individuals and communities to practice and live out their faith openly are protected by our law.  In this context bishops, once again, expressed their solidarity with Christians and all those throughout the world who are currently experiencing persecution, and human rights abuses, because of their faith or beliefs.

  • Bishops publish pastoral letter A Room at the Inn? on homelessness and housing

The Autumn General Meeting opened with a press conference to launch the Bishops’ Conference’s pastoral letter A Room at the Inn? on the subject of homelessness and the housing crisis.  It was attended by Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin, acting chair of the Council for Justice & Peace;  the research coordinator with the Council for Justice & Peace; and Father Seán Donohoe OFM Cap, co-director of the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin city.  The full text of the pastoral letter is available now on

  • The right of healthcare professionals to conscientious objection to abortion and to abortion referral

Later this week it is expected that legislation will be brought before the Oireachtas to provide for abortion services.  Bishops will make a statement on this issue at that time.

  • Bishops’ Conference membership and staff changes

Bishops gave a warm welcome to Bishop Thomas Deenihan as the newest member of the Bishops’ Conference.  Bishop Deenihan was ordained Bishop of Meath on 2 September in the Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar.  Bishops offered their appreciation to Bishop Michael Smith, Bishop Emeritus of Meath, for his incalculable contribution to the work of the Bishops’ Conference as the first executive secretary to the Conference and subsequently in his role as bishop.  Bishop Smith served as a much loved pastor of the faithful of Meath and was, on his retirement, the longest serving bishop in Ireland.  Bishops prayed for the intentions of Bishop Smith and that he may enjoy a happy, healthy and well-deserved retirement.

Bishops expressed their congratulations to the new chief executive of Trócaire, Ms Caoimhe de Barra, and wished her well in her important role.  Bishops expressed their deep gratitude to Mr Éamonn Meehan for his twenty-seven years working with Trócaire, which included five years as director and eleven years as deputy director.  Bishops applauded Mr Meehan’s tenure – in sometimes challenging circumstances – for successfully promoting our Christian responsibility to support sustainable overseas development and aid which targets the most vulnerable subsisting on the margins in the developing world.


For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Katie Crosby 00353 (0) 86 862 3298