One of the country’s most senior bishops has said the Church here has lost the battle against secularism.
In an often pessimistic assessment of the future of the faith in Ireland, the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary, warned that, “on the very edge of Europe, we are hearing the last vestiges of Christendom in their death-rattle”.
In his homily at the Mass for the Association of Papal Orders in Ireland at McKee Barracks in Dublin, the archbishop said the Church in Ireland found itself “at a rather bewildering crossroads”.
He warned that the Church was regarded with apathy by many people. “Even the outright hostility we had been experiencing from sections of the media, the political establishment and some of the public has curiously abated.
“This, if I am right, is not because the depth of our piety and the brilliance of our arguments have made them think again.
“This is because the whole society, like an Irish village of 50 years ago, knows and is tacitly acknowledging something that hardly needs to be said – that a great struggle, social, political, intellectual and profoundly cultural, has been fought. And that we have lost.”
Dr Neary (68), who is one of the country’s longest-serving bishops, claimed that the abuse scandals were not the primary reason why many people had walked away from the Church. “Disgraceful as they were, they only added force to the inevitable shrugging aside of values which had come to be seen as inhibiting and obsolete. Holding Ireland back from the fire, as it were, from its place at the secular hearth, from the warmth of belonging in the new consensus.”
He likened the attitude of many Irish people to the Church to “the good-natured forbearance accorded to an elderly, opinionated and rather irritable relative.
“We are not as serious a threat and will soon be even less so,” he said.
The archbishop warned that the communal understanding and experience of Christian culture “is gone, never to return”.
Archbishop Neary said it was with “something approaching incredulity” that many people heard “the call to battle” that is Pope Francis recent letter Evangelii Gaudium.
He admitted that the reaction to the Pope’s call to mission to the Church in Ireland was met with “a pleased incredulity, to be sure, perhaps even delighted, but anyone could be forgiven for a certain level of nerves.
“The Pope has no illusions about the state of the Church in many parts of the world and especially in Europe.
“In spite of this, he has effectively said that the opportunities present in the situation should be irresistible for anyone of faith,” Dr Neary said.
“It will, to say the least, be labour-intensive. If we are to manage this enormous transition to a smaller but more dynamically evangelical Church we will need people. Not primarily money or structures, however important these may be,” the archbishop said.