Loss and Hope in the Irish Catholic Church Part II: Research Published in Doctrine and Life

imageThe May-June edition of the journal Doctrine and Life carries part II of my research titled, ‘Loss and Hope in the Irish Catholic Church.’ Part I was published back in April and outlined here. Doctrine and Life is available through Dominican Publications.

The research is part of my School’s wider Visioning 21st Century Ecumenism project, which among many other issues, has considered the current crisis in the Irish Catholic Church.

This second article focuses on my research on three organisations: Sli Eile/Magis Ireland (a Jesuit young adult ministry), Holy Cross Benedictine Monastery in Rostrevor, Co. Down, and the Parish Pastoral Council (PPC) in Ballyboden, Dublin.

I’ve reproduced some of the early paragraphs of the article, to give you a flavour for the research findings.

Loss and Hope in the Irish Catholic Church: Part II

For many it seems like the Catholic Church in Ireland (CCI) is headed down a road of irreversible and terminal decline, haemorrhaging previously committed members and surrendering its moral authority in the wake of the clerical child sexual abuse scandals. In the previous issue of this journal, I wrote about the ‘de-institutionalisation’ of the CCI, explaining that this is a sociological process linked to wider processes of modernisation, secularisation and globalisation, and explored the institutional church’s response to this development.[1]

But how are Irish Catholics – the laity – responding to the crisis in their church? In the second and final part of this series, I argue that Irish Catholics are cultivating some hope by participating in what I am calling ‘extra-institutional’ spaces. Extra-institutional spaces include Catholic organisations and the traditional religious orders, as well as the parish pastoral councils (PPC) established within local parishes. These are officially fully integrated into the Irish and worldwide Catholic Church. But I contend that these extra-institutional spaces are seen by laypeople to operate differently or outside of the institutional Catholic church, and this makes them a more attractive space for people to explore and to live out their faith.

Irish Catholics’ positive perceptions of particular Catholic organisations and religious orders have been apparent in my case studies of Slí Eile, a Jesuit young adult ministry; Holy Cross, a Benedictine monastery in Rostrevor, Co. Down; and the PPC in Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Ballyboden, Dublin, which is served by Augustinian priests. These case studies were conducted in 2010 and 2011, as part of a wider research project by the Irish School of Ecumenics, ‘Visioning 21st Century Ecumenism: Diversity, Dialogue and Reconciliation.’ These were three of eight case studies of different expressions of Christianity and other religions. We deliberately selected cases that, based on prior knowledge of members of the research team and data gathered in our survey of clergy and faith leaders on the island of Ireland,[2] demonstrated dynamism and life – one might call it hope. As such, the cases are not representative of faith in Ireland, but rather provide snapshots of the diversity that is present in religious life on this island.

In the analysis that follows, I offer brief descriptions of Slí Eile, Holy Cross and Ballyboden PPC. Then I combine insights from the interviews with Catholics who are involved with Slí Eile, Holy Cross and Ballyboden PPC. Though participants raised many themes in their interviews[1], here I focus on just three:

  • placing their hope for Christianity in Ireland outside of the institutional church;
  • finding safe spaces for hope, healing and personal growth; and
  • valuing pursuits that they perceive as neglected by the institutional church, including ecumenism, social justice and a deeper spirituality.

(Image sourced on Flickr, by Fergal of Claddagh)


[1] I analysed the interviews using narrative analysis, identifying common themes across the interviews and ‘coding’ the transcripts accordingly. Coding means to identify a particular chunk of text with a theme, such as spirituality, social justice, church scandals, and so on, just to name a few. Thanks to Siona Masters, David Masters, and Jay Miller for their assistance in transcribing the interviews.


[1] Gladys Ganiel, ‘Loss and Hope in the Irish Catholic Church Part I,’ Doctrine and Life, April 2012.

[2] Gladys Ganiel, 21st Century Faith: Results of the Survey of Clergy, Pastors, Ministers and Faith Leaders (2009) http://www.ecumenics.ie/wp-content/uploads/Clergy-Survey-Report.pdf, accessed 5 April 2011.

3 Responses to Loss and Hope in the Irish Catholic Church Part II: Research Published in Doctrine and Life

  1. geraldine.murphy June 8, 2012 at 11:30 am #

    Loss and Hope in The Catholic church Part 11

    In response to this article in part the the theme Irish Catholic’s are cultivating some hope by cultivating and participating in extra Institutional spaces is an apt description of how perhaps lay people can contribute something towards the (Institutional Church) after all as babes in arms the Irish mothers of long ago signed you up by rite of Baptism as a member.. The research is excellent in the areas covered,however as most of it is composed of different groupings.Diversity within the current Irish church seems to be the norm presently perhaps this may be a good thing. The age factor is problematic as religious orders are not replaced with the decline in vocations. America is booming in this area presently it surely must be a good omen. Many lay people are despondant as the leadership of the Irish Catholic Church insisted on the Eucharistic Congress. Excuse me for commenting but given the current economic and scandal ridden situation both in the Irish church and in the country one does not feel like having a party. Here again lay people are not even consulted, the media and Rome is the tool of operation in this situation.The Irish Daily Mail article of (Faith Must Rise Again) June 1st by Dr Mark Dooley focus’es on some good points,in the ecumenism gesture to the Anglican Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson celebrating the main liturgy on the first full day of the Congress (Liturgy of Word and Water) is this not a bit rich considering that this event is a Catholic? or is it a New Age Event.Why not include our Jewish brothers in this gesture?.The Irish church is more secular now than any other time in history and lay people are the key players in any future progress.
    Geraldine (Limerick)
    please do not print my e-mail

  2. Martin June 12, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

    I think Mark might like to rethink that bearing in mind the Protestant clergyman ‘blessed’ the Catholic people. Such craziness. The RCC doesn’t believe Anglican orders are even valid, so why was Michael Jackson of all people ( =p ) blessing the Catholic congregation like a Catholic priest? Sure why not get a Catholic woman to do it, put a stole on her – why not! It’s taking the mick if you ask me.

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  1. Schism or Bust: The Irish Catholic Church in Flux | The Platform - September 20, 2012

    […] say the Church has headed down a road of terminal decline, “haemorrhaging previously committed members and surrendering its moral authority”, all the while refusing to acknowledge the gravity of the issue and remaining unwilling to alter […]

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