Re-Organisation of the Irish Catholic Church

The word from the Vatican is that ‘the Irish Catholic Church faces major reorganisation.’ This comes in the wake of the child abuse scandals and their cover-up by senior officials of church and state.

An article by Patsy McGarry and Paddy Agnew in Saturday’s Irish Times quoted a statement from Pope Benedict that:

“The Holy See takes very seriously the central issues raised by the [Murphy] report, including questions concerning the governance of local church leaders with ultimate responsibility for the pastoral care of children.”

The Pope also will write a pastoral letter to the faithful of Ireland.

It remains to be seen if these promised initiatives can get to the heart of the problems within the Irish Catholic Church. I suspect that these moves from the hierarchy, even when they come, may be minimal in their impact.

In fact, the academic research I’m working on at the moment indicates that Irish Catholics aren’t looking to their faith leaders for spiritual, moral or practical guidance so much anymore. From April-July 2009, my department conducted an online survey of laypeople in Ireland. One of the major findings was that for Irish Catholics, the most important influence on their thinking about faith, religion, or God was ‘personal reflection.’ Here is how Irish Catholics ranked the importance of various influences on their faith:

1. Personal reflection
2. Family
3. Reading books about faith/religion
4. Friends
5. Reading Scripture
6. Own Faith Leaders
7. International Level Faith Leaders
8. National Level Faith Leaders

I was really struck by these results, and how Irish Catholics are minimising the importance of church leadership for their everyday lives. Any initiatives from the hierarchy to deal with the findings of the Murphy Report will have to not only address the pain of victims and survivors in a meaningful way, but break through the hard shell of indifference to officialdom that seems to have developed among the faithful.

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