Fr Gerry O’Hanlon, a Jesuit priest, was interviewed yesterday morning on the Newstalk Breakfast radio show. O’Hanlon referenced a number of issues that are raised in the latest issue of the Jesuit journal Studies, which has ‘The Future of Irish Catholicism’ as its theme. O’Hanlon has written the lead article in the special issue, which also includes articles by Tom Inglis and me.
You can listen to O’Hanlon’s interview here:
I plan to review the special issue on this blog soon.
O’Hanlon’s interview focuses on the reasons why there have been declines in mass attendance, levels of belief, and social influence for the Catholic Church in Ireland.
He mentions the work of Inglis, a sociologist at University College Dublin, who argues that in Ireland, ‘sport has become the new religion.’ For Inglis, O’Hanlon said:
[Sport is] what’s on people’s mind, what they talk about, what keeps family together … People are getting meaning from family, and other activities, that are all at the horizontal level. … The transcendent level is left to one side. … [The churches need] to take account of … why people are ignoring sources of meaning that traditionally have been important.
O’Hanlon also spoke about Inglis’ conception of ‘cultural Catholics’ – people who want their children baptised but ‘no longer believe it deep down.’ He contrasted this with the experience of the early disciples, who had a strong relationship with Jesus and saw their relationship with him as ‘good news.’ That sense of Jesus as bringing ‘good news’ has been lost in Ireland.
O’Hanlon then mentions my own research, noting that I have ‘talked about the anti-institutional feel out there.’ People are suspicious of all institutions, not just the churches. He notes my concept of ‘extra-institutional religion’, developed in my book Transforming Post-Catholic Ireland, which describes ‘how people are finding their own way forward’ outside or in addition to the institutional churches.
O’Hanlon also claims that Pope Francis is trying to lead ‘a quiet revolution’ in the Catholic Church, transforming it into ‘a collegial church’ where it is ‘no longer the priest and bishop’ dictating to the people. He likened this new model of church to the image of Jesus walking with the disciples, in a mutual and caring relationship with him.
He added that ‘the role of women in the Catholic Church has been indefensible,’ and that we should at least be asking the question about female priests. He said:
Vatican II says the congregation offers the mass together. We don’t get a sense of that. A new version of church must involve all the people.