VATICAN CITY—A two-year investigation into the Church in Ireland has concluded that “widespread” dissent from Catholic teaching is hampering its renewal.
The investigation, which was ordered by Pope Benedict XVI, “encountered a certain tendency, not dominant but nevertheless fairly widespread among priests, religious and laity, to hold theological opinions at variance with the teachings of the magisterium,” concluded the report, published in Rome March 20.
“It must be stressed that dissent from the fundamental teachings of the Church is not the authentic path towards renewal,” the report stated.
The findings are based on an “apostolic visitation” of Ireland’s four archdioceses, religious congregations and seminaries. The Vatican called upon the services of several senior clerics, many of Irish descent, to lead the visitation, including Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.
Solutions to Dissent
It described the level of dissent as a “serious situation” which requires “particular attention” directed towards “improved theological formation.”
This includes “the need for deeper formation in the content of the faith of young people and adults,” as well as a “broad and well planned ongoing theological and spiritual formation for clergy, religious and lay faithful.”
The report also calls for “a new focus on the role of the laity” so that they can “give witness” in society “in accordance with the social teachings of the Church.” The “contribution of the new ecclesial movements” must be harnessed more effectively to “reach the younger generation and to give renewed enthusiasm to Christian life,” it added.
Finally, a “careful review” is needed of the “training given to teachers of religion” in schools and parishes to “ensure a sound and well-balanced education.”
The report was welcomed by the hierarchy of Ireland, with Cardinal Seán Brady, primate of All Ireland and president of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, describing it as “a helpful snapshot of a key moment in the ongoing journey of renewal,” as well as “a signpost to future priorities and directions.”
The apostolic visitation was announced by Pope Benedict XVI in March 2010 as part of his pastoral letter to the Catholics in Ireland. He expressed his sorrow and regret towards those who had suffered abuse by Church figures, stating that “you have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry.” The visitation was one of his “concrete initiatives” to “assist the local Church in her path of renewal.”
Impact of Abuse
The visitation’s report expressed “a great sense of pain and shame” over clerical abuse and found that the scandal had “opened many wounds within the Irish Catholic community.”
Laypeople have “experienced a loss of trust in their pastors,” many priests and religious have “felt unjustly tainted by association with the accused in the court of public opinion,” and others “have not felt sufficiently defended by their bishops and superiors.” In turn, many bishops and superiors “have often felt isolated as they sought to confront the waves of indignation” and at times “have found it difficult to agree on a common line of action.”
At the same time, the visitation was “able to verify that, beginning in the 1990s, progressive steps have been taken towards a greater awareness of how serious is the problem of abuse.” It applauded progress made in both the Church and society towards dealing with the problem.
The visitation was happy that new national guidelines for child safety were being followed and suggested that the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church “should continue to receive sufficient personnel and funding” from the relevant Church authorities.
It’s also important that those authorities “continue to devote much time listening to and receiving victims,” as well as “providing support for them and their families.”
The report says that the Church needs to show “greater concern for the intellectual formation of seminarians” to ensure that their education is “in full conformity with the Church’s magisterium.”
It suggests that the pastoral training of seminarians be re-evaluated to ensure “it is sacramental, priestly and apostolic” and concerned with “preparing candidates to celebrate the sacraments and to preach.”
It also states that the seminary buildings should be “exclusively for seminarians of the local Church and those preparing them for the priesthood” to “ensure a well-founded priestly identity.” There had been concern in recent years that there was insufficient separation between the seminarians at St. Patrick’s College and the secular students of the National University of Ireland, which are both situated in Maynooth in County Kildare.
The major superiors of religious orders also have to design new programs to focus on “living their vows in a contemporary context” in accordance with “the apostolic tradition of the Church’s teaching” and the “charism of the founder of the institute.” This should be done with a view to “revitalizing communities of prayer, community life and mission.”
There will also be a review of the number and structure of dioceses in Ireland. It will be aimed at making them “better suited to the present-day mission of the Church in Ireland.”