The Diocese of Clogher, in the metropolitan province of Armagh is one of the oldest dioceses in Ireland. Of the 37 parishes, 20 are in the Republic of Ireland, 15 are in Northern Ireland and 2 others are divided between both jurisdictions.
A total of seven meetings took place across the diocese, with over 800 people participating but with a few exceptions, there was a noticeable absence of younger participants.
Sacramental Life – mostly carried out and led by the priests or deacons (Clogher Diocese currently has two permanent deacons) but with help from lay ministries in some parishes.
There were many positive comments – some said that, alongside daily Mass, lay-led liturgies in the parish are a good thing; other good things included the John Paul II Awards, Children’s Liturgy, and many of the essential things mentioned above.
Male and Female Deacons
The role of Deacons was mentioned in several of the meetings, including the exploration of the possibility of having women as deacons
Voice of the Youth
From the meetings with post-primary students, it was noted that young people have faith in God and practice their faith, although not necessarily in the Church forum. They expressed how Church provides comfort especially in times of grief. There is a yearning among young people to bring up their own children in the faith that was passed on to them by their own parents/families. Sacramental preparation was highlighted by young people as providing a sound basis for their faith in Jesus Christ.
Developing Family Ministry
Due to the shortage of priests, the capacity of priests to meet with families other than at times of pastoral necessity (baptisms, funerals, weddings, sickness etc) is extremely limited. Therefore, new ways of outreach will have to be developed through the parish structures.
Currently, Clogher has one seminarian in priestly formation. With the ageing profile of priests the need for vocations is critical. It was expressed by young people that the choice between family life and Church life should not have to be made by priests and for young people this was a sacrifice that they were unwilling to make or even to contemplate.”
The Role of Women
It was strongly stated that women very often are the strength of parishes, and yet there are limited opportunities for them to access leadership roles within their Church/Parish. Additionally, the exclusion of women from ordained ministries impacts on both a male and female perspective of a Church which teaches inclusivity.
Several areas for development were identified by the process:
Developing Capacity among Lay People
Specific training for lay people was identified as being essential to equip them to become involved in and to lead various forms of ministry at Parish level.
With the declining numbers of active priests and with the possibility of some parishes not having a resident priest the formation of teams within parishes or across a pastoral area needs immediate consideration. Involvement of lay people will be central to the success of such new approaches..
These would alleviate the total dependence on priests for the prayer life of the parish. It would also allow for small Catholic communities to maintain a presence in a church and area. Sound catechesis will be critical for this to be successful and life-giving. Parishes working together can also help to improve best practice.
Outreach to the marginalised
Young people felt that the Church should be more accepting of LGBTQI+ relationships. These relationships should not be stigmatised by the Church. The issue of same-sex marriage was also discussed.
Also discussed was the question of abuse perpetrated in the past by clergy. Outreach to those affected was also a priority for many.
Faith programmes and parish activities need to always be configured in such a way that the invitation to be part of the faith community is always to the forefront.
Media/ Communications/Public Relations
Young people highlighted negative press coverage and prejudice around Church and Catholicism. They pointed out that there are very few positive media stories. They contend that Church should not hide away from past mistakes and prove that it is trying to change/reform itself.
Improved communications at all levels within parishes (including schools, primary and post- primary), between parishes and within the diocese is an area for development.
An issue raised by the youth of the diocese is the area of social justice. At the local and national level, the Church needs to be more visible as an advocate for the most vulnerable in society.
The absence in many of our parishes of activities or liturgies specifically for teenagers and those in their 20s was also a concern. So too is the absence of young people from the sacramental life of many parishes. In effect, they indicated that the Church is out of touch with the younger generation.
Ecumenism and Inter-Church Dialogue
There is a recognition of the need for such dialogue to move more into the sphere of lay people as well as into dealing with wider societal questions. activities and dialogue.
Care of Priests
Care of the clergy was mentioned at several of the gatherings. Whatever new arrangements are put in place will have to take account of the numbers and age profile of our priests and respect their lack of capacity to take on new tasks.
One obvious conclusion from the initial phase of listening is that the overwhelming majority of people across our diocese love their local Church community and want to see it at its best. Even though there may be disappointment, fear and apprehension regarding the challenges facing us, there is a faith-filled enthusiasm that should be recognised and honoured.
The model of Church we have is changing fast and it will depend on active lay participation in its leadership in each parish and community into the future. This will also include the leadership of liturgical celebrations, seeing new ministries – ordained and non-ordained – being introduced. Women are the strength of parishes, and yet they have few opportunities to play a more active part. Alongside all of this, there will have to be a much greater emphasis on catechesis at all levels. The role of young people, their potential, their empathy and their concern for the earth and for social justice places before us both a challenge and a tremendous opportunity.
The full report from the Diocese of Clogher is available here.