The Diocese of Clonfert is comprised principally of parishes in East Galway along with a parish in County Roscommon and a parish in County Offaly.
It has been joined with its neighbouring Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora.
The perennial value of the Gospel message
Many respondents expressed their belief that the Gospel Message, Christianity, and the Church still had much to offer people as they journey through life.
The importance of and desire to experience local living faith communities
There was an evident desire to affirm, preserve and support living local faith communities.
Positive experience of local Church communities especially at times of personal joy or sorrow
Many spoke with deep appreciation of the important role the Church and priests play in ritualising key moments of joy and sorrow in their lives.
Recognition of the care and dedication of priests to their ministry
There was a genuine appreciation of the ministry of a declining cohort of priests and a sympathy for the strains and pressures they were subjected to even as they advanced in age.
Key Challenges of the Present 1. Integrating the aftermath of Covid-19
The effects the Covid-19 pandemic have had on the practice of the faith, in particular as regards a move from in person to online participation at Mass, emerged.
Decline in belief/faith
Many spoke of living in families, communities, and a country where people no longer believe in God or in the key aspects of the Christian Message.
Decline in faith practice
There was a general recognition of the decline in practice of the faith at parish level and a sadness about the fact that many, including family members and friends, no longer attend Mass.
Many noted that young and middle-aged people are absent from Church congregations.
Ageing clergy with difficulty keeping morale high
Many noted the age profile of priests. With an increased workload there was a sense of the need to foster a renewed sense of mission and purpose among the clergy.
Aftermath of decades of bad news about the Church
A sense of a Church battered and broken after years of bad news and having now to negotiate a somewhat hostile environment for believers.
Competing with the secular world when it comes to religious activities
Many noted a struggle between the secular world and religion at both a national and a local level
Call to be a more welcoming, loving, serving and inclusive Church
The theme of welcome and inclusivity emerged in many submissions. Many dreamt of a Church/parish where people would feel welcomed and included.
The perceived existence of a disconnect between the Church and the everyday life of people
Many spoke of a general feeling that the Church was out of touch with the lives of ordinary people.
Need to communicate all that is good about faith and the Church
A recurring theme was the fact that much of the good being done by the Church at a national and local level seems to go unacknowledged. There was a general sense that as a community the Church needs to better explain itself and celebrate its achievements in the public space.
A Church online
The rather recent reality of access to Church celebrations online was commented on both favourably and with some reservations.
Spirituality and Church going not necessarily the same thing
A rather common theme among those who were not regular Churchgoers was a desire for some connection with God and a spiritual life on a personal level but little evidence that this was being found or nourished in the Christian community or by traditional Church practice. Many were willing to identify as spiritual rather than Christians or Catholics.
Evangelisation – renewing belief in the Christian Message
Some spoke of a need to present anew the Good News of Christianity and to invite people to consider if it can be a source of meaning in their lives.
Concern that the core message of Christian belief and practice might be watered down or abandoned
There emerged from some respondents a fear that, for various reasons, the core message of Christianity was being eroded, faith practices were no longer being insisted on and key Christian doctrines were not being preached about.
Need for life-long Religious Education
Many spoke of their own and others lack of understanding when it came to key Christian beliefs and practices.
Struggle to understand Scripture
Some spoke of how they often struggled to understand the Scripture readings. Others expressed a desire to learn more about the Bible so that they could better understand and appreciate the message contained therein.
More meaningful celebration of the Mass and the Liturgy
A recurring theme was the need to connect the Mass and Liturgical celebrations in a meaningful manner with people’s lives.
Importance of preparation for and celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation
The Sacraments of Baptism, First Confession, First Holy Communion and Confirmation were identified as key moments in young people’s lives and in the lives of their parents and families. There was a general consensus that more needed to be done at parish level to engage with people at these important moments.
The role of Catholic Schools
The role Catholic Schools have in the education of young people in the faith was raised by many. Some complimented the religious education provided in Catholic Schools while others felt what was happening was not enough.
Ministry to Young People
The need to reach out to young people was a recurring theme throughout the process. Many recognised the difficulties involved but emphasised its absolute necessity.
Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life
Some mentioned the lack of vocations to the Priesthood and Religious life.
A new heart for our Priests
There were some submissions that noted a need to bring new heart to priests.
The identity of the priest and mandatory celibacy
A significant number of participants mentioned a sense that priests were seen as separate from the rest of the community and as a result out of touch with the realities of life. Many felt that this situation might be remedied by allowing priests to marry.
A non-judgemental welcoming Church
Some respondents experience of Church was one of judgement and exclusion. Many expressed the wish that the Church of the future would be more accepting and welcoming of all people.
The LGBT+ Community and the Church
A sense of anger and injustice at the Church emerged from participants who were members of the LGBT+ community and also from other participants when it came to the inclusion of the LGBT+ community in Church life.
The experience and role of women in the Church
Many participants mentioned the role of women in the Church and advocated developing a conversation on the experience of women in the Church and the development of more meaningful and equal roles for them.
Inclusiveness of all levels of society
Some respondents spoke of a certain elitism among Church communities. There was a general consensus that the Church needed to reach out to the various ethnic groups that constitute our society and to stand with the poor and those in need.
Need to build a more vibrant Church community
Some compared the experience they had of their local Church community with more vibrant experiences they had of Church communities in other parts of the country or of the world. Many expressed the need to engage in activities to build up and support a living local Church community.
Cooperation between and reorganisation of faith communities
Given the context in which some of the consultations took place – the theme of cooperation between parishes emerged. Many focused on their own parish and keeping their local Church open while others spoke of the need for reorganising and restructuring of parishes and cooperation between parishes.
Role of the Laity in the Church
There was a general recognition that in the future lay people would have to play a greater role in the organisation of local parish communities.
Development of new roles eg. permanent diaconate, catechist, prayer ministry
Some people raised the need to introduce a variety of official ministries in parishes.
Need for duly elected and regularly renewed Parish Pastoral Councils and Parish Finance Committees
Within the context of finding a voice for lay people in the Church, a significant number of submissions lamented the fact that parish pastoral councils and parish finance committees were non-existent or not functioning properly.
The challenge from here will be to find ways to develop occasions and structures that favour and promote this type of conversation and discernment within our local faith communities. Conversations and discernment that will eventually lead to the genuine renewal in faith and practice that the majority of participants in this process so evidently desire.
The full report from the Diocese of Clonfert is available here.