Archbishop Dermot Farrell’s interview with Síolta editor, Darragh Kennedy

A Church in crisis demands creativity

Dublin’s newly appointed Archbishop, Dermot Farrell engaged with Síolta Editor, Darragh Kennedy for a COVID-19 “virtual” Q&A in which he expresses his confidence in a very changed future.

Q: As Dublin’s new Archbishop, what are the key issues you have to address?

The challenges facing me are pretty clear. We have an ageing clergy and very few vocations to the diocesan priesthood or religious life. There is a major decline in the number of people who actively practice and live their faith. Faith needs ritual, embodiment. One must see in people how faith is lived. Today the visibility of faith has for all intents and purposes vanished. I am also dealing with the legacy of sexual abuse scandals which have damaged the Church’s credibility. Since finance is a function of numbers, financial issues will arise which will be accelerated by the global pandemic and its aftermath.

There is a need for an effective programme of catechetics throughout the Diocese to add to and, eventually, replace the current teaching of faith to the young. With the gradual decline of family socialisation in religion, the role of the qualified catechist will be essential. In my opinion, the handing on of the faith to the young is one of the most serious challenges facing our Church today. The current model of the Church is unsustainable.

The role of a bishop is to be a father to his people, a brother to his priests, and a witness of Jesus Christ to the world. Among the people and priests of the diocese, I need to raise awareness of the inadequacy of the current situation and to encourage a participatory institutional model of Church with a leadership of service.

Putting all our eggs in the ‘priest or vocations’ basket’ is like going around wearing a blindfold. We still have a very clerical Church. This is not a new phenomenon. It is linked with the “professionalization” of many aspects of life that is evident in contemporary culture. While the church has been priest- centred, it cannot continue to be structured solely around priests. If the clergy are too self-referential nothing will ever change in terms of how we operate pastorally.

The Church is, as Joseph Ratzinger wrote in his Principles of Catholic Theology, “a public assembly of the whole.” The “whole” is the People of God, the ekklēsia of God, a community of disciples. This is sometimes forgotten by some clergy. Clericalism takes no account of the People of God. The priest must be close to and rooted in the People of God. The Church today needs a profound conversion in this matter. The laity comprise 99.99% of the Church’s members. When this is grasped, all else changes. Then it is a question of what we do. Recognising this fact will require institutional reform, and a sharing of authority at all levels.

We need to put in place practical arrangements that shape our response to the pastoral, spiritual and evangelising needs of the parishes in the Diocese where the liturgy maintains and nourishes the Christian life. A service model will not sustain the Christian life in the parish.

Q: Despite the challenges ahead, do you remain optimistic for the future of the Irish Church?
While I acknowledge that there is an underlying crisis of faith, which is particularly acute among the younger generations, I am not pessimistic about the future of the Church in Dublin. Notwithstanding the secularisation which continues apace, I do feel confident about the future. Since my arrival in Dublin I have been visiting faith communities throughout the Diocese. What I have witnessed time and again are people who are committed to and actively involved in the faith life of their parish.

Last week I participated online in a gathering of a youth group for 80 teenagers. Young people are involved in a social outreach to the poor in the Diocese through Crosscare and the St Vincent dePaul. We have the youth pilgrimage to Lourdes, in which many are involved. These pastoral endeavours are important ways to involve the youth in the apostolic life of the Church. When young people volunteer to look after the sick, or the elderly, or the poor, when accompanied, it may facilitate a dynamic where the Lord starts to speak and move the heart of that young person. We need to start here rather than telling them to go to Mass.

Some of them will begin to ask why is the Church so committed to such apostolic endeavours? It is at that point a conversation about faith can begin. To quote an insight from Wittgenstein: he remarked to his Irish friend Maurice Drury that “If you and I are to live religious lives, it mustn’t be that we talk a lot about religion, but that our manner of life is different. It is my belief that only if you try to be helpful to other people will you in the end find your way to God.”

Evangelisation of our young people cannot be reduced to catechetics, and the gospel reduced to ideology, where the Christian life (“Life to the full” John 10:10) is perceived and preached as conformity to a set of norms which have little resonance in the real lives of ordinary people. What gives me optimism is that the Church has something to offer people, and there are many people who hunger for what it offers. Bringing people to Christ is not one work among many; rather it is the central work of the Church, around which everything else that we do revolves.

In this important work of evangelisation, of guiding people towards a life closer to the word of Christ, we can get trapped in isolation and indifference. To avoid the latter, we must summon up the courage to confront our fear and speak the word of God to the culture as Jesus did in his day.

We have an ageing population of priests; there are already some parishes in the Diocese that do not have
a resident priest. We have fallen off a cliff edge in regard to vocations to the priesthood. Many speak of a crisis in this regard. While I believe this situation will not change quickly, we cannot remedy this crucial issue for the future of the Church by clericalising good lay people. It is not yet understood by many Catholics that the laity and the clergy are co-responsible for the Church. Crisis demands creativity. This time of reduced numbers may well afford us an opportunity to be creative and to re-imagine the institutional church. We have not been abandoned by God; God is to be found in this situation. Let us not look back to our own experience of the Church of our youth, but look ahead to the Church in which we will minister and worship in the years ahead.

Q: Other than from the Bible, from what sources do you draw inspiration from?

Apart from the Sacred Scripture, other sources of inspiration for me are the lives of holy women and
men, not only those I have read about, but also those I have encountered in every faith community that I have ministered in down through the years. These were people who were grounded in the real world but very much in touch with the Lord. I draw inspiration from these women and men who will never be canonised but are models of faith and charity. The yardstick for salvation was articulated by Jesus as: “I was hungry and you fed me…..” (Matt 25).

When I read the lives of saints, I quickly realise that they were human beings who did their very best to follow God in the circumstances of the time in which they lived. Indeed many saints, dithering over their own conversion, were inspired to take the next step by reading about the life of a saint: Augustine, Ignatius of Loyola, and Edith Stein, to mention but a few.

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self?
When I look back at my life growing up in the country and going to primary and secondary schools, and seminary, I am sometimes dumbfounded at how life has turned out. It is certainly not the life I had planned. What has stayed constant through all the twists and turns is who I am, my values, and my hobbies.

Since I left the seminary, I have lived in six different counties, two countries and ministered in three dioceses. I have been involved in many different projects that were not on my horizon fifty years ago. So, what would I now say to my younger self? Don’t be too rigid in sticking to plans that were dreamt up in the innocence of my youth. Trust in the providence of God.

Chill out more and enjoy life, and the company of family and friends.

I accepted appointments that I would have never sought, but looking back they happened for a reason. Be open to change and new possibilities. I would tell myself to realise that I don’t have all the answers; there is wisdom in the group. The Church is always at the end of the day in God’s hands, and He is victorious even in the midst of apparent failures on my part. Have patience with people, they may not all want to move at my pace. Trust yourself, or have confidence in your ability. Chill out more and enjoy life, and the company of family and friends.

Q: What words of wisdom or encouragement would you give to a man considering a vocation to the priesthood today?
Vocation is a gift from God. Priesthood is not a job. If we only see the priesthood as an occupation, then it is only a matter of a short time before we lose sight of the heart of the ministry and of our love for God who makes himself known to us in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

The environment of faith and prayer is important, but more importantly is personal prayer and discernment. In other words, priority must be given to the spiritual life. It is essential to be a man of prayer and have the ability to relate to people. Today, one must have sufficient faith and courage to stand against the general trends. Public commentary in the media in Ireland has not been positive in its understanding of the Church and its need for vocations and for public support of those trying to preach the Gospel.

Commentary in the media has not been positive in its understanding of the Church – one must have sufficient faith and courage to stand against the general trends.

It is also important for a young man considering the priesthood to be involved in the pastoral and liturgical ministries of his parish. I have no doubt that young men are receiving the call from God to be a priest, but what may be lacking is the tentative commitment on the part of the recipient being called, to assent to this call and keep it alive in an unfavourable socio-cultural environment.


Thanks to Fr Tomás Surlis, Rector National Seminary, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth for permission to reprint this article.


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  1. Kevin Walters says:

    A disciple in the ancient biblical world actively imitated both the life and teaching of the master. It was a deliberate apprenticeship that made the fully formed disciple a living copy of the master.

    True faith induces humility, as a holy heart is a humble heart because to walk in humility (St Bernard, Humility; a virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases himself) is to walk, His ‘Way’ of Truth/love, before our Father in heaven.

    “But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you”

    For professed Christians not to do so, would imply, as yet, that we do not have the full light of Christ within us as

    “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your vision is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your vision is poor, your whole body will be full of darkness”

    So, we need to be very careful, especially in our own assumed relationship with God and our fellow man as we need to see true discipleship, not mere words; we see this discipleship in St Mother Teresa, who overcame hostility from Hinduism, etc. As initially, when she went out into the streets of Calcutta, she had to confront hostility in creating a centre for the destitute, but the ‘gentleness (Humility) of her witness, was accepted, because her witness was authentic’.

    She approached the goodness within men’s hearts, encouraging them, in words to the effect of ‘be good Hindus’, understanding that the Truth (The divine spark) resides in all men’s hearts, waiting to be nourished and they responded positively. So, in this lived reality (Discipleship) these words by the Master would be applicable…

    “Whoever gives to one of these little (Humble) ones even a cup of cold water because he is a ‘disciple’, truly, I say to you he shall not lose his reward”

    ‘Because he is a disciple’ one gives (Water) in humility, a sincere acknowledgement of manifest goodness/Truth, reflecting the indwelling Divine spark within the heart/soul of the giver, now ignited and waiting to be further enkindled by the Holy Spirit. As

    “ other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice”

    Here we see the basis of reciprocal love in action, emanating from humility (a sincere acknowledgement of goodness) before true Discipleship. Through the eyes of faith, we come to see, as God wants (Wills) us to see, that is, that every other, is made in the image of God.

    I believe that Confirmed Discipleship (Male and Female) is the way forward for the Church in our present-day: As today for many, it is easier to accept the status quo as we the ‘laity’ have been led for generations as The Eucharist is the centre of Christian worship and by implication, the priest is our ‘Focal Point’, as he is given a special charisma via ordination.

    To Peter “feed my flock” we will always need central direction (Leadership).

    The place-name Emmaus is derived from “warm spring” – for me symbolic of the His Way (Journey) the encounter of ‘warm embrace’ in previous times manifest as “see how those Christians love one another”.
    So how do we encounter each other on the ‘Way’ in the market (Working) place of life, from the Tea Plantation to the Office as partaking of the ‘warm spring’ (Grace)?
    Where are the working Disciples/Shepherds?

    Food for thought: ‘The Emmaus encounter’ incorporates ‘joyous living’ in sharing (breaking) the Bread (Sustenance) of Life publicly, but not the Wine (Blood) suffering of full (Confirmed) discipleship (Focal point) of His Way.

    I have read that “The grace of Confirmation, properly administered, is real, but the recipient has to be properly disposed to receive it”. And for this reason, I believe that The Sacrament of Confirmation should only be conferred on Mature Christians, those capable of discerning the ‘full’ implication /calling/reality of His ‘Way’ of life. While praying not to be led “into temptation (The test)”, rather “but deliver us from evil”.
    “For the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”.

    The Church has lost the sense of awe (mystical tradition) before the ‘living’ Inviolate Word (Will) of God. And this loss has revealed itself in that the educated within the Church have colluding ..V.. with the elite in the ‘ongoing’ breaking of the Second Commandment via the present Divine Mercy Image(s)

    “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”.

    To permit this sin to continue is to collude with it “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire/Truth of your love. And You shall renew the face of the earth/Church. O, God”.

    Please consider continuing via the link.

    Kevin your brother
    In Christ

  2. Kevin Walters says:

    Archbishop Dermot Farrell’s interview (an addendum to my post above)

    Here is a response on another site to my identical post above which gives further clarity to what I am saying

    Thank you ****** for your comment “What do you intend your Emmaeus eisegesis to do?

    As stated in my post above in relation to true discipleship, the Emmaus encounter gives us ‘Food for thought’, at a time when the Church in the West is been decimated by dark forces within and from outside the Church ..V..

    “The cause of the sadness of the disciples on the road to Emmaeus according to scripture was that they did not know the Resurrection. They became joyful after it was revealed to them”

    Yes, ******, that is true, but part of that joyful encounter/revelation was that He physically disappeared from view while in essence, He was still with them “for where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Teaching us to walk His ‘Way in ‘Trust’ while Joyfully been accompanied by the Holy Spirit and each other. So, can the Emmaus encounter show/teach us Christians out in the world how to manifest Unity of Purpose while making ourselves known to each other?
    As an aside, symbolically on the earthly plain, the sharing of bread is the sharing of life.

    “The Body of Christ contains the Blood of Christ”

    Yes, that is what the Church teaches, nevertheless in the Emmaus encounter the Wine (Blood) of the suffering of full (Confirmed) discipleship (Focal point) of His Way” was not manifest.

    I believe that the Shepherd leader for a new invigorated Church will be a humble one, with the capacity to discern and direct the potential in others, leading them also to become (Working Confirmed Disciples) Shepherds in the marketplace of life, from the Tea Plantation to the Office, who together hold each other responsible for their combined actions, underpinned by total honesty, the serving of the Truth in all situations would be the binding mortar holding these new emerging structures together.

    Please consider continuing via the link

    Kevin your brother
    In Christ

  3. Kevin Walters says:

    An extract from Archbishop Dermot Farrell’s interview
    “It is my belief that only if you try to be helpful to other people will you, in the end, find your way to God.”

    This statement is rather misleading because we are not to become mere social workers although the work may be good within itself, rather if you want to find your way to God you must serve the full reality of Truth, first within your own heart and mind because as with all true searchers/seekers of Truth, the pull of the Cross ‘draws us into His infinite beauty’ as it exposes the reality of our own sin, leading to the turning of stones/sins within our own hearts which stirs the wing (Higher consciousness) of the Holy Spirit to act (enlighten) while He endeavours to create a humble heart within us, His known dwelling place, without which our estranged hearts cannot truly see (Embrace) the wonder of our God in our Neighbour, each other and Creation.

    So, has the importance of the gift of The Holy Spirit (Truth God Himself) been compromised by the Church?

    I believe that Trust in the singularity of the First Commandment has been broken (see the link below) “You shall have ‘no other God (Idol) before me.”

    ‘An idol is anything or anyone who takes the place of God in our lives. It is anything — an object, idea, philosophy, habit, occupation, sport, or person (Saint) — that is your primary concern, or that to any degree decreases your faith trust and loyalty to God.’

    A recent quote by Pope Francis:

    “We are not ‘orphans’; we have a Mother in Heaven.” Sure, of this, we can never fall into the sin of despair, a sin which has a powerful pull today.

    Which could be described as a direct attack (Undermining) of this given teaching by Jesus Christ.

    “I will not leave you behind as ‘orphans’ I will come to you” as “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”.

    Many Catholic theologians have rightly pointed out in recent decades that St Mary often takes the place of the Holy Spirit, for example as “Advocate” and “Comforter”.

    While we can reflect on these Words “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, (Holy Spirit) living in me, who is doing his work”.

    So, if we trust in His teachings our promise is that the Holy Spirit (God Himself) will dwell within us also. Which is true for/of all His Saints including His exulted Mother. As His earthly creatures, we are always the container never the contents. Yes, we are taught that we can pray (request) that the Saints intercede on our behalf but ultimately that intercession must glorify ‘God alone’ and we do this when we ‘Trust’ in ‘Him alone’. No other.

    “If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Since I live, you also will live”.

    Kevin your brother
    In Christ

  4. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Kevin, my bother in Christ,@1,2,3 and your other endless pieces in Catholic World etc. why not do Archbishop Dermot Farrell the courtesy of addressing even one of the key issues he sees as priorities in his archdiocese. When a new archbishop takes the time to be interviewed, the least we could do is attend to what he has to say rather than using him as a peg on which to hang our own ramblings.

  5. Kevin Walters says:

    Eddie @ 4, thank you, or your comment. My Posts are fundamentally directed at the title of the article

    “Church in crisis demands creativity”

    While much of what I am saying in my first post with its addendum relates to the content of the Interview as in Question one.

    “ The current model of the Church is unsustainable. Putting all our eggs in the ‘priest or vocations’ basket’ is like going around wearing a blindfold. We still have a very clerical Church. This is not a new phenomenon. It is linked with the “professionalization” of many aspects of life that is evident in contemporary culture. While the church has been priest-centered, it cannot continue to be structured solely around priests”

    As can be seen within my response in my first Post and its addendum….

    “Where are the working Disciples/Shepherds?
    The place-name Emmaus is derived from “warm spring” – for me symbolic of the His Way (Journey) the encounter of ‘warm embrace’ in previous times manifest as “see how those Christians love one another”.
    So how do we encounter each other on the ‘Way’ in the market (Working) place of life, from the Tea Plantation to the Office as partaking of the ‘warm spring’ (Grace)?
    Where are the working Disciples/Shepherds? ………..etc”

    From the second question of the interview “This time of reduced numbers may well afford us an opportunity to be creative and to re-imagine the institutional church. We have not been abandoned by God;

    No! as all sincere believers are never abandoned by God but the hierarchical church has abandoned The Holy Spirit (God). Which I clearly demonstrate in my third post.

    Kevin your brother
    In Christ

  6. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Brother Kevin@1,2,3 & 5, I think it was that old windbag Polonius who said, “Since brevity is the soul of wit, And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief. Your noble son is mad.” Brevity and clarity too should also be the heart and soul of ‘COMMENT’. Meandering rivers of words are neither brief nor clear; they just deter others from bothering to engage in discussion with more pertinent comment. They may also deter an archbishop from future interviews, a Maynooth editor from broadcasting his Síolta farther afield, or a seminary rector from joining the ACP!

  7. Ger Hopkins says:

    Thank you for that, Kevin. Unfortunately my own response to the interview is more mundane.

    I have felt a genuine sense of relief since we got our new Archbishop in Dublin. There’s an air of optimism about the place.

    The Archbishop gave one interview to the IT back in January and has (as far as I know) avoided it ever since. No wonder: there were large parts of the January interview that were not simpatico with the usual IT agenda and were simply left out. (They were published later by the Catholic News Agency and on this site also.) A lot of people have been asking for quite a while now why the hierarchy still think giving interviews to the IT is a good idea.
    Along with everything else the IT had a paid daily circulation of 120,000 in 2008 down to 40,000 in 2019 and after Covid they’d be lucky if it’s 30,000.

    Archbishop Farrell is using other ways to communicate with us directly. One way is giving interviews like this one in Síolta and waiting for them to be picked up by outlets old and new. The message in Síolta “the *visibility* of faith has…vanished” was turned in to the IT headline “Archbishop…says belief has vanished”. Negative, but not nearly as damaging as what the IT has managed to mine from its own interviews with the Dublin Diocese over the last 17 years. This time it hadn’t much to work with. Many people saw through the clumsiness and it took another chip out of the IT’s credibility.

    This same misrepresentation was made by the presenter of the Archbishop’s RTE Drivetime interview last week. And as always the interviewer, whose audience is the RTE canteen, went on to throw in abuse, gay marriage and women priests. It would be hard to address one of these questions in eight minutes with a hostile interviewer. It is metaphysically impossible to deal with all of them and still make the points the Archbishop thought he was going to make when he agreed to the interview. Nothing new in that. All we listeners hope for each time is a safe retreat. I guess that afterwards the Archbishop remembers some line he managed to deliver and believes the audience filled in the rest of the argument that remained unsaid. Archbishop’s House no doubt tells him it went well. These things are relative.

    The Archbishop announced the return of Communions and Confirmations in a homily carried on the Diocesan website. Which worked: I’ve read the excited emails schools sent out crediting him in the first line.
    He then rowed back on this using the same means. That didn’t work. People felt they could have used more direct communication for a solo effort like that. The tone of those school emails wasn’t quite as warm towards the Archbishop. (I think the Sacraments will be going ahead in September regardless of govt advice. Do the govt have the political nous to recognise the second chance they’re being given? I wonder. We’ll see in the next few days.)

    As anyone with experience of analytics driven websites knows, the public far prefer video to text. (I don’t but I’d be in a small minority). Archbishop Farrell is actually very good on video. Check out the Diocesan youtube channel here. (You can also see what a less successful effort looks like.)

    Video is being easily distributed through the network of Parish websites. It would be hard for old media to cover video messages without actually including the video.

    I would love to see the Archbishop in conversation with Fr. Brendan Kilcoyne. Teaming up with Immaculata productions seems an obvious move. (Are Kairos just about ecumenism, social justice and corporate videos these days?)

    You may remember Fr. Bill O’Shaughnessy from such videos as “The Inquisition”, Joe. You’ll be glad to hear he’s now the Assistant Vocations Director for the Diocese.

    As well as the medium there’s also the message. Calling out the ‘bash in the Merrion’ was spot on. There are a number of issues like this – housing, homelessness – that no one can defend and yet the hierarchy passing judgment on them seems to annoy some people. It is such an easy win for the Archbishop, makes his critics look isolated and gets us a long way towards the Church regaining its voice in public affairs.

    It is not even a year yet but there is a lot going on that is heartening.

    This is only meant as a tally of initiatives already being undertaken by the Dublin Diocese and being mirrored in others. I wish them all well – it couldn’t be more important.

  8. Kevin Walters says:

    Ref Archbishop Dermot’s Ferrell’s interview.

    Thank you, Ger @ 7, for drawing me into the conversation there is nothing wrong with been mundane as the daily workings of true Christians within the church are its lifeblood.
    I am pleased that you perceive things will be better under your new Archbishop while feeling optimistic for the future.

    As far as giving the worldly media the ‘pearls’ of Christianity we all know what Jesus taught about giving pearls. While using IT to communicate with each other is good in itself. I believe it must be treated with care and can never replace personal contact with each other, as in, publicly partaking in the Mass etc.

    I followed the link you gave us to the archbishop’s interviews; he comes across as a sincere man as do the majority of priests and therein lies the problem, as presently, we have a Church within a Church that has stifled the voice of the Holy Spirit. Please consider reading my posts via the link which explains what I am attempting to say.

    So, from where I see things (as via the link) without a fundamental change of direct/culture the Church will continue to dissipate. Yes, there will be renewed initiatives, and I am sure that some will initially be positive but without the Truth being served in its totality, the Holy Spirit will not be able to guide it, so a Church within a church will emerge once again or you will end up with a Church of worldly respectability one in collusion with the dark powers …

    Kevin your brother
    In Christ

  9. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #7 “A lot of people have been asking for quite a while now why the hierarchy still think giving interviews to the IT is a good idea.”

    ‘A lot’ – meaning 6, 20, 50, nnn, Ger?

    As ‘most’ could quite easily have been saying the opposite at the very same time, is this a truly meaningful way of addressing the Irish clerical church’s communications problem?

    With transparency and accountability still only on the synodality horizon – i.e. still way ‘down the road’ – half a century after Vatican II – who could rely on softball interviews from tame sources for an accurate account of what is truly happening in our Irish Catholic Church just now?

    Maybe it was the ICBC’s information office that first broke the story of Bishop Casey’s complete predicament in 1992 – including the financial aspect? Maybe it told us of the Micheál Ledwith story in Maynooth (1980s) and Dean Gerard McGinnity’s unjust sacking then, in 2002 – or was that the Irish Catholic?

    Maybe it wasn’t the IT that told us in 2003 that bishops had been taking out insurance against liability for clerical sex abuse as early as 1986 – eight years before Kevin Hegarty got effectively sacked from Intercom for even raising the abuse issue in 1994? Or would we all be far better off knowing nothing of that either?

    And if Archbishop Diarmuid Martin had not asked in an IT interview in April 2019 what had happened to the 2011 ten-year ICBC plan to implement ‘Share the Good News’ (Ireland’s official Catechetical Directory), would our ignorance or forgetfulness of that issue be truly a happier state?

    Yes of course the IT will give us silly headlines also – but if Dublin’s archbishop stops giving interviews to it, or to RTÉ, just how many will draw the conclusion that he has nothing to hide – and that all is truly well, as always, in this best of all possible Irish Catholic worlds?

    Not a lot maybe?

  10. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Kevin, I’m sure by IT Ger meant the Irish Times, not Info Tech. If either of you wish to kick IT, make sure you have the right target.

  11. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Indeed Sean@9 I wouldn’t want to give the impression that my response@4 to Kevin@1,2,3 was intended as a Ger-like endorsement of Dermot Farrell or of the rigour of Síolta’s interview. Anyone who’s dipped into Síolta from time to time knows you don’t go there seeking rigour or analysis.

    And indeed as you suggest, the ICBC’s four-decade track record in revealing truths that must be concealed from the laity and lower clergy has left something to be desired. To take just one of those concealments, the small matter of my erstwhile Philosophy classmate, Micheál Ledwith, nobody could have been in a better position in the first half of the 1990s to give Maynooth Trustees and the Papal Nuncio an inkling of the truth than Micheál’s Cousin, Executive Assistant and Vice-President. Those of us who were “up” for the Bi-centenary Reunion on 22nd April 1995 knew that the entire College, cleric and lay, was waiting with bated breath for an exposé in next day’s – no, not Irish Catholic or even Irish Times – but News of the World of the proximate cause of Micheál’s resigning the Presidency the previous year, while retaining both his Systematic Theology professorship and his rooms in the college. Of course the NOTW exposé never appeared. Think “injunction” and “confidentiality clause”.

    That unassuming philosopher and gentleman, Matt O’Donnell, stepped in to fill the gap and see Maynooth through its Bi-centenary. His sudden death a year later opened the way to Dermot Farrell’s presidency. His cousin Micheál (“distant cousin” Dermot stresses) was one of the ‘terna’ to succeed Kevin McNamara as Ab of Dublin in 1987 but I’m told that Tomás Ó Fiaich insisted that it should go to his Louvain contemporary Des Connell, in preference to Donal Murray, Dermot Clifford or our friend Micheál. So if you’re looking for someone to beat up over Connell, Tom’s your man, but then without Tom’s say-so Micheál would never have climbed Maynooth’s greasy pole or ‘cursus honorum’. (‘Gerry, the bishops are gunning for you!’)

    Well, the (extended) family made it in the long run. Strange, though, that Dermot claims to have only heard in May 2002 what the dogs on Maynooth’s Main Street knew over seven years earlier. Still, I’m sure the new Archbishop is an honourable man. So are they all, all honourable men – the ICBC dead or alive, I mean. Though none so honourable as my Armagh contemporary Gerry McGinnity, now happily retired to his home place in Derrynoose townland.

  12. Ger Hopkins says:

    Thanks Sean. Once again your well focused questions force me in to a better understanding of my own point of view.

    The ‘many’ who are asking about the merits of the Archbishop engaging with the Irish Times would be found among young conservative Irish Catholics making themselves heard online. You may wonder if they matter that much but according to the Western People they have the Archbishop’s ear. Exactly this question was asked in a Catholic Arena podcast last Christmas for example.

    That’s a really useful list of ways the IT has treated the Church in the last 30 years. But in a way you’re proving my point. They are all relentlessly negative. I have come across many really inspiring, in depth, respectful pieces on Catholic life in prominent secular outlets based in the US or UK but I don’t associate things like that with the Irish Times or RTE. I’m pretty sure you’d be the same. That self indulgent lack of balance is what makes them small time and second tier. And now, in the case of the IT, so unpopular that they have collapsed as a business and are looking for taxpayer funding.

    In a recent post you shared many interesting points made by Michael McGuckian SJ. Imagine how useless it would have been if instead of writing a book he had tried to communicate any of those points in an eight minute interview where he was being heckled and invited to deal with all the greatest hits of Catholic criticism. A waste of everyone’s time.

    The idea that a softball interview is the only alternative to contempt and bias I’ll take to be a rhetorical flourish on your part, Sean.

    Why after decades of bullying and abuse are there a number in the Church so ready to ally and associate themselves with the bullies and abusers? It would be silly of me to speculate about what goes on in the minds of others.

    Your last question is particularly interesting, Sean. If the Archbishop stops giving interviews to the IT or RTÉ how many would feel he was hiding something or hiding away? Some undoubtedly will think things like that, egged on by an angry and worried old media. But the result of having such a biased media is that many, many, more will just feel relief that this purposeless signing up for another kicking is over with. It would be a great signal that the Archbishop gets us. That he sees the Church has more ways to engage with the culture than by just being a whipping boy. We have the means now to communicate with one another and grow in positivity.

    In Dublin it feels the balance is tilting away from trying to satisfy those who mean us no good and towards encouraging those who have hope for the future.

  13. Paddy Ferry says:

    Archbishop Dermot Farrell’s interview ….

    Eddie@11, one of your best posts, in my opinion, for a while.

    The treatment of Gerry McGinnity was definitely our Irish institutional church at its most rotten. Worse even, I think, than our Lady sacking Kevin from the editorship of Intercom.

    I am pleased to hear the poor man, Gerry, is now happily retired though I believe he was not very happy for a long time. And who could blame him.

    I never knew that the new archbishop is a cousin of Ledwith.

    We do need to constantly be reminded of the disgraceful episode.

    Thanks, Eddie.

  14. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #12 “The ‘many’ who are asking about the merits of the Archbishop engaging with the Irish Times would be found among young conservative Irish Catholics making themselves heard online.”

    Is that what conservative young Irish Catholicism is based on then, Ger – resentment at the loss of the ‘most respected people ever’ title to the liberal Enlightenment, rather than remembrance of:

    “Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account.” (Matt 5: 11)?

    When will these combatist conservatives realize that the secularist targeting of religion, and especially of Catholicism, is a symptom of the ongoing, and greater, crisis of secularism?

    If the Creed is true – which it is – it never matters what others think. They know not what they do. It is their world that is always passing away. Resentment of what others think is a weakness, not a strength.

  15. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Paddy@13, OK – but institutions are complex animals and the more clerically institutionalised of their ladder climbers are more complex and flawed than those of us who support their ascent, by our silence or even admiration, could ever have imagined in our callow and trusting youth. It’s true of the Irish RCC since so-called Emancipation and subsequent Cullenisation. It’s true especially of the Irish RCC overseas empire and those it exported to establish and lead its colonial dioceses and archdioceses. Quite a few of the late 19th-early 20th century had passed through Maynooth, but others (such as Keith O’Brien of Ballycastle & Edinburgh) had an earlier and more roundabout route. Brian Devlin’s new book ‘Cardinal Sin’ seems worth a read. [A bit of a cliché that punning title – so maybe as well to point out that the late Cardinal Sin of Manila was never an Irish missionary export.]

  16. Ger Hopkins says:

    In reply to your question “Is conservative young Irish Catholicism based on resentment at the loss of the ‘most respected people ever’ title to the liberal Enlightenment” the answer is no. Although it’s a really helpful question.

    I’m picking up a belief on your part that what these young conservatives are all about is demanding a restoration of respect for it’s own sake. Having characterised things that way you point out that we shouldn’t need to define ourselves in terms of others view of us. And you sum up eloquently what is wrong with that secular world from which you think respect is being demanded – it is always passing away. You haven’t said it, but your views would seem to lead to some kind of withdrawal from that secular world – either a kind of Benedict option, in methodology if not in politics, or else just the “smaller Church of the future”.

    If your characterisation of young conservative Catholics was correct I think most of what you say would follow. But it’s not and it would be hard to imagine a movement of such energy being based on something like a petulant demand for respect. Especially when respect is the last thing all of us get from the culture. It would be falling on its face constantly. Instead, and your question has helped me see this, the movement is characterised by a rediscovery of what is so appealing about the Church. The spiritual hole it fills in peoples lives. The sense of meaning it offers.

    All of which of course is centred on the person themselves and not any audience. I’d be delighted to offer examples of individuals describing their experience. But you can look at any of the sources I have linked to before and see the joy of rediscovery, the luxuriating in neglected riches. And naturally they want to tell the world about it.

    I think, maybe I’m wrong, that you believe a lot of the institutional Church shares the problem you ascribe here to young conservatives. Demanding respect they’re not going to be given. Your criticisms of anyone doing that stand on their own merits. But maybe those criticisms and your desire to retreat have some deeper roots in a feeling on your part that the Church is failing. We do not need the good opinion of the world because inter alia we have failed to prosper in it.

    How is that feeling affected by the example of a growing energetic community, mostly young, making themselves at home in today’s culture (in which the IT and RTE occupy a smaller and smaller space). Presenting themselves in a way that’s accessible to 14 year olds asking “Why does anyone believe this Jesus stuff”. And, being edgy and unapproved of, has at least some chance of reaching them. Does that change your calculus?

    It’s asking an awful lot but are you open to this new thing? This new face of a very old thing. Ready to experience the kick of saying you’re proud to be a Catholic in Ireland today? And the welcome trouble that follows.

  17. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #16 Why do you characterise a refusal to engage in futile rivalrous debate with secularists as a withdrawal from, or ‘retreat’ from ‘the world’, Ger? And why also do you conclude that I have no experience of young people discovering the joy of the Gospel?

    The young conservatives you describe as questioning the value of the archbishop of Dublin giving interviews to the Irish Times – are they the only young Catholics you know?

    Are there no young historians who know anything of the historical background to secularist antipathy to authoritarian Catholicism – the reasons the secular Enlightenment concluded, wrongly, that faith and reason are incompatible?

    Are there none who can see any value in a secularist newspaper asking difficult questions of an Irish Catholic institution that has not yet, after half a century, provided those internal structures promised by its own bishops in 1965 – for the asking of the same difficult questions by their own parents and grandparents – within the church?

    Are there none who know that it was due only to the same secularist media that victims of abuse within the church could first turn to inform their fellow Catholics of what had happened to them – and that it was ONLY because of the furore that followed GLOBALLY – beginning in the USA in the 1980s – that we now have serious and almost-dependable child safeguarding structures within our own church?

    Do none of them know how Kevin Hegarty got shafted for trying to do the same as editor of a Catholic journal, or how, later, the same disgraceful thing happened to Gerry Moloney of Reality?

    Are there none who know how the furore over the mother and baby homes began, with the highlighting by the same secular media of the work of Catherine Corless in Tuam? Have none of them seen the movie ‘Spotlight’ – on the Boston Globe’s exhaustive coverage of that archdiocese – the background to our own furore over the dioceses of Ferns and Dublin?

    Youthful discovery of the joy of the Gospel is entirely compatible with basic historical literacy re the life experience of still living parents and grandparents. All Catholic adults who claim an interest in young people should know that, and be ready to explain the role of the Irish Times and other secular media in Ireland in obliging our Irish hierarchy – almost too late – to turn to synodality.

    To describe the reporting of the Irish Times in exposing injustices within our own church as simply ‘negative’ when nothing constructive could have happened without that external truth-telling is in no way helpful to young people who want to keep their eyes wide open. I have reason to know that there are plenty of them as well. Some are happily evangelising in the Derry youth ministry described here.

    So, finally, could you please get over your notion that you somehow have acquired the sole reliable channel to where the heads of young Irish Catholics are today? Is that ‘asking an awful lot’?

  18. Ann Keevans says:

    Sean @17 Well said ,Common sense is very scarce nowadays.

  19. Paddy Ferry says:

    Archbishop Farrell’s interview …

    Excellent, Sean, very well said, as always.

    PS. As for myself I refuse to engage with someone who insists on hiding his true identity.

  20. Joe O'Leary says:

    I admire Sean for keeping his eye on the ball and for bringing us back to the real issues again and again.

  21. Ger Hopkins says:

    Thanks Sean

    A “refusal to engage” with the secular world together with considering all debate with secularists to be “frivolous” really does sound like a withdrawal from, or retreat from, the world. Maybe I’m missing something.

    But it hurts me to think I could have expressed myself so badly that you felt I was saying you have no experience of young people discovering the joy of the Gospel. On the contrary you seem to have thought long and fruitfully about the subject.

    I probably have a lot of notions I need to get over but one of them is not a belief that every young Catholic in Ireland today is conservative. They just happen to be the very visible ones, seem to have a lot of energy and their numbers are growing fast.

    I hadn’t heard of Derry Search Youth Group. You wrote your piece on them twenty years ago but the group is still going strong and for those involved in it, it is obviously hugely positive. Here are some more recent links:

    But it is not that high profile. It has 80 Twitter followers whereas Catholic Arena for example has 8,000. That excellent and inspiring video has 80 views on Youtube whereas Fr Brendan Kilcoyne would be going out twice a week and getting between 500 and 10,000 views at a time.

    The piece you wrote on this Search Group doesn’t make them out to be liberal or conservative. It is a heartening description of people embracing much of what is good about being a Catholic.

    My point about the Archbishop appearing on RTÉ radio or TV is simply that he’s not going to be given a chance to get across any nuanced or inspiring message. It would be career damaging for the interviewer that let him. So what’s the point in him continuing to do interviews?

    (Your championing of the secular media is self sabotaged to a degree by the mention of the Mother and Baby Homes and The Tuam Babies. We’ve had two extensive and expensive Reports now and – without getting in to any details – if they had upheld the secular media’s narrative they wouldn’t have got the reception they did.
    Questions were raised about the Chair of the Mother and Baby Homes Report, Judge Yvonne Murphy’s, competence in carrying out the Investigation. This is surreal considering that when she was the Chair of the Report on Abuse in the Dublin Diocese – which the media liked – she was presented to us as a model of competence and judicial authority.)

  22. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #21. In response to my last comment Ger Hopkins writes:

    ‘A “refusal to engage” with the secular world together with considering all debate with secularists to be “frivolous” really does sound like a withdrawal from, or retreat from, the world. Maybe I’m missing something.’

    Note that only the last sentence here engages with reality. SOC had never anywhere said that he refuses to engage with the secular world, or that he considers all debate with secularists to be futile, let alone ‘frivolous’.

    Ger’s house of cards was built on the following question from SOC:

    “Why do you characterise a refusal to engage in futile rivalrous debate with secularists as a withdrawal from, or ‘retreat’ from ‘the world’, Ger?”

    How come this could be expanded into ‘a refusal to engage with the secular world’ and ‘considering all debate with secularists to be frivolous’ in Ger’s mind? Only Ger can fully explain that – but he clearly does not understand the import of ‘rivalrous debate’.

    Rivalrous debate is a locked-in and everlasting contest for the last word, a zero-sum verbal game of ‘who is the greatest’. As Rene Girard points out, rivalry begins with competing desire for the same object and then escalates into mutual obsession. On the Internet, where debate is public, it escalates all too easily into a never-ending exchange of insults – because neither rival can accept the shame attached to the rival’s last insult.

    In Ger’s case what happened was instead, out of politeness, an escalation into a mere fantastical distortion of what SOC had written, but that makes the point nevertheless. He was in no way logically justified in his interpretation of what SOC had written, but he went there nevertheless. Where ‘frivolous’ came from is, however, anyone’s guess.

    Just for the record, I am a long-standing critic of the failure of campaigning secularism to explain why a far greater social inequality has arisen out of the Enlightenment than the one it overthrew, as here:

    Yet not all secularism is into anti-religious campaigning, as the Irish Times also amply demonstrates. The philosopher Joe Humphreys writes there regularly and respectfully in his treatment of religious faith – though not himself a believer, e.g. :

    The same point was made by the IT’s complete coverage of the embarrassment of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission. Ger writes of a ‘secular narrative’ but fails to note that here the Irish Times was NOT favouring the narrative he is presumably alluding to.

    As everyone else will realise, my allusion to the Mother and Baby Homes reporting by secular media had to do with our need to know of what had happened in Tuam and elsewhere, not any support for the distorting anti-Catholic use that was then made of the story.

    Ger apparently cannot, or will not, see this distinction.

    Why, finally, does it follow that if the archbishop of Dublin needs to resort to Síolta to get across his complete message, he should not also agree to be interviewed by the Irish Times and RTÉ?

    Ger will inevitably come back to explain. What new house of cards he will build on anything else written here is anyone’s guess.

  23. Ger Hopkins says:

    OK, well, we’re agreed that we shouldn’t retreat from the world.
    We should continue to engage in debate with secular voices.
    We should attempt the difficult task of not letting robust debate tip over in to point scoring or a need for victory.

    We can probably agree to disagree on whether the Irish Times is fair and professional in its coverage of the Catholic Church.

    We seem to agree that “distorting anti-Catholic use” was made of the Tuam and Mother and Baby Homes stories. By whom, we’ll leave to another day.

    Having many methods of communicating with the public available to him it is still not clear to me why the Archbishop would have any use for an always ineffective RTÉ interview.

    We can possibly also agree that this may be a good time to pause and draw a breath. I’ve a feeling we’ll have plenty more to discuss.

  24. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #23 Yes, Ger. Synodality beckons, and even secular humanism seeks dialogue with people of faith in a most challenging time, as the Irish Times proves today.

    Note that here David McConnell is responding to a previous Methodist contribution to this ‘Rite and Reason‘ column in the Irish Times. For decades that has been a space for many Catholic writers also. The reporting of church scandals is not all that the paper does.

    Irish Catholicism needs to, and will, find a ‘shape’ that is both true to the Creed and non-oppressive, for the sake of the children. Disempowerment is a good preparation for this, and we will all have a contribution to make, speaking frankly.

    I appreciate this interchange with yourself, made possible by the ACP.

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