Tony Flannery: Talk in the Clayton Hotel, Galway, on Wednesday March 27th at 7.30pm

Can religious belief as we have known it survive in modern Ireland? 

As many will know, I have been silenced by the Catholic Church but that isn’t to say, I haven’t been contemplating how best to address the falling attendances at Mass, the falling away in general from the Catholic faith.

I’ve decided to break my silence on these matters and will give a public talk in Galway city during Holy Week.

In the past few years, I’ve studied and read would love nothing more than to share my observations in the hope that I can address how religious belief as we have known it survive in modern Ireland.

If we take the traditional indications of the health of the faith as measured by the Catholic Church, meaning church membership and regular observance of attendance at church, then all the signs are that it is in serious trouble, that the faith is in the terminal stage of ill health. Churches are emptying or are being frequented only by the older generation. Seminaries are closing down, and priest numbers are declining rapidly. There appear to be few, if any signs of new growth. 

But that is by no means the full story. We are living in a really interesting time in the Church since the arrival on the papacy of Francis. However long more he is going to last, even in the eleven years since his appointment he has brought about a great deal of change. The Synodal Process, with which we are familiar to some extent in Ireland, is a major project, the success of which is hard to measure at present. 

I have no doubt that the biggest legacy Pope Francis will leave from his time in charge is that he has freed up discussion, areas of study and the search for truth in the Church, all or which had been seriously restricted for many centuries by rigid imposition of official teachings. The pre Francis Church had adopted the position that it had the full truth, and that it had nothing to learn from the world. Francis, on the other hand, realised that in order for the Church to be relevant, it must engage with modern life, and be part of the debate about the future of the world and of people. Otherwise it would become, as has happened to some extent, a voice from the past that few took seriously anymore. 

A good example of that change of attitude is the extent to which Francis has engaged in the debate about the destruction of the environment and the necessity of facing up to climate change. The other really interesting change brought about by the new freedom in the Church is that Bible study is now no longer confined to the realm of the scholars, but is increasingly part of the faith journey of people generally. The fact that there is now a wider awareness that the Bible cannot be read as a historical document, but presents truth at a very different level of understanding, opens up all sorts of interesting questions about the nature of God, about the life and purpose of Jesus, and our expectations for the next life, among many other questions.

Francis himself recently suggested that God is more likely to be experienced in honest dialogue between spiritual searchers with many questions, than among those who are convinced that they have the full truth and don’t need to dialogue with anybody. 

These are the areas that I address in the Clayton Hotel, Briarhill on Wednesday, March 27 at 7.30pm.

It will be about trying to reconcile our Religious Upbringing with our current understandings of  Creation, Interpreting Scripture, and the Divine Presence. Don’t expect to come away with definite answers. As I get older I am more convinced that life itself is a mystery, and the same can be said about the idea of God and everlasting life. But, as I have found in my own life, new avenues of understanding can always open up for all of us. The talk won’t be too long, and we will leave plenty of time for question and discussion. You will be welcome to attend as we face into the season of the profound mystery of Easter.

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One Comment

  1. Pat Lavelle says:

    Is Pope Francis personally aware or Fr Tony’s situation, if he is, what is his position? If he isn’t, it’s time to make him aware with the strongest points.

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