By courtesy of the Irish Independent, 24th December 2021
Report: Sarah McDonald
Photo: Gerry Mooney
The Catholic Church in Ireland needs to “open up a new chapter” and get ready for radical change so its parish structures are fit for purpose , Archbishop Dermot Farrell of Dublin has said.
The leader of the country’s largest diocese admitted there is no “pre-packaged plan” to address the reality in which the church finds itself today.
“Of course, we confront immense challenges. Certain forms of church life may be dying out. Once we accept this, it does not mean resignation or powerlessness, but new responsibilities for the mission,” he said. “Change is never easy and there will be conflicts, disagreements and tensions.”
He said the structures of the church have been undergoing change for some time, not only in Dublin but all over the country and throughout the western world.
“There is always room for improvement,” he said. “Notwithstanding the immensity of these challenges, some of which have become even more stark as a result of the coronavirus crisis, I am hopeful for the future of the diocese.
“From my pastoral visits, it is clear that Catholicism has a firm centre in the parishes of Dublin, but also peripheral circles which are culturally Catholic.”
Acknowledging that many are alienated from the church, he said: “We have to be able as a church to atone and to ensure that nothing we ever do stands in the way of a relationship that an individual person of faith has with God.
“As Archbishop of Dublin, I am here to play my part in healing the hurts of the past and to constantly reach out and welcome people.”
He also expressed deep concern about the drugs pandemic in the capital, an issue he has spoken about several times recently.
He told the Irish Independent he became conscious of the “crack-cocaine epidemic and the associated violence that accompanies it” through pastoral visits to parishes over the past year.
“It is a major issue in the city, it is extensive and insidious. Open drug-dealing in broad daylight can be witnessed every day in the city,” he said.
Unlike the heroin crisis of the 1980s, the current drugs epidemic has “ensnared whole families” in addiction to crack-cocaine, cannabis and “cocktails of illicit pills”.
“Although we are dealing with one pandemic, we cannot lose sight of the other pandemic that is raging in the city. It cannot be solved by the statutory agencies alone,” the archbishop said.
Hitting out at the “ingenuity of suppliers”, he appealed to everyone to commit to playing a part in eradicating this “deadly scourge”.
“If we wash our hands of the problem, we are accomplices to this entrapment of children and young men and women that will ultimately lead to their deaths,” he said.
Speaking as he visited the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin – which this week handed out 3,000 food vouchers worth €50 to those struggling to cover daily necessities – Dr Farrell welcomed the Government’s announcement that every household in the country will get €100 credit to offset their rising energy costs.
He said it would undoubtedly benefit many households that are struggling with their energy bills.
However, he noted there are many who do not need the payment to meet their costs.
“This is an opportunity for people who might not miss the €100 to donate it to one of the many local and national charities who could put it to really good use in looking after the poor,” he said.
Addressing families struggling this Christmas, he told them: “You are not alone. There is always help available through agencies such as Crosscare, the Capuchin Day Centre, St Vincent de Paul
and, at local level, through the excellent family resource centres operating in partnership with parishes.
“Please do not suffer in silence, don’t suffer in isolation, reach out for help and your dignity will always be respected.”
Paying tribute to those organisations, he said the work they do is “life-altering”.
The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin said it is “completely unacceptable” to pressure church organisations to gift sites and buildings into a “dysfunctional” housing system.
He said such a move “may do very little” for the “most vulnerable” but could enrich property developers.
Archbishop Dermot Farrell acknowledged homelessness and increasing rents are “an ongoing blight in Dublin” and added: “Everyone deserves the right to a key to their own front door. Homelessness isn’t inevitable.”
In an apparent criticism of the request to the Irish bishops in a letter last August from Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien – that the Catholic Church identify land or vacant buildings it owns that could be used to tackle the housing crisis – Dr Farrell said: “Gifting sites and buildings into a dysfunctional system may do very little to ease the accommodation needs of the most vulnerable.”
Some of the largest property sales in Dublin in recent years have come from the church and religious orders.
In October, the Irish bishops responded to the minister’s letter and said dioceses and parishes would be encouraged to identify property they own that could help tackle the housing crisis.
Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Primate of All Ireland, writing on behalf of the Irish bishops, told Mr O’Brien the church would continue to “play our part” in alleviating the suffering caused by the housing crisis.
However, he also said control of properties lies with local charitable trusts.
Archbishop Farrell said Catholic dioceses, parishes and religious congregations had already made “land and buildings available, not only for housing but also for other civic amenities in addition to housing and community services which are directly delivered by such bodies”.
He said it made “more sense” for church organisations “that have a particular mission to the poor and disadvantaged, to engage on specific projects with local authority partners for specific housing outcomes”.