Parishes should focus their resources on becoming missionary communities rather than on just preserving buildings, Bishop Phonsie Cullinan has said.
The Bishop of Waterford and Lismore told The Irish Catholic that “a parish will quite happily renovate a church for half a million euro, but I would have to ask the question of whether it would be better to employ a parish worker or a catechist or a youth officer.
“Where we put our resources shows where our values and where our priorities are,” he said.
If Church renewal is to happen, Dr Cullinan insisted that finding the right people to work alongside priests in parishes “is key” to evangelisation.
“Of course we need beautiful places in which to worship, but we have a lot of them already and they’re only half full on a good day,” the bishop said.
According to Tony Foy, the Director of NET Ministries Ireland, parishes naturally tend to focus their resources on dealing with physical problems without addressing more serious concerns.
“You go into any parish in the country and the reality is you’ve no problem in a parish for finances when there’s a hole in the roof, no matter how bad things are, and that’s something that people get their heads around very quickly,” he told The Irish Catholic.
“But the reality in terms of the faith of the people that we’re experiencing is that there isn’t even a roof, and what I’ve seen in the last five years is that the walls [of faith] have begun to crumble.”
Bishop Cullinan – who is launching a new listening process within his diocese – insists that adult formation needs to be a core priority. He thinks that Catholics need to ask the question as to whether the traditional emphasis on childhood formation might be misplaced.
“We form children in the schools – and that’s great and we have so many wonderful teachers – and then the adults come in to receive the sacraments and they get a blessing and go out the door,” he said.
“I wonder if we have it the wrong way around – we really need a very serious look at adult faith formation.”
While such a shift in priorities would be a radical change, Dr Cullinan said such a different approach would be “worth a try, because we all must admit that our congregations are diminishing – people are going and following other philosophies and very often leaving the treasures of the Faith without ever having truly known them”.