Dioceses must be fit for mission, says Primate
The future of Ireland’s smallest dioceses is coming under increased Vatican scrutiny with a policy to withhold appointing bishops once a small diocese becomes vacant. The Irish Catholic understands at least three of the smallest dioceses will not receive new bishops and will likely be amalgamated over a period of time.
Amalgamating dioceses in Ireland was first mooted in Rome to the Irish bishops at the height of the abuse scandals by the Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, Cardinal Battista Re, but was shelved to avoid it looking like a punishment for the Irish episcopacy.
However, as vocations continue to decline and clergy retire, it is an issue that clearly has to be tackled.
The dioceses most likely to be affected are Dromore, Achonry, Clonfert and Killala, the first two of which are vacant and the other two have bishops, one of whom reached retirement age five years ago and the other who is four years from retirement.
Armagh’s Archbishop Eamon Martin, who has been Administrator of the Diocese of Dromore for the past two months understands why there has been speculation by priests and laity that Dromore could be amalgamated with his own diocese, but told this paper that while he will oversee Dromore for several years he has not been asked to work towards a diocesan merger.
“The only thing is that at the moment I have not been asked by the Holy See to move towards amalgamation of Dromore,” he said.
However, The Irish Catholic has been told by impeccable sources that Rome does intend for the smallest dioceses to be amalgamated over time. Archbishop Martin conceded: “Whatever happens, it’s obvious that consideration needs to be given to the future of the smaller dioceses in Ireland.”
The archbishop was keen to point out that the Irish Church should not get caught up solely in the structures of dioceses but needs to ask “how are we going to hand on the Faith?”
“What is the optimum size of a diocese, or conditions within a diocese which will maximise mission and making disciples,” he asked. “In other words, what is too small to provide the best possible provisions for handing on the Faith?” The Archbishop also posed the question of whether a diocese could be too big.
Stressing that synodality needs to be the guiding principle behind any changes, with consultation with people and priests being essential in the dioceses and with a national synod being a real possibility in a few years time, Dr Martin said: “I would be disappointed if the reorganisation of dioceses in Ireland took place at a boardroom table in Rome. I think it needs to begin on the ground and move from the ground up.”