Priests and people in the Diocese of Ossory need to take ownership of local pastoral needs to ensure parishes face the future in a healthy and dynamic way, Bishop Dermot Farrell has said.
Speaking to The Irish Catholic about his pastoral letter ‘A Pathway for our Parishes’, Bishop Farrell said change is already afoot and the question facing parishes is how to engage with that change.
Although the pastoral letter says Ossory expects to have just 20 priests aged under 75 in 10 years time, Dr Farrell said the pathway’s emphasis is on parishes as a whole.
“First of all the focus is not on clergy; it’s on changing parishes, it’s on sharing resources, and it’s about lay involvement for better parish life to serve the spiritual needs of people today,” he said, adding that meetings with parishioners around the diocese have made it clear that there is an appetite for such an emphasis.
“One thing we see from doing that is that people are happy to work with a real situation. People can see the issues on the ground, they see the aging profile of the clergy, they see that they’re going to have work – I think what makes people nervous is unreality. They can’t really work with that,” he said.
Neither the suppression nor amalgamation of existing parishes is envisaged by the diocese, although Dr Farrell said if some parishes were eventually to seek to be formally united this could be facilitated as long as any changes were sought at a grassroots level.
“We’ll probably put some guidelines in place in terms of Masses, but each local area will have to work that out, rather than having it imposed,” he said. “There is a process where we have engaged with people, but part of that process is not the institutional Church taking over and imposing its solutions – it’s giving ownership to people, saying this is your pastoral area: how are you going to provide for the sacramental life of this parish or these three parishes?”
“There’s a certain pruning in this, which we might initially see as a loss, but there’re also gains, and we have to see God’s hand in it,” Dr Farrell said. “God is working through this and I think good will come out of it.”