Fr Ger Nash tells Ruadhán Jones about the hopes and challenges of his new position
Becoming a bishop is a daunting prospect, whatever your age or experience. Fr Ger Nash, who celebrates 30 years as a priest this year, knows this well, having been diocesan secretary of Killaloe for the last 13 years. Asked if the news of his appointment on June 11 had sunk in yet, he said it “comes and it goes”.
“But I suppose the goodness of people and the fact that people are rejoicing around you, you get the sense that it’s a good thing,” Fr Nash tells The Irish Catholic. “But it’s daunting. It sinks in slowly, it does.”
It was a challenge to leave his effective home, the diocese of Killaloe, where he has spent all his life as a priest, Fr Nash says.
“I’ve been here all my life really,” he explains. “I’m 30 years a priest this year. I’ve worked – I wouldn’t say across the diocese – but I worked in Roscrea, at one end of the diocese, for five years and then for the last 25 years in a circle around Ennis in different roles, not all of them in parishes. One of them, for seven years, was director of Clare Care, which is the social service, which up to 2003 always had a priest as general manager when there were lots of priests in the diocese.”
It has helped that his welcome to the diocese of Ferns, which covers the sunny southeast of Ireland, has been “wonderful”, Bishop-elect Nash continues.
“The welcome has been very good, it’s been just wonderful,” Fr Nash says. “We went down there on the 11 [of June], the Nuncio [Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo] made the announcement. Obviously in Covid times, it was quite a small attendance. There wasn’t a chance to meet any quantity of people after other than to wave at a distance. But it was lovely.”
Fr Nash spent a considerable amount of his time in the diocese devoted to pastoral planning, a pressing concern in all dioceses as the number of priests declines. He hopes that the skills he learned and experience he gleaned will stand him in good stead for his new appointment.
“I think they will, but the first thing you have to do is to listen to people and to find out what’s going on, on the ground,” Fr Nash says. “But certainly, I would have picked up [skills] in pastoral planning here in Killaloe. We’re much shorter of priests than any other diocese, certainly in the rural areas.”
“We had to make considerable innovative decisions over the years, with Bishop Fintan [Monahan] and Bishop Kieran [O’Reilly] over the last few years on how to manage when parishes get left without a priest. That’s been a big focus of my work for the last five years.
“The other thing is we’ve been training people for lay ministry in the Church, we’ve been training 25 people: 12 as catechists and 13 in pastoral care to become pastoral ministers along with the clergy in the pastoral areas – to do a lot of the pastoral work of the Church that’s non-sacramental.”
During the interview, Fr Nash clarified comments he made to The Clare Champion published on Friday June 18, that had caused confusion regarding the ordination of women to the priesthood. When asked if he supported calls to ordain women to the priesthood, the bishop-elect says no, adding that “the ordination of women is a decision for the whole Church”.
“It’s way outside my area of competence altogether,” Fr Nash explains. “I suppose what I was coming at there is the work I’ve done over the past few years is supporting women in ministry. You know, those roles – to get roles for men and women, to develop a whole sense of room for women to minister within the Church. Ordination is a separate issue which is not in our Church and I fully accept that.”
“One of the things I’ve been really enthusiastic about in our own diocese is the possibility of training people for that whole area of ministry that’s not sacramental. That was the big focus of my interview with The Clare Champion, that was what I was hoping to get across. It wasn’t the journalist, it was my fault for not being as clear as I should be on that,” he says.
Fr Nash agrees with the statements made by Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis that the Church has no authority ordain women as priests. He went on to highlight the “interesting” study that Pope Francis has commissioned on the possibility of ordaining women to the diaconate. The Pope is now said to be considering the report of that commission of experts.
Between now and his ordination on September 5, Fr Nash says he will be spending his time “easing” himself into the job. He also has a lot of jobs in Killaloe to “leave down” as well, having been diocesan secretary for 13 years.
“Inevitably when you leave something, not everything is written down on paper, it’s in your head,” Fr Nash continues. “You know the tasks you do, and that’s fine when you’re doing them yourself, but when you hand them onto somebody else, you need to have them documented and where things are. I’m also diocesan secretary and there’s a whole range of jobs in that too that need to be handed on. Also handing it over when you’re going far away, if you were staying in the diocese you could be more accessible to your successor.”
Speaking about his hopes for the appointment, Fr Nash says he’s looking forward to the synodal process which Pope Francis has introduced, and the Irish bishops’ own synodal pathway, with a national synod in five years.
“That’s going to be the key piece of work starting quite promptly in October. That will almost be the first thing I’ll be addressing. To put a system in place of the views of people and to get their understanding will be a key thing. That’s true of every diocese I think, many dioceses have been doing a listening process over the last few years, but a synodal process is different.”
Fr Nash welcomes the interest that has already been shown in Ireland’s synodal pathway, following the announcement that 550 submissions had been received by the Irish bishops’ conference.
“I haven’t studied them, but it’s good to see that there is a strong interest out there in it. How can we make the Gospel more real in an Ireland that is increasingly secular, but is still looking for spirituality? The Gospel still has something to offer people even when they may no longer be linking into Church,” Fr Nash insists.