Taking on co-responsibility for the Church

"We have this idea that Ireland was evangelised once and for all,” says Bishop Noel Treanor, “it wasn’t and we need to be part of the new evangelisation of Ireland.”

More than 1,700 people from across the Diocese of Down and Connor are due to gather in Belfast this weekend for the launch of a new pastoral plan. The document is the fruit of prayer, reflection and listening over the past number of years and will set out concrete plans for evangelisation in the diocese over the coming years.


Speaking to The Irish Catholic this week Bishop Treanor said he believes that the congress is part of a concrete expression of the need for renewal in the Church in Ireland.

Dr Treanor was appointed bishop of the sprawling diocese that takes in parts of Derry, Antrim and Down in 2008. “There was an immediate question,” he recalls, “what’s your plan?”

Bishop Treanor did have a plan. But it wasn’t one that was laid out in bullet points with a ready-made template. It was a plan that he wanted to begin from the ground up by a process of listening to the people of the diocese, priests and religious.

“It would’ve been the easiest thing in the world for me to sit down and write a plan for the diocese. But I decided that I need to involve everyone,” Bishop Treanor says.

The bishop recalls that many pastoral and diocesan assemblies took place around Irish dioceses in the 1980s but soon enthusiasm petered out. He believes the reasons these initiatives failed to bear fruit came from the fact that they were “not rooted in a consultative process with the People of God”.

Bishop Treanor says the priests’ council enthusiastically took up the idea of a listening process across the diocese. “We knew we had to go out and listen to people, to hear their negative as well as positive impressions about the Church. We had to listen to their disappointments, their frustrations as well as their experience of faith as lived in the 21st Century,” Dr Treanor says.

Forty-seven laypeople were commissioned to go to parishes and listen to what people had to say. But, for those who might complain that the Church was listening to the converted, there were also specific listening sessions organised for people who felt alienated from the Church and for young people and university students.

Bishop Treanor says he was “greatly heartened” by the active participation of the people of the diocese. “It’s symptomatic of something that has been bubbling in the Church since the Second Vatican Council – a deep desire among the People of God in this diocese to respond to the challenge to take responsibility together for proclaiming the word of God.”

Bishop Treanor believes that co-responsibility between laypeople, bishops, priests and religious is key to renewal in the Church.


The result of the listening sessions was a report that identifies five core themes:

 Lay Participation;

 Open Welcoming Community;


 Faith and Worship;

 Passing on the Faith.

As well as the launch of the new plan, Saturday’s congress will focus on the key areas that have been identified and give parishioners an opportunity to discuss their faith. Bishop Treanor believes it is about “bringing people together in a public place to be together in our identity as Catholics in order to strengthen our co-responsibility and say our faith has meaning”.

“The very coming together is an important thing,” he insists.

Pastoral plan

The pastoral plan will lay the foundations for the future of outreach in the diocese. “Every generation has a mission to evangelise,” the bishop says, acknowledging that people “feel that need particularly urgently at the moment.”

The pastoral plan, Bishop Treanor says, will lay out concrete steps to be taken in the five key areas. “We’ll be able to evaluate things. This won’t be something that we’ll launch and then put on a shelf, there will be an evaluation to see if we are achieving our targets.”

A major priority is to ensure, as Pope Francis might say, that the Church is not too self-referencing or inward-looking. “We are a Church that is in dialogue, that is open and welcoming, not simply in a sacristy,” Bishop Treanor insists.

He references the Katholikentag (Catholic days) as an example from the German-speaking Catholic world that could act as an intersection between faith and culture. The ‘Catholic days’ celebrations take place every 2-4 years and offer an opportunity for Catholics to reflect on the modern world and the response of their faith to challenges.

Bishop Treanor sees the process in Down and Connor as something that could feed in to a national conversation, perhaps around a national assembly or synod of the Church in Ireland. When you look to the listening processes that have gone in various dioceses, he says. “If all of these different efforts were looked at there is the stuff of and the beginnings of a roadmap for what might be achieved nationally.”

Last year’s Eucharistic Congress showed many people that there is greater energy, vibrancy and diversity in the Church than they had believed.

Many will be looking to Down and Connor to see if it can indeed emerge as a roadmap that will help set out a vision for the future of the Church on this island.