The future for religion

In the Hands of the People: A New Vision of Church

by Phil Brennan

(Primavera Publications, €6.99)

It is significant that more and more people concerned about the state of the world, of education and of religion, are turning to self-publishing to express their views; finding perhaps that what are dubiously called ‘mainstream publishers’ are wary of such topics. Dr Phil Brennan is one of these.

His doctorate was awarded him for a thesis on “A Critical Evaluation of the Potential to Renew the Irish Church Today”. This book is, in effect, a popularisation of his academic work. And the future of the Church? Well, that will belong essentially, he seems to be saying, with “the people of God”.

We all realise that the hierarchy is planning to amalgamate parishes into groups in a desperate effort to make the few priests that remain go further. But what may be needed is actually a return to an earlier situation. In the middle ages in these islands, certainly in urban districts, a parish often amounted to no more than 300 souls.

Large parishes

Already our parishes are too large by that standard. Making them even larger is not a solution. Dr Brennan extols the small Christian community, but he adds that they must live and work, and indeed worship, with those of other faiths. What needs to be enlarged he seems to be suggesting is not the parish unit, but our sense of what religion actually means in the 21st Century.

He greatly admires the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero whose life writings and witness have deeply moved him. There is now more momentum in the move to canonise Romero. Certainly his experiences, indeed the experiences of the whole Church outside of Europe and North America, may well be the dominating trend of the coming century, especially in the light of what Pope Francis seems to be attempting.


Whatever about the enthusiasm that welcomes Pope Francis to the Far East, and perhaps to Ireland next year, the future lies not in the hierarchy, but literally “in the hands of the people”.

Given his outlook there will be some who disagree with Dr Brennan, but with a shrinking clerical cohort and emptying parish churches, his formula may well present one of the ways forward. At least he is trying to be part of the solution rather than the problem.