University chaplains have to minister in a pluralist context

Dear Editor, Please allow me to make the following reply with reference to Fr David Barrins’ comments in his recent interview with The Irish Catholic (02/10/2014) concerning what he terms as the “intolerant” posture of UCC and third level institutions in dealing with a lack of “plurality of opinions properly represented on campus”.

Third level campuses are a microcosm of Irish life. A university chaplain, as with clergy in a parish, is faced with the reality of ministering in a pluralist context. David Barrins is a Dominican priest. Dominicans have a history of pastoral engagement within universities and other aspects of cultural and religious centres. Hence, one would have thought he would be more prepared for the pastoral reality of dialogue.

Many of us who work as lecturers and lay theologians in third level institutes here in Ireland are also involved in engaging with a pluralist reality. This is the context, which Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI have respectively spoken of as the loci of the meeting point of faith and culture. It is the place where we are to dialogue with those of faith and none.

It appears that Fr Barrins is, perhaps unconsciously, presuming that a chaplain can only work in an environment that is accepting of a particular faith.

University College Cork has been served well in the past with chaplaincy teams, lay, religious and clerics of many denominations who have served the university well. I wish the chaplaincy team every success in their fidelity to that dialogue which the Vatican has now made a hallmark of all pastoral ministries. Language of exclusion, such as Fr Barrins implies, has no place in such a dialogue.

Yours etc.,

Philip Cremin,

Lecturer in Systematic Theology,

Dept. of Humanities, Waterford Institute of Technology.