LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Dublin’s archbishop says the Church in Ireland “needs a radical overhaul” in its outreach to young people.
Speaking just six weeks before Pope Francis visits the Irish capital for the World Meeting of Families, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said the Church “has to re-learn the ability to speak the language of faith authentically in a world where that language may be alien.”
On May 25, over two-thirds of Irish voters chose to repeal Ireland’s pro-life amendment in the country’s constitution, with polls showing 87 percent of voters aged 18-24 casting their ballot to legalize abortion.
One of the most Catholic countries in Europe, revelations about clerical sexual abuse have left public confidence in the Church at its lowest level in history.
The latest European Social Survey, released earlier this year, shows only 54 percent of people between the ages of 16-29 identify as Catholic, and less than 25 percent claim to attend Mass weekly.
Irish society is becoming more secular as a result: Three years before the abortion referendum, 62 percent of the voters chose to legalize same-sex marriage in Ireland.
“Irish religious culture is changing,” Martin said on Sunday.
“The main body of the membership of Irish Catholicism and its leadership belong to an age and cultural group that is in many ways foreign to the culture of young people. The Irish Church needs to waken itself to the urgency of this situation,” the archbishop added.
He was speaking during the ordination Mass for two deacons of the Salesian order, founded by St. John Bosco in 1859 to minister to young people.
Martin said the priest was “radical “in his models of pastoral activity, and should be an example for the Church in the 21st century.
“He realized that young people were missing from parish life so he began to encounter them in new ways. He reached out to young people and met them where they were,” the Dublin archbishop said.
He said the kind of change needed in the Irish Church today “will not be easy,” and added “there is uncertainty about how to proceed.”
“Just as Don Bosco encountered much resistance from the mainstream Catholic structures of his time, there will be a sort of passive resistance today. Change is painful. There is however no alternative. Catholics must learn new ways in which they can win young hearts for what the teaching of Jesus involves,” Martin said.
The World Meeting of Families — a Vatican-sponsored event taking place every three years — is talking place in Dublin Aug. 21-26. Pope Francis will attend the final two days of the event.