LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Dublin’s archbishop has warned against the “nastiness and bitterness” of Catholics on social media, saying people will only be attracted to the Church if they encounter “people of joy.”

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin was speaking at a Mass Oct. 20 commemorating the canonization of John Henry Newman, the founder of what is now University College Dublin.

“Faith is always a seeking and Newman reminds us that that seeking continues, lifelong, in our own hearts and in our desire to understand the human project,” the archbishop said. “Obstacles to faith arise when we somehow begin to feel that we definitively have all the answers and others are to be judged as outsiders, or on the other hand, when we fall into the temptation to indifference, not even asking the questions.”

Martin said the journey into faith is “never just self-driven,” and Newman saw how prayer is what “opens our hearts to that light.”

In his homily, he issued two warnings about the dangers of “pastoral pessimism.”

“There is of course no way in which we can draw the religiously alienated back to the faith of their earlier life, if we do not also identify the factors that alienated them from the faith. People will be attracted to the message of Jesus only if they encounter us believers as both people of joy at our encounter with Christ, and people who recognize where a sense of self-defined certainties led us on the wrong path,” he said.

“My second warning is that the light we look towards is a kindly light,” Martin continued.

“I am astonished at the content and tone of daily messages on social media by Catholic pundits on the left and the right that are anything but kindly. There are those who spend all day attacking and responding and feeling that in this they are defending the integrity of Church teaching. The kindly light will never be defended by nastiness and bitterness. Such negativity and polarization reflects rather a pointless retreat into self-defined false certainties,” he explained.

Martin said that Irish Catholicism is marked for many as a culture of religious certainties and for others one where each one determines his or her own beliefs, but he said Newman would belong to neither group.

“A Catholicism of self-defined certainties will lead eventually to a doubt about all certainties and thus to emptiness. A Catholicism of self-defined certainties and self-importance led to an authoritarian and harsh Irish Catholicism, with consequences we know only too well,” the archbishop said.

Revelations of clerical sexual abuse and the harsh conditions in Church-run institutions has had a devastating effect on what was once the most Catholic country in Europe.

Last year, two-thirds of the Irish electorate voted to remove pro-life protections in the country’s constitution, paving the way to legalized abortion in Ireland. According to the latest census data, 78 percent of the population said they were Catholic, a drop from 84 percent in just five years.

“The Church must reach out to those who belong to its fold but also to the many who are religiously estranged or non-affiliated, not confronting them with ready-made answers, but attracting them into that search for the true light and accompanying them on that life-long journey towards discovering their true selves,” Martin said.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome

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