The Diocesan assembly was held over the October bank weekend. This event takes place every 7 years and its primary purpose is to review the issues and challenges facing the parishes of our Diocese today and to try to find ways to tackle these challenges.
6 Pastoral Council members attended over the 2 days and it was an interesting and thought provoking few days. The assembly was centered around 4 modules on Sacramental Practice, Young people, the age profile of the priests in our Diocese and the results of a listening survey. The listening Survey result was most interesting and gave a very honest and forthright view of how the Church is perceived among a cross section of Catholics.
It was conducted during the 18 months preceding the assembly and the groups interviewed for the survey were - the 18-35 year olds, young parents, married couples, the over 65's, teachers, emigrants, business people and residents of housing estates.
The views of younger people, married couples and parents were broadly in agreement. These groups highlighted that the church, at its best, is a positive force and there is a huge regard for Pope Francis. Young adults would like to see the priest in a role as a teacher as opposed to a dictator and they felt that the liturgies need to relate more to people's lives.
These groups felt that the role of women is devalued and they see the Church as ageing, out of touch and male orientated. Common concerns were the day to day struggle to make ends meet, children with high expectations, and fears around youth culture involving drink and drugs and the influence of the social media was also mentioned as a cause for concern.
The results from the over 65 age group showed them to be more resilient and with lower expectations. Again there was huge support for the local clergy and Pope Francis and a genuine concern for the future of the church.
What stood out, however, was that this grouping was not entirely uncritical of the church. There was huge dismay at the damage done by the abuse scandals. This group was also open to the idea of married priests and felt that there was a need to rethink the priesthood and give women a greater role. This was a view that was strongly supported by the delegates at the assembly. They also felt that there was a need to be more understanding of real life issues and show more compassion in situations involving broken marriages and people in second relationships.
The next module covered was Sacramental Practice.
Most people are well aware that participation in the sacraments and liturgies is well down in comparison to previous times. It was pointed out however that participation rates have fluctuated hugely over the decades and centuries. Delegates were reminded that Ireland is coming from a period of massive participation in the 50's 60's and 70's where rates were in the 80-90% range - these were among the highest rates ever in the world.
Now rates have fallen back to 25-30% but generally higher in some rural areas, Templeport being a case in point. Some stark statements were made - how First Communion can also be the last, how Confirmation which is meant to signify formal entry into the church can, in fact, signify exit from the church.
Fr Drumm's presentation did not skirt around the issues. One of the feedbacks was for fewer but more meaningful and sensitive liturgies spoken in a language of the people. There was also a call made for a greater role for the sacrament of reconciliation.
An image described by Fr Drumm was of a Church that is always open but it is not very full and this sums it up really.
Regarding Youth ministry Clogher Diocese made a presentation outlining how they have engaged very successfully with the younger generation. They have a number of very successful initiatives underway but the key thing that was picked up by many delegates was the level of resource provided. The view of the assembly was that urgent action is needed, resources must be provided and a comprehensive youth ministry program must be started.
The last presentation on Saturday was at the request of the priests of the Diocese and focused on the age profile of the priests in the diocese now and what that figure will look like in the year 2020.
The diocese of Kilmore has 35 parishes with 95 churches. There are 76 diocesan priests, of those 60 are in active ministry. The rest are retired. The average age of priests in the diocese is 64. In 6 years' time that average will rise to 70. These figures cannot be ignored. The consequence of this is that over the coming years, and it won't be that far off, a review of the number of Masses as well as the use of Church buildings will have to take place. This will require close consultation with parishes and communities throughout the diocese but the only thing to be said is that significant change is on the way.
The tone of the conference was not in any way negative and there was an active participation by all delegates in the discussion groups. Though some of the findings were undoubtedly difficult I have to say that the clergy who made the presentations were completely upfront and philosophical on all matters. Bishop Leo was in attendance through-out and gave his full endorsement to the proceedings in his closing address.
There are many challenges to be faced but judging by the active participation and enthusiasm of the delegates there is a strong and vibrant church in our diocese. There a bright future for the church but it will be different