Archbishop hopes June congress will help heal wounds of Irish church

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Irish Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin talks with Catholic News Service at Georgetown University in Washington before giving a lecture on faith and service May 16, 2011. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The wounds and divisions within the Catholic Church in Ireland make the upcoming International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin an important moment for renewal and reconciliation, said Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin.

The archbishop spoke at a Vatican news conference May 10 as a growing chorus of voices called for the resignation of Ireland’s Catholic primate, Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh, Northern Ireland, over allegations he did not do enough to stop an abusive priest in the 1970s.

The news conference about the International Eucharistic Congress scheduled for June 10-17 also came on the heels of reports that the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently censured five Irish priests over their stance on issues such as the ordination of women, the ban on artificial birth control, mandatory clerical celibacy and homosexuality.

The eucharistic congress, Archbishop Martin said, “will reflect and showcase the church in Ireland, a church which has faced and still faces enormous challenges, but a church which is alive and vital and anxious to set out on a path of renewal.”

“There are divisions within the Irish church and at times unhealthy divisions,” he said, but the eucharistic congress could be “an event of reconciliation and rebuilding of unity” like the congress held in Dublin in 1932, less than 10 years after the Irish civil war.

Before traveling to Rome, Archbishop Martin had said he thought a government commission should be set up to look into the case of Norbertine Father Brendan Smyth, who was convicted in 1997 of sexually abusing more than 20 victims over a period of 35 years. Archbishop Martin had said it was important to investigate “how he was allowed to abuse for so many years.”

But at the Vatican news conference, Archbishop Martin would not say what he thought the cardinal should do. “Cardinal Brady has made a clear statement; he is dealing with it,” the archbishop said.

During the International Eucharistic Congress, he said, a day has been dedicated to the theme of reconciliation, and it’s not only about helping people rediscover sacramental penance.

The main liturgy that day, he said, will “touch on the theme of child sexual abuse,” and some of the texts were written by victims of clerical abuse.

But Archbishop Martin said the challenge to the church in Ireland goes deeper than the legacy of clerical sexual abuse of children and calls for a renewal of the church, a change in church structures and recognizing that the country is much more profoundly secular than most people thought.

The church, he said, “is trying to address the problems of today with the pastoral methods of the past. We need a much deeper reform of the church in Ireland,” which means not only structures, but most importantly finding new ways to bring people to Christ and revive an enthusiasm for sharing the faith.

The Irish need “a different type of church. It will be more modest in its dimensions and its role. It will be, in many ways — and it is today in many ways — a minority church, but that does not mean it is an irrelevant church,” the archbishop said.

Archbishop Martin said, “The church in Ireland shows signs of tiredness” and he hoped hosting the International Eucharistic Congress would be one step in the process of overcoming that weariness.

“I don’t think that Irish churches will be full a week after the congress,” he said, but gathering around the Eucharist with Catholics from all over the world should spark some new enthusiasm.

Archbishop Martin said he and the Irish bishops had invited Pope Benedict to the congress, but he thinks a papal visit will be even more important in the future as “the crowning moment of the renewal process of the church in Ireland, or at least of the first stage of that process.”
— By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

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