Two archbishops in Ireland have emphasized the need to include LGBTQ people in the church’s outreach efforts, comments made in the face of declining enrollment and participation among Irish Catholics.
Archbishop Dermot Farrell of Dublin said, per The Independent:
“[Farrell] added that the Catholic Church should reach out to the LGBTQ+ community, as they haven’t been welcomed in the past.
“‘There has to be an outreach to the LGBT community and that certainly is changing in the church,’ he said.
“‘There is an outreach to people of the LGBT community who want to be involved in church life and that’s a welcome change, it wasn’t in the past a welcoming place so we do need to do that.'”
The archbishop’s comments were made as he addressed the massive fallout the Irish church has experienced in recent years. Farrell described the situation as “unsustainable” and “a crisis.” The solution, or at least part of it, is doing outreach:
“He said the church should be going out and meeting people rather than just expecting them to arrive to mass, like talking to students of faith in universities. . .
“‘What we really need to challenge is there is a crisis and crisis always demands creativity.’ . . .
“‘But it’s not just about telling people to go to Mass it has to be deeper than that. Maybe you need to go out where the flock is and meet them in different ways.’ . . .
“The Archbishop of Dublin said none of this will be ‘done in an instance’ but that the country needs to discover its Christian roots.”
In related comments, Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly of Cashel and Emly sought a “new era of inclusivity” in the church at the release of a new pastoral plan, titled “Seeds of Hope.” The Irish Times reported:
“Minority groups, ‘from divorced or separated people to LGBT+, migrants and the Travelling community’, should all feel they belong to Catholic parishes, as should ‘those who consider themselves “cultural Catholics”,’ a new pastoral plan published by the Catholic Archdiocese of Cashel & Emly on Sunday has said. . .
“The plan also says that the inclusion of women in leadership roles must be ‘a priority’ and that ‘images of families used in parish and diocesan literature should represent all family types.’
“Parishes are asked ‘to identify minority groups who may feel less welcome or who do not feel they belong and plan events that convey hospitality and welcome.’ The plan places particular emphasis on the importance of youth in outlining a future for the Church.”
O’Reilly said the effort to do greater outreach is not caused by declining participation in the church, but because it is precisely the work the church should be doing regardless.
The Irish Catholic Church has been shaken deeply in recent years, mainly because of reports of systemic abuse at church institutions. Its leaders failed to stop a marriage equality referendum from passing in 2015, as well as an abortion rights referendum in 2018. An insufficient number of priests are being ordained to meet parishioners’ needs. And Mass attendance has dropped from over 90% in the 1970s to 20% or less in some areas today. It is not an overstatement to describe this moment as one of crisis.
In response, Catholics who remain call for change through groups like We Are Church Ireland and the Association of Catholic Priests. Now, these two archbishops join other church leaders who seem to be listening. They are honest about the church’s failings and recognize openly that the Irish church needs to improve its outreach, especially to LGBTQ people. Ireland’s Catholic decline portends a reality more local churches may soon face. Thankfully, Irish Catholics also reveal a way forward where this decline need not happen, if only church leaders elsewhere would listen, too.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 20, 2021