Can removing bishops, redrawing dioceses and a papal visit next year lead the Irish Church towards renewal?
Many Irish Catholics are furious with the Church. The prime minister, Enda Kenny, says he has received “thousands” of messages of support for his outburst against the Vatican last week. His government wants to limit the seal of Confession. Vocations are at an all-time low. Priests face widespread anger.
The latest tide of hostility is down to the Cloyne Report – a devastating indictment of the Church’s handling of abuse allegations as recently as 2008.
What can be done? The Pope has apologised; the Church is being subjected to a Visitation; several bishops have resigned. There are calls for the number of dioceses to be cut, and for many more bishops to stand down. But will that lead to renewal?
Next year, Pope Benedict XVI may be visiting Ireland when it hosts the 50th International Eucharistic Congress. He may not: the trip has never been confirmed by the Vatican and, in the current climate, it could be cancelled. Some have called for the Eucharistic Congress itself to be cancelled.
But if Benedict XVI does visit he would be able to confront the crisis in person. His trips to Turkey, France, the Czech Republic and Britain show he is unafraid of hostility. Perhaps, combined with drastic reform, his visit might nudge Ireland towards reconciliation.