Irish Bishops’ ten-year plan has come to a standstill
In response to the recent exhortation Evangelii gaudium by Pope Francis, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference announced on 4 December last that it is planning ‘a major national pastoral conference in September 2014 on the theme of Share the Good News, the National Directory for Catechesis in Ireland’.
Share the Good News was launched in January 2011. It outlines a ten-year plan for a new catechetical structure in Ireland. This would shift the Irish church’s main educational emphasis onto adult faith formation, and involve parents and parish communities far more directly in catechesis of their children. This would amount to a revolution in the Irish Church’s faith formation system, focused primarily as it has been for generations upon school-based catechesis of children and teenagers.
The ten-year plan states the objective of setting an organisational structure in place within five years – reaching down to diocesan and parish level – and of consolidating that achievement by the end of the ten years. The whole plan would then be reviewed.
However, almost three years into this ten year plan there are clear delays. The Irish Catholic reported in October 2013 that ‘sources close to the process’ had told the paper that the ten-year implementation plan had come to a standstill – due to the failure of the Irish Bishops’ Conference to appoint the top-most body envisaged by Share the Good News – the ‘National Faith Development Team’ – despite a deadline for this of June this year.
In October 2013 also Archbishop Diarmuid Martin told an Irish national religious education congress in Dublin: “Progress in implementing Share the Good News is not as forceful as is needed.”
As yet in its account of Share the Good News, the Irish Bishops’ website does not name a National Faith Development Team. A short video account of implementation by Fr Gareth Byrne, the author of the 200+ page A4 book outlining the plan, states that diocesan clergy are already studying the plan with a view to implementation. However, my own diocese, Derry, has as yet no mention of the plan on its website that I can find, and I can detect not the slightest ‘buzz’ about the plan at parish level here.
Given the crisis facing clerical manpower and morale in the Irish church there must be a serious question hanging over the practicability of the present ‘top first’ implementation process for Share the Good News. To wait for a ‘top down’ implementation wave to hit dioceses, and then, lastly, parishes might well doom the plan completely. Though I have reservations over whether the 2010 book Share the Good News properly catches the urgent spirit of change expressed in Evangelii Gaudium in 2013, I agree entirely about its basic strategy. It is time to move the focus of Catholic faith formation firmly onto dialogical adult education as a preferential option. The bishops’ call for all of us to read and discuss Evangelii Gaudium right away is therefore timely.
The Irish Bishops’ Conference hasn’t yet declared the Irish Catholic Church to be in a state of emergency – but anyone who can read the signs of the times knows well that that is in fact the situation. If we could all acknowledge this – starting right away in parishes – there might yet be a chance of developing the necessary momentum for implementing Share the Good News by 2021.