Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Unprecedented 10 Year Plan for Catechesis in Ireland Launched

Today Ireland has launched a new ten-year plan to re-invigorate Catholic catechesis at all levels. The Catholic Church has fallen on hard times in Ireland, where the culture has undergone radical change in the last forty years, and where the clerical sexual abuse scandal was even more horrific than that faced by the United States. As a result, in a nation that was once overwhelmingly Catholic, weekly attendance at Mass has dropped off steeply and publicly defecting from the Catholic Church on websites such as has become popular.

In Ireland, schools take the primary responsibility for catechesis, since theology, like Irish language, is a mandatory subject in the national schools at all levels (and an equally unpopular subject at that). This has been shown to be an ineffective approach; Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has charged that students leave school largely "theologically illiterate" even after years of catechesis in school. The new ten-year plan, presented in a document called "Share the Good News" is the first of its kind in Ireland, and it recognizes the need for a whole new approach to catechesis in Ireland, focusing on the family and the parish as the primary medium for catechesis, and calling for more lay volunteers to be involved. Archbishop Martin vividly illustrated the predicament of the Church in contemporary Ireland in his remarks following the publication of the new ten year plan:

"We can no longer assume faith on the part of young people who have attended catholic schools nor indeed young people who come from Catholic families.   This is not to say that there is a lack of goodness and generosity and idealism among young people.  This is not to say that in many there is not a search for deeper values and meaning in their lives.  

The problem is that there is a growing undermining of religious sense in our culture.  This religious sense will not arise automatically from within contemporary culture as was to a great extent the case in the past.  There are aspects of our contemporary culture which can lead us all to deviate from a true religious sense. Even our liturgies can loose the sense of a transcendent God....

Our catechesis must assist people to enter into the religious sense in a culture in which it is increasingly absent.  Without this, catechesis would only become indoctrination, and a catechesis of indoctrination does lead not to freedom but to fundamentalism.  This is not just pre-catechesis; it is a much more necessary and fundamental pre-condition for the ability to understand the Gospel and it is something that was not necessary in the Ireland of the past....

Faith is a deeper matter; it is a matter of a deep encounter between the individual and God.  Such an encounter cannot be forced on someone or pushed through like a hard sell.  Evangelization is always counter cultural but not a-cultural. Culture must ne evangelized by men and women who live within that culture and who are contaminated by some negative aspects of that culture.   Evangelization is about an encounter with the God who is totally other, but who became incarnate as one of us to enable us to know ourselves more fully and thus to find our true identity.

That faith finds it roots and nourishment in the faith community which is the Body of Christ, where Christ is active in our midst calling each of us to holiness, renewing his people as he did throughout human history through his faithful love."

The full text of his remarks can be found here.

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