Parish Pastoral Councils’ Review

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Speaking notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin

Saint Paul’s Church, Arran Quay, 17th September 2015


“First of all this evening I would like to say thank you to all of you present and to those who of you embarked ten years ago on the task of rolling out the idea of Parish Pastoral Councils in all Parishes of the Archdiocese of Dublin.

It is good now, ten years later, to take stock of where we are, of what has been achieved, of where we could have done and still can do better and of what the future might hold.

When I became Archbishop of Dublin the Diocesan Council of Priests had been working on a document on Parish Pastoral Councils for some time and I encouraged them to finish their work rapidly so that we could begin with the launch.

As soon as I was presented with the report of the Council of Priests, I issued a Decree saying that Parish Pastoral Councils should be established in every parish in the diocese by a certain date.

The reaction was not universally enthusiastic.  Some resented the fact that Pastoral Councils were “decreed”.  Many wise people said that Archbishop Martin had issued the first decree since that of Caesar Augustus ordering a census in the year of the birth of Jesus.

Others said that setting fixing a date was not the right way.  People needed time to respond and to adapt to the circumstances of each parish.  When the date passed and only very few Pastoral Councils were in place, it was said that this was a humiliating defeat for me.

Many began asking me casuistic questions about what I actually intended, what was to be the precise purpose of the parish council and what would be the power of the parish priest or even of the Archbishop.

With regard to the decree and the date, my critics failed to realise that I had come back to Dublin after living for many years in Italy where deadlines and decrees are much more relative then here in Ireland and I was not particularly absolutist about them.  What was important was that the work should begin and begin with enthusiasm and I knew that it would grow incrementally.

Some were even more surprised when they asked me what my expectations were and I replied that I was not sure.  I am someone who responds by intuition rather than by detailed strategies.  I had enough confidence in those who would take up the challenge to know that they would learn from experience and would have enough good sense and love of the Church to respond even in the midst of lack of clarity.  I am very grateful to you for your generosity and vision and commitment over these ten years.  The perfect can easily become the enemy of the good and we can easily become paralysed in the detail and in the end fail to plunge enthusiastically into a new undertaking.  Faith is about risk and adventure and not certainty and security.

How do I feel ten years later?  I honestly believe that the contribution of Parish Pastoral Councils has been a truly remarkable one to change and renewal in the Church in Dublin.  These have been a difficult ten years.  We went through the crisis and the trauma of the sexual abuse scandals and the revelations of the Murphy Report.  We introduced challenging norms of child protection which seemed at first, to make life more difficult in parishes.  I was especially appreciative of the way in which lay men and women clearly took on responsibility to resolve a wound in Church life which they did not cause and to ensure that child safeguarding in the Church would be of the highest quality.  Lay men and women quietly supported their priests at what was for them a difficult time.

Today, the Church in Dublin is much richer through the contribution that you have made.  The Report we are to present here this evening marks a new step as Parish Pastoral Councils come of age, as it were, and as we look at how we can help councils to mature, to develop and to become sustainable as times change.

The Report calls on all of us to embark on a genuine platform of reflection and formation for the future of Parish Pastoral Councils.  Some of these refer to things that each Council can do within its own remit.  The need for training and in-service is strongly advocated and this can be done in collaboration with the Diocesan Office for Evangelisation and Ecumenism.

The recommendations address internal challenges regarding the structure and functioning of Parish Pastoral Councils, but above all they look to the future in “missionary mode”, reaching out to young people, fostering programmes of faith formation and development, ensuring that each parish is a caring presence in the wider community in which it exists.

The Parish Pastoral Council of the future must respond to Pope Francis’ constant appeal to reach out to those on the various peripheries of society and modern life not just to assist them, but to listen to what they are saying to the Church.

The challenge we face is not just about what the Parish Pastoral Council of 2020 will look like, but what will the Church look like in 2020.  Parish Pastoral Councils, I believe, will show themselves to be not just useful instruments for getting things done, but even more to be catalysts in ensuring a new vision of the Church, as God’s holy people, where each of us belongs, with our specific tasks and abilities, but where the sense of communion and community dominate, rather than personal preference or structures.  This will involve a new relationship between priest and people, not one based on stature or power, but on service to each other and witness to the community around us.

If every Church building in Dublin were to be simultaneously destroyed by some cataclysmic event, the Church would continue on, perhaps even in a livelier manner than today as communities of faithful believers in Jesus Christ.  On the other hand we could continue with all the structures we have and fail to be true communities of believers in Jesus Christ.

I am especially pleased to note the emphasis on prayer as an integral part of the work of Parish Pastoral Councils.  Prayer is not a flight from day to day reality.  Prayer is something which gives us another view of what reality is about and which helps us to rise above the day to day and the self-centred to encounter the God of love.

The Gospel is Good News.  It is a Gospel of Joy.  We will never discover the Joy of the Gospel by just focusing in on ourselves, or on the cares of the like-minded, or on an inward- looking Church.  Remember these words of Pope Francis: “Life grows by being given away and it weakens in isolation and comfort.  Those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicated life to others”.

Never get bogged down in the mechanics and the internal workings of a Parish Pastoral Council.  Become rather excited about communicating Jesus to others, especially our young people.”   ENDS


Parish Pastoral Councils’ Review 2013-14 (view/download)