New Archbishop of Dublin on an Archdiocese of renewal and hope

The new Archbishop of Dublin, Dermot Farrell, speaks about his priorities for the Archdiocese and his appointment at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted so many lives throughout Ireland.

By Lydia O’Kane

The new Archbishop of Dublin, Dermot Farrell, was installed on Tuesday morning at St Mary’s Pro Cathedral in Ireland’s capital city.

The Principal Celebrant was Archbishop Farrell, who was joined by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland.

The former Bishop of Ossory, in Ireland’s east, takes up the reigns of the Archdiocese amid a global pandemic during which Ireland has seen a surge in cases—and tragically, in the number of victims.

He also steps into this role as the Church in Ireland faces a number of challenges, including a decrease in vocations, elderly priests, a decline in Mass attendance and an increasingly secular country.

In a wide ranging interview with Vatican Radio ahead of his installation, Archbishop Farrell addressed many of these issues and outlined his key priorities as head of the Archdiocese.

He began by speaking of his surprise at being nominated as Archbishop of Dublin.

“Nobody was more surprised than I was to be asked by Pope Francis to relocate to Dublin. It was a bit surreal at the time, but when I was asked I said it’s something that Pope Francis wants and it’s part of a discernment process,” he said.

Current challenges

A decline in vocations and a corresponding rise in the number of elderly priests are just some of the challenges facing the Church in Ireland today. Asked if he found these challenges daunting, the Archbishop said that there are indeed challenges in the Archdiocese and in the country as a whole, but these can be also be viewed as opportunities.

“It can be an engine to drive a certain reform that is somewhat overdue in terms of the numbers of churches and parishes that we have, because there’s big changes, say, in parts of the Archdiocese where you’ve quite a low Catholic population now,” he explained.”  There is an opportunity there, he added, to be a missionary Church, and “any planning for the future needs to articulate the steps and stages that are required to develop ways of reaching out.” The Archbishop also noted that the pandemic had accelerated the challenges rather than brought them about.

Key priorities

Setting out his key priorities for the Archdiocese, Archbishop Farrell stressed that evangelization needs to be one of the key areas in parishes. The faith needs to be “a living faith in these communities,” he said. 

The Archbishop also pointed out that young generations — those under 50 — are increasingly less inclined to be part of a parish and of faith based groups. “When that happens, multiple generations get disconnected from the faith.” However, he said, there is an opportunity for young parents to reconnect to the faith when their children start receiving the sacraments and it is important for the Church to be there for those who have a cultural attachment to the faith, rather than one of commitment.

Safeguarding

Addressing the issue of safeguarding in the Irish Church, especially in Dublin, Archbishop Farrell described his predecessor’s leadership as “courageous.”  Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, he said, “came into Dublin at a very difficult time… he set up very good structures in the diocese.”

The new Archbishop stressed that under his leadership, child safeguarding will remain a focal point, saying that “complacency is very often the killer in regard to safeguarding… because as time goes on people forget.” He went on to say the abuse that happened in the past can never be allowed to happen again.

Mother and Baby Homes

Just over two weeks ago, an Irish Commission of Inquiry published a new report into Mother and Baby Homes in the Republic of Ireland which found that from the 1920’s to the 1990’s thousands of infants died in these homes, which were mainly run by the Catholic Church.

Speaking about the findings, Archbishop Farrell said, “it helped to shed light on what happened to vulnerable women and children within the walls of those homes but also beyond the walls of those homes.” He also underlined that those responsible need to be held to account.

“The religious orders and some individuals failed in some sense to reflect the Gospel values that we espouse and we still espouse,” and at the end of the day, “we lost sight of the gift of the child,” he said.

He described how “part of the life of faith in these places had become sterile, and many lived the shadows of what might be described, at best, as a kind of a very dark world or grey world. And that’s a life other than the one we recognize as the full life of God that is offered to every single person — man, woman and child — who are made in the image and likeness of God.

Covid pandemic

Like many countries, Ireland has been battling the coronavirus pandemic. For the last number of weeks this island nation has seen a significant spike in cases and deaths from the virus, which has prompted a total lockdown with only essential shops open and church services back online.

The Archbishop said, “What the pandemic has brought home to us is the value of life in all its stages from beginning to end.” He also acknowledged the suffering of many people who have lost loved ones and who are not even able to visit patients in hospital due to the current restrictions in place.

Hopes for Dublin

Asked what kind of Dublin he would like to see, Archbishop Farrell said that, from a Church point of view, he would like see parish renewal that is underpinned by hope and joy.

He also spoke of the importance of “good liturgy” which has the ability to uplift people. Another area the Archbishop highlighted was the issue of vocations, which he said needed to increase, along with a drive to involve in a greater way lay people.

“Sometimes we forget that there are many women, lay, women religious out there that are a necessary and vibrant part of the living Church. So we need to harness all of these people that are willing to get involved in the parish and create the opportunities for them to get involved.”