“It’s a striking statistic. On the one hand, it is good news to hear that in the privacy of their own homes, 78% of our population have affirmed their Catholic belief. I doubt even the GAA has such a level of affiliation.”
Speaking at an Easter ceremony in St John’s Cathedral in Limerick, Bishop Leahy said people still come to the “big matches, as it were” — Christmas Mass, funerals, and major events.
He said: “They keep touch in various ways… And yet, we also know it [census figure] does not at all correlate with the numbers that actually practise their faith in terms of attendance at Mass.
“Before he left Ireland, the papal nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown said there is still so much to play for in Ireland. Perhaps that’s why there is such a struggle going on.
“There is still so much faith. There is a deep spiritual vein in the Irish psyche. The ground is fertile for the seed to be sown in new ways and nurtured better than we have before.”
“Because, with 78% associating themselves with this faith, it is clear that, while we have in many ways failed them, the door is still open to engagement around the Catholic faith that still is recognised as part of personal identity.
“As we go out towards families, let’s be ready also to listen to those who want to share with us why it is they register as Catholic but somehow don’t connect with the Church. I’m sure if we hear the deep-down reasons, we’ll find light and new directions.”
Bishop Leahy said that at a time like this, with the Church facing severe challenges, we need to be wary of quick solutions that can be proposed in response to those challenges.
“They can often leave out of their reckoning the necessary process of healing that takes time. We need time to notice wounds, admit them, bandage them, and ensure that those wounds are no longer inflicted,” he said.
“And yet, if we keep picking at the wounds, they’ll never heal. We also need to make sure we recognise the parts of the body that are working well, that are doing great good.
“The wounds have left us weak, perhaps not so confident in the steps we are taking, tempted to withdraw into ourselves.”