The country’s second most senior cleric said sacraments had become social events rather than celebrations of the Church and it would have to relinquish control of primary schools.
He hit out at his peers, claiming there was a lack of proper thought and debate about how the Church should deal with its present difficulties, but, in an extraordinarily frank admission, he also said he had failed to lead the Church in the changes it needed to make to survive.
Archbishop Martin told a gathering at Cambridge University in England that there would be no ordination to the priesthood in his Dublin Archdiocese this year and that Sunday Mass attendances were down to 2% of the Catholic population in some of his parishes.
He quoted reported comments by Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Seán O’Malley, who is conducting a review here for the Pope, that the Church in Ireland had only five or 10 years at most before it could fall over the brink.
“My belief is that in many ways the brink has already been reached. The Catholic Church in Ireland will inevitably become more a minority culture. The challenge is to ensure it is not an irrelevant minority culture,” he said.
Archbishop Martin said the Church’s crisis predated the child sex abuse scandals because for decades the policy had been merely to “keep the show on the road” without thought as to where it was going, and now that the abuses had damaged it further, only radical change would ensure its survival.
“Despite all my efforts I am failing in my attempts to lead such change. Change management may not be my talent.”
He criticised the Government for being “very slow” to offer alternatives to the Church’s patronage of schools. “I believe that there is need for a national forum to debate the issue.”
Addressing his fellow clerics, he quoted Pope Benedict at the beatification of Cardinal Newman when he described Newman as one of the “keen intellects and prolific pens addressing the pressing subjects of the day”. He said the Church in Ireland today was “very lacking” in similar keen intellects and prolific pens.