It’s not often I get to Mass in my home parish of Holywood, but I was there last Sunday. A number of things struck me. One is that attenders are mostly of the older demographic, with, by and large, my own 70s generation taking up the rear. And two, that the collections are proportionally not pulling in anything like they were thirty years ago.
Whilst I don’t imagine exactly same rules apply to Holywood as might say in inner city Belfast, or Dublin but as that generation heads for retirement, it is clear that much more is expected of much fewer clergy, critically on people who possess much fewer resources; both social and financial.
It’s worth listening to Michael Kelly of the Irish Catholic, who explains to UTV’s Paul Clarke just why the Dublin Archdiocese is nearing the bottom of the barrel:
Henry McDonald notes a cocktail of causes, and that one proposal in a paper leaked by Kelly’s paper is to levy a charge the dwindling bundle of faithful Mass-goers…
It cites the ongoing cost of compensation payments made to victims of clerical abuse, the death of the Celtic Tiger economic boom and falling numbers going to mass in the Irish capital.
The document, which was leaked to this week’s edition of the Irish Catholic newspaper, proposes imposing a parish-based levy on Catholic families living in Dublin that would raise up to €3m
(£2.6m) a year.
In the longer term however the truth is that the Church possesses assets and facilities that it no longer has the numbers to justify. Like the massive sell off of Anglican churches in England a whole generation or two ago the Church may be facing a down sizing the number of churches under its purview.
The trouble is that some of those big Dublin parish churches are bit like Dr Who’s Tardis modest on the outside, huge (and expensive to maintain) on the inside. They can’t be disposed of, without making the still substantial but much smaller numbers of parishioners homeless.
There is no doubt the child sex scandals have helped damage the Irish church, but I suspect it is part of a general though a much more urban malaise in the church. If Dublin runs out of cash it will be the rural dioceses that dig them out more than any direct levy, or the financial markets.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty