This week not only saw the start of a new month but also the installation of a new Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Dermot Farrell. A former president of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, he had been parish priest at Dunboyne, Co Meath until his appointment as Bishop of Ossory in January 2018.
The eldest of seven children, Dr Farrell was born in 1954 and is a native of Castletown-Geoghegan in Co Westmeath. We are living in a very different world now to the one he was born into in the 1950s when Ireland was a much more instinctively Catholic country. He had many priests in his own family and it felt like a natural route to follow when he left school in the early 1970s.
He was ordained to the priesthood in 1980 and his first pastoral appointment was as curate in in the cathedral parish of Christ the King, Mullingar. In 1985 he began postgraduate studies in the Gregorian University in Rome and as awarded a doctorate three years later for his dissertation : The Dogmatic Foundations of Bernard Häring’s Thought on Christian Morality as a Sacramental Way of Life.
During his final year in the Eternal City he served as a formation director in in the Pontifical Irish College – an experience that would be of great benefit when he was later appointed president of the national seminary in Maynooth, where he first joined the teaching staff in 1989.
As Archbishop of Dublin, he succeeds one of the most familiar faces of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, Diarmuid Martin who has held the position since 2004. His time as Archbishop saw some of the greatest social changes in Ireland but it was the issue of clerical sex abuse that dominated the role.
Diarmuid Martin sought to rebuild faith and trust in a Diocese where many Catholics have felt let down. He proved astute in developing and maintaining a wholly positive image, within media circles, in otherwise hazardous years for Irish Catholicism. His major achievements included setting up a strong child protection programme and major participation in ecumenical matters.
He has indeed left the diocese a more transparent one than existed but the shadow of the abuse legacy remains, coupled with the new revelations regarding the Mother and Baby Homes.
In Ireland’s largest diocese as in others there are ageing and diminishing congregations, notably in the inner city, where levels of Mass attendance are some of the lowest in the country. The diocese compromises 197 parishes served by 350 active priests with an average age of seventy.
Covid – 19 has resulted in great financial losses adding to the difficulties and obstacles that Archbishop Martin’s successor has to overcome in the years ahead. He has said that there is now a need to reorganize parishes both in terms of how they are divided out and the possibility of lay leadership.
Dr Farrell described the challenges facing the Church as “formidable” and warned that preparing the Church for future generations “will not happen unless people of faith are capable of dialogue with society and culture”. He notes that what is in place at the moment is not sustainable in terms of the demographics of the priests, the finances, and the amount of buildings which sometimes appear empty as a result of the declining numbers of practising Catholics. Inevitably, some of the work in Dublin will be disposing of infrastructure that is no longer necessary.
On the day when his appointment was announced he observed that while we live now in a secular society there are many people in Ireland who are interested in their faith, who pray and attend services. They may not go to Mass on Sundays but that, he pointed out, is the reality of the world we live in.
On Tuesday Dr Farrell was installed in a ceremony at St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, on the Feast of the Presentation. He took possession of his cathedra – the episcopal seat from which the cathedral gets his name –after he presented the letter appointing him from Pope Francis to a senior group of clergy, known as the College of Consultors.
Attendance was limited due to the pandemic restrictions but included his predecessor and the papal nuncio Archbishop Jude Okolo. None of his family were able to attend but instead viewed the proceedings online via the cathedral webcam.
Stressing the need for dialogue and collaboration, the new Archbishop said leadership in the Church was not about telling people what to do but overcoming a mind-set which relegates the laity to a subordinate role on the edges of Church life. He said the future of the Church must be different …”If I may turn L.P. Hartley’s famous phrase on its head: ‘the future is a different country, we must do things differently there.’”
Written by Marie – Therese Cryan