Irish parishes hear about New Zealand model for Catholic Church renewal

“I believe… people are willing to work together collaboratively and co-responsibly. They understand the church doesn’t belong to the priest — it belongs to everyone.”
Cardinal John Dew, Wellington, New Zealand

Editor’s Note: The Society of African Missions was honoured to host Cardinal John Dew of Wellington, New Zealand, during the recent World Meeting of Families held in Dublin. Cardinal Dew visited the SMA stand in the RDS on two occasions and fully participated in our 15-minute programme about the Family Tree and the Laudato Tree, including the Virtual Reality Great Green Wall experience. We also had the honour of hosting him for dinner. 

Cardinal Dew was also a keynote speaker at the SMA event at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, where he reflected on Laudato Si’. We will publish his address in the coming weeks. 

As part of his visit to Ireland he spent time with Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly SMA at a conference in the diocese of Cashel and Emly, outlining a new focus on engaging laity in New Zealand as a possible model for Ireland. Speaking on the engagement of lay workers, due to a severe shortage of vocations, he commented: “I believe it works no matter how many priests you have because people are willing to work together collaboratively and co-responsibly. They understand the church doesn’t belong to the priest — it belongs to everyone.”

Below, we reproduce a report filed by Sarah McDonald of Catholic News Service, Ireland, on the two-day conference, titled “The Future of the Irish Parish: Lessons from Abroad.”

—————————————————————————- 

Cardinal John Dew, Wellington, New Zealand

A New Zealand cardinal told a conference on the future of parishes in Ireland that his diocese benefited from the appointment of church workers known as lay pastoral leaders who exercise many functions that normally would be the responsibility of a parish priest.

Cardinal John Dew of Wellington, New Zealand, later told Catholic News Service that the lay pastoral leaders, separate from lay ecclesial ministers, “are leaders with the priests and we are giving them leadership responsibility rather than just being a worker who is treated as a worker.”

He acknowledged that the priest shortage in his diocese was “severe,” but said the introduction of lay pastoral leaders was more about providing an opportunity for laypeople to work together with priests rather than a solution to the clergy shortfall.
“I believe it works no matter how many priests you have because people are willing to work together collaboratively and co-responsibly,” Cardinal Dew said. “They understand the church doesn’t belong to the priest — it belongs to everyone.”

The two-day conference, titled “The Future of the Irish Parish: Lessons from Abroad,” was organized by the Irish Institute for Pastoral Studies at Mary Immaculate College’s campus in Thurles. The conference followed the visit of Pope Francis, who addressed the triennial World Meeting of Families in Dublin.

Lay pastoral leaders were introduced in the Archdiocese of Wellington in 2006. The archdiocese has a Catholic population of 78,198, about 12 percent of the overall population, and 114 diocesan and religious priests. Priests continue to administer the sacraments.

In Wellington, the formation program for lay pastoral leaders can take four to seven years to complete. Cardinal Dew paid tribute to those who undertake the course while juggling family and work commitments. As a model, it has not been adopted by all New Zealand’s diocese.

The archdiocese, Cardinal Dew explained, has a specific fund to cover the cost of paying lay pastoral leaders.

“It is a challenge to the diocese; the parishes pay into a lay pastoral leader fund as part of their levies. Some people have also made moderate bequests that have gone toward this fund,” he said.

Father Eamonn Fitzgibbon, institute director, told CNS that traditional parish life in Ireland has “tended to be very priest dependent.” But as the decline in priest numbers makes itself felt, the Irish church is trying to move away from such a model because “it is not sustainable,” he said.

“We are trying to make sure that something new can emerge and can be facilitated,” Father Fitzgibbon explained. “The future reality is something we must go out and meet and one of the ways of doing that is to study what has happened abroad and to hear from other dioceses how they developed their method of pastoral renewal.”

Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly SMA of Cashel and Emly, Ireland, who opened the conference, told CNS that his archdiocese has no pastoral workers or pastoral lay leaders. “We have one man recently appointed to the role of pastoral director for the diocese and he is working at the moment on a listening process for Cashel and Emly,” he said.
The archbishop said he hopes the listening process will chart a path into the future showing how the laity can get more involved.