Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin says the Irish Catholic Church must resign itself to being a minority culture and believes it is on the brink of collapse.
In a strikingly frank admission, he said he had failed to lead the church in the changes it needed to survive. Ireland's second most senior cleric said the Catholic Church would have to relinquish control of grade schools and commented that sacraments had become social events.
He also hit out at his peers. Martin said there was a lack of proper thought and debate about the church and how to deal with its difficulties.
Speaking at Cambridge University in Britain, he told his audience that there would be no priests ordained this year in the Dublin Archdiocese. He also revealed that the congregation at Sunday Mass was only two percent of the Catholic population.
He quoted comments made by the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who is currently conducting a review of the church in Ireland on behalf of the Vatican. He had said the Irish church had only five to 10 years before it would fall.
Martin said, "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 added that for decades the church policy had merely been "keeping the show on the road.” He commented that the church's crisis pre-dated the child sex abuse scandals. He said the church’s policy lacked thought as to where it was going, and that the abuse scandal had simply damaged it further.
He insisted that only a radical change would ensure the Catholic Church’s survival. "Despite all my efforts I am failing in my attempts to lead such change. Change management may not be my talent," said Martin.
He also criticized the Irish government, saying they were slow to offer any alternatives to the church's patronage of schools. He said, "I believe that there is need for a national forum to debate the issue."
Martin quoted Pope Benedict's speech during the beatification of Cardinal Newman when he addressed his fellow clerics. Benedict referred to Newman as one of the "keen intellects and prolific pens addressing the pressing subjects of the day.” Martin said the current church was "very lacking" in similar intellects.