Catholic priests in Ireland face a huge task in re-establishing Irish society's trust as a result of the child abuse scandal and will require strong leadership, according to an Irish American deacon currently studying in Ireland.
The son of an Irish emigrant, Shane Sullivan, 26, was ordained a deacon on Sunday, January 29 in Maynooth, Co. Kildare. A Minnesota native, he is to be ordained into the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Tuam on Sunday, June 3, in Tuam Cathedral, Co. Galway.
The January ceremony marked the last phase in the formation of Sullivan as a seminarian before his ordination into the priesthood in June.
Speaking about the challenges the Catholic Church in Ireland now face, Sullivan says strong leadership is required.
“The church has lost a huge amount of credibility because of the child sex-abuse crisis and being too comfortably entwined with secular powers,” he told the Irish Voice.
“There's a huge task any Christian faces in earning Irish society's trust back after such a let-down. It will take nothing less than God's gracious care, coupled with strong leadership and a courageous re-commitment to what we stand for as Catholics.”
A proud Irish American, Sullivan’s father Bart immigrated from Kilkieran in Connemara to Chicago in the 1970s, where he later met and married his wife Kathleen.
Sullivan told the Irish Voice about the strong sense of Irish heritage his parents fostered while growing up in Minnesota.
“There aren't many Irish in central Minnesota, people there are mostly of German and Scandinavian extraction, so it was also something which made us unique,” he said.
“It was always a big part of our identity growing up. Dad taught us some phrases in Irish, we listened to lots of trad music. Dad and Mom both instilled a pride and love of Ireland and our Irish heritage in us.”
Sullivan is currently studying at Ireland’s national seminary at St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth. Since it was founded in 1795, it has ordained more than 11,000 priests.
Before transferring to Ireland in 2008, Sullivan studied for three years at the University of St. Thomas. He said that he got the calling for priesthood during his adult years.
“I was not a guy you would have pinpointed for the priesthood when I was growing up,” admits Sullivan.
As a result of the sexual abuse crisis within the Catholic Church in Ireland as well as decreasing vocation numbers, Sullivan was inspired to move to Ireland to study at Ireland’s national seminary at St. Patrick’s College in Kildare.
“I felt a real stirring in my heart,” Sullivan said. “You want to go to where you can be of assistance.
“There are currently 65 seminarians studying to serve in the Catholic Church in Ireland today, training for what the church calls the New Evangelization. This is the representation of the awesome truth of the Gospel to the modern world.
“There is one other guy from New Mexico. Everybody else is Irish,” he added.”
Sullivan has been in Ireland studying for four years.
“I came here at the end of the Celtic Tiger. That is the only Ireland I have known, the one where the church is on the ropes,” said Sullivan, “I do see a lot of signs of real hope among young people.”
After relocating to Ireland, he decided to learn his native tongue, which was his father’s first language.
“When I moved over here I was faced with making summer plans and decided to give Irish a shot,” he said.
“It has a practical aspect in that there are five parishes in my archdiocese which are all Irish-speaking.”
Speaking about the challenges the Catholic Church faces in Ireland, Sullivan said that community involvement continues to be an integral element of the church.
“I think that in Ireland, there is a huge role that lay people are filling already. People who are volunteering their time and I think it is going to continue,” he said.
“There are a lot of people trying to live out their faith in a quiet way, and that will never make headlines.”
Sullivan, who is currently preparing for his final exams before his ordination in June, says the task ahead is a great challenge.
“It’s one I'm happy to play a part in, even though my role is only a small one alongside the heroic efforts of many good men and women of faith, laity, priests and religious,” he said.