The Irish Compression

Rock reports today on a possible “Jenny Craig” solution to Ireland’s bishops and dioceses. Math from the loggia:

Ireland: 26 dioceses for 4.5 million Catholics.

Los Angeles: one for 4.3 million.

SoCal’s seven bishops (one ordinary) compare to 23 Emerald Isle high hats (three vacancies).

The particulars of one proposal are laid out here in the Irish Times. Irish Catholics know the situation on the ground better than I, but a few things about this comparison bother me. I’m not convinced the big American metro areas have the best solution for Catholic governance. In fact, I’m sure that LA, NY, Chicago and others shouldn’t be emulated too closely.

Some dioceses may be too big. Some bishops may not be up to the task of pastoring. Cardinal George is one prelate I’ve thought has been stretched too thin with his humongous see, his many committee commitments, and the occasional sex predator on the loose in Chicagoland.

I’ve been asking for years where in the New Testament (Timothy? Titus? Bueller?) we have the precedent for assistant fathers, for associate shepherds, for “husbands” in training. Maybe Augustine or Ambrose would have been even better cutting their episcopal teeth in the boonies of present-day Libya or Sardinia. If an archbishop needs a few auxiliaries, maybe it’s time to subdivide the large sees.

A good rule of thumb for an ordinary might be the number of parishes the chief shepherd can visit fruitfully and effectively within a year. Juneau, Alaska’s nine might be too small. But closer to the ideal than a few hundred in the world’s big metro areas.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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One Response to The Irish Compression

  1. Peregrinus says:

    This has been talked about in Ireland for a while. It’s certainly the case that many Irish dioceses lack the critical mass needed to resource themselves properly and professionally.

    On the other hand, we can’t see it as a panacea. The current and most intense phase of the crisis in the Irish church was inaugurated by the publication of the Murphy Report into the response to clerical sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin which, with 1.09 million Catholics in 200 parishes, is in fact the country’s largest and best-resourced diocese.

    If, as I believe myself, the problem has a lot to do with a flawed culture of clericalism, then the creation of large dioceses, which might tend to be more bureaucratic and less personal, may not help to solve it. Merging some of the smaller dioceses (Clonfert, 35,000 Catholics in 24 parishes) into their neighbours might be part of the solution; this has been done in the past. (How else did we get the diocese of Waterford and Lismore?) It could be done more readily in the future. But creating sprawling dioceses embracing areas that are widely separated and have little in common probably won’t help much. It might make more sense to enhance and streamline the national bishops’ conference, and move certain functions and responsibilities that require scale to support professional resourcing and management upwards to it. The principle of subsidiarity, after all, is that matters ought to be handled at the lowest appropriate level.

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