'€800 dresses and limousines have nothing to do with First Communion' - Archbishop
Archbishop says parents are not doing enough to pass on the values of faith
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has said the current system of preparing children for First Communion requires much more involvement of parents and an end to €800 dresses and limousines.
Discussing the changes in sacramental preparation he announced earlier this month for the Archdiocese of Dublin, he said he had made it very clear "we are not pulling religion out of the schools... we are not even pulling First Communion and Confirmation out of schools, but we are having a much greater involvement of parishes and parents in that".
Dr Martin told the Irish Independent that it was parents who determined the passing on of the values of faith and if they were not involved, "then it is not going to work".
"The current system requires much more involvement of parents and it is just not happening," he said, adding that "exaggerations" such as €800 communion dresses and limousines had to stop.
"People go into debt - that shouldn't be the case, and people who have plenty of money spend exorbitantly on things which have nothing to do with the sacrament."
He blamed "a wrong understanding of what First Communion is" for the excesses.
Acknowledging that numbers presenting for Communion and Confirmation may go down as a result of the changes, the Archbishop of Dublin believes "the quality of the entire effort" will be better.
A trustee of the National Seminary in Maynooth, Dr Martin also spoke to the Irish Independent about proposals for change at the college, which is celebrating its 225th anniversary, drawn up by a working group of the bishops, including Dr Martin.
He has been critical of Maynooth in the past and even withdrew his students from the Co Kildare college in 2016 and sent them to study at the Irish College in Rome following the Grindr scandal.
He criticised those attracted to Maynooth for its "'Downton Abbey' externals".
He said Maynooth had come to the end of a chapter and the same could be said for the Irish College in Rome.
"That is not saying that they are finished. They have a rich history - a history of ups and downs.
"Nobody thinks we are going to go back to a seminary of 500 people. We have to prepare that new chapter and the new chapter will mean that another chapter will be closed. This requires courage and openness," he said, adding that resistance to change within institutions was inevitable.
The proposals drawn up by the working group of bishops would see the "successor of the current seminary" become "a centre of formation" which would embrace the seminary, but it would also cater for ongoing formation of the clergy. It would also be a centre of theological training and expertise as well as a vocations office. "All of those three could be focused in Maynooth but not in a closed-in Maynooth," the archbishop said.
Dr Martin, who works 10 to 12 hours a day, is due to offer his resignation to Pope Francis when he turns 75 on April 8. Asked if this will be his last Christmas as Archbishop of Dublin, he told the Irish Independent: "It is up to Pope Francis.
"Pope Francis knows what I think. I have no ambitions to hang on to power. If anything, the opposite. We are in a situation in Dublin where we're in a positive mood to move forward. But it is much more difficult for an elderly bishop to make the decisions that have to be made."
When the Dubliner said that to Pope Francis, the Bishop of Rome asked him, "Are you talking about me?!"
As to his possible successor, he highlighted that there are procedures. "But the Pope also has his own ways of doing things. In a number of cases recently he has appointed people totally outside the decision-making process to a major diocese," he said.
In the meantime, one of his pressing concerns is the "violent criminality" in Dublin's north inner city. He has been urged by some to mediate between the gangs, but says "a mediation between these gangs would only allow them to come back to their day-to-day work of killing - not killing one another, but killing people through the drugs that they flood on the market".
The criminals are "an extraordinarily dangerous presence in our society" who are "showing two fingers to democracy" and they are using children to carry their drugs, who in turn become addicted. "Once you get trapped into that, you never get out of it. If you get out of it by dying - your family then has to pay the debts."
With an election coming next year, the archbishop regrets the emergence in Ireland of "groups which are clearly populist and racist".
"I think the election will have to be fought on the things which will make Ireland a more egalitarian and a more just society. People will always be fearful about security, about jobs, about the standard of living. If those are assuaged, then they can't be exploited by these people."
To those touting an anti-immigrant manifesto and professing themselves to be Christian, his message is clear: "Racism is a sin.
"Irish people are genuinely generous and welcoming and want to be that - it is part of our tradition."
Asked about his high points in 2019, he recalled the funeral of Fr Tony Coote who led an epic fundraising campaign for motor neurone disease before his death in August aged 55.
"A very interesting man," Dr Martin noted. "He showed that a lot of the polarisation [in the Church] is totally irrelevant. His effectiveness grew in inverse proportion to his physical abilities - that is something that has left all of us with things to think about."