Newly appointed Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, who also becomes Primate of All Ireland, says he wants to see a “humble renewal” of the Irish Church led from the bottom up by the laity.
Speaking at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh this week, following the announcement that Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of his predecessor, Cardinal Sean Brady, Archbishop Martin pledged to be a “servant leader” and cautioned against expectations of a top-down leadership.
He called on the laity to take ownership of their vocation and mission to hand on the faith.
Outlining his vision for the future of the Church, the archbishop, who is expected to become the next President of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said it would not be about “building up some big edifice or some triumphalist Church or trying to make sure that it dominates politics and the State”.
Cardinal Brady, whose resignation was accepted a few weeks after he reached the retirement age of 75, had faced numerous calls to step down following his handling of a clerical sexual abuse case in the 1970s. The hierarchy has been heavily criticised over the abuse scandal in recent years.
Archbishop Martin said he wanted “a church that is humble … a church on our knees, hopefully in prayer, recognising the terrible things that have happened in the past and the need to ask God’s mercy and to ask forgiveness of people”
On his first morning as Archbishop of Armagh, the 116th Primate of All Ireland in succession to St Patrick, said: “I am only one person. I wouldn’t want to give any impression that somehow I can work miracles for the Church in Ireland.”
Denying that his new role was “some kind of massive CEO position”, he said it was instead “a kind of a servant leadership rather than any big hierarchical leadership or position of power”.
He said the Irish Church found itself in a new context and must find ways of bringing the Gospel to the people. Alongside the Church Ireland was now a country of different Christian traditions and faiths, and quite a number of people who do not identify themselves with any faith.
Referring to his episcopal motto, “Sing a New Song to the Lord”, he indicated that the renewal he had in mind would not be revolutionary.
“I am not actually talking about writing new words but maybe a new way of singing the song of God in people’s lives,” he said, adding that he was inspired by Pope Francis’s ideas about “pastoral ministry in a missionary key”.
The 52-year-old archbishop said his priorities would be “to get to know my people and to facilitate a movement that will allow people to be confident in their faith without being polemical and condemnatory”
His remarks appear to be echo the vision of the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, who has taken the lead in the Irish Church in responding to the abuse crisis. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has called for the Church to be contrite over past mistakes and show humility.
Responding to the succession, Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick said it marked “a new beginning” for the Church in Ireland.