The Church must “step out of the past, embrace the present and move to the future”, Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly said as he launched the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly’s new pastoral plan at Holycross Abbey.
Titled Seeds of Hope, the pastoral plan was developed after a four-year listening process and a consultation with 2,500 people. It foresees a Church of “co-responsibility” between laity and clergy going forward.
“The Church is changing now, and the priest-led Church of the past will need to embrace a partnership approach with people into the future,” Archbishop O’Reilly said.
The plan, which is seen as a blueprint for transitioning the diocese to a new era of inclusivity, lists the inclusion of women in leadership roles as a priority and acknowledges that that minority groups – from divorced or separated people to LGBT+, migrants and the Travelling community – should all have a place and feel they belong to the parish faith community.
It encourages parishes to proactively welcome minority groups who feel less welcome or who do not feel they belong and plan events that convey hospitality and welcome.
“The Church must change, not because of necessity or because of declining vocations and attendance at Masses, but because it is the right thing to do. What we are now embarking on is about delivering a new and inclusive Church. And in doing so, it is the Holy Spirit that is guiding us,” the Archbishop of Cashel and Emly said.
“The model whereby a public attends Mass once a week is not what the Church is about. It is and must be about the Church being out in the community rather than the community being in the Church.”
The plan for 35 parishes in Co Tipperary and 11 in Co Limerick was developed across five strands – faith and spirituality, youth and family, community engagement, participation in liturgy and leadership and co-responsibility.
There is a particular emphasis also on the importance of youth in planning the future of the Church, with Seeds of Hope identifying a need for young people, young families and parents to be involved in developing a new model of Church.
Bridget Kirwan, a member of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, said the listening process had been seen frank discussion with people of the diocese about how the Church is working for them today and what they need the Church of tomorrow to be.
Speaking at the launch, she said: “Today is not the conclusion, it is just a new leg of a journey that is going to be ongoing. We have our five seeds of hope, our five pillars of this plan and a huge amount of listening has been done across every parish in the diocese to identify these pillars, to put the foundations in place. But we build from here.
“The plan, for me, reflects a period of change and a time of change for the church. I think it’s particularly challenged because of its past experiences. But I think it’s being called to be a different kind of church as it goes forward. So, we plant these seeds, and we move together, including everybody. Those people who might have felt that they didn’t necessarily have a welcome in the church before, I hope that they will feel that they have a welcome here now. So, the church is being challenged to reach out to those people who may have felt isolated.”