10 April 2024, The Tablet

Pope Francis restructures Irish Church to help it face ‘new challenges’

Pope Francis restructures Irish Church to help it face ‘new challenges’

Bishop Paul Dempsey is to an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Dublin.
John McElroy

Pope Francis today announced a series of episcopal changes in the Irish Church as well as the union of dioceses in the West of Ireland in a move seen as the most far-reaching reconfiguration of the Irish church since the 12th century.

In an announcement made simultaneously in Rome and in the Archdiocese of Tuam, the Pope, having accepted the resignation of Bishop John Fleming of Killala diocese in the West of Ireland, announced that Archbishop Francis Duffy of Tuam has been appointed to oversee the diocese of Killala as Apostolic Administrator in addition to his role in Tuam.

It was also announced that Bishop Paul Dempsey is to leave the Diocese of Achonry to take up the position as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Dublin, the country’s largest diocese.

His position in Achonry will be taken on by Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin who will administer Achonry while continuing in his role in Elphin.

The changes were announced by the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, His Excellency Archbishop Luis Mariano Montemayor.

In his message during mass at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Tuam, Archbishop Montemayor told the congregation, “We know from personal experience that life is a process of adaptation to changing circumstances. Although we seek to preserve at all times our essential identity, we adopt measures to meet new challenges as they arise. That is true also of the life of the Church and it is reflected in what we are doing today.”

He said that in order to meet the evolving needs of the Church in the ecclesiastical Province of Tuam, a process of reorganisation was necessary, which would, it was hoped, “give added impetus and vitality” to the communities concerned.

Referring to the union of Tuam and Killala and Elphin and Achonry, the Apostolic Nuncio observed, “They say ‘in union there is strength’. Thus, with pooled resources and combined endeavours, and trusting strongly in the grace of God, we can look to the future with hope and confidence.”

Archbishop Francis Duffy of Tuam paid tribute to Bishop John Fleming as he retires after 22 years of dedicated service and innovative pastoral leadership in Killala. 

The changes concerning the reconfiguration of dioceses in Tuam province follow on from consultations caried out by the Apostolic Nuncio with groupings of people in Achonry, Elphin, Killala and Tuam, Archbishop Duffy explained. However, he said there was still a lot of ground-work in both the civil and canonical spheres that needed to be carried out.

He referred to the union already underway in the Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora and the Diocese of Clonfert under Bishop Michael Duignan, describing it as an example of “a well-established practice of collaboration and cooperation between the western dioceses.” He added, “This is a sure sign of hope for the success of the important work that in now underway.”

“We are certainly living in changing times,” Archbishop Duffy acknowledged.

Bishop Paul Dempsey, who will leave the diocese of Achonry, told the congregation in Tuam, that in his ministry in Dublin, he would work with and support Archbishop Dermot Farrell in his role as “chief shepherd”. 

He will also work with Auxiliary Bishop-Elect Donal Roche as he begins his ministry in the coming weeks. 

“The late Pope Benedict reminded us that faith is exodus, it calls us to go out of ourselves. As I set out, I am aware of the huge challenges that lie ahead. Culturally our relationship with faith has changed and continues to change in so many ways.  We continue to grapple with the big question of how to share the life-giving Gospel message of Jesus Christ in today’s reality. It is a daunting mission,” Bishop Dempsey admitted.

Bishop Kevin Doran said that the announcement was an invitation from Pope Francis to the two diocesan communities of Achonry and Elphin to deepen the close relationship that they already have.

“In keeping with what was envisaged already in the decree Christus Dominus of the Second Vatican Council, we are called to look beyond existing boundaries in order to further develop the gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit and to use them even more effectively in the service of the Gospel. I see in today’s announcement the possibility of a new Springtime and I very much welcome it,” he said.

Speaking to The Tablet, Bishop Doran underlined that the diocesan boundaries of the Irish Church’s dioceses were drawn up in the Middle Ages, when bishops moved around on foot or horseback.

He stressed that parish communities would “retain their own identity as they do within individual dioceses”.

Drawing together “in union” he said was “not just about drawing lines on the map or changing structures, it is about using the resources and the gifts that people have in a new and richer way”.

He also explained how Kiltimagh, which is the furthest point in the Diocese of Achonry from Sligo where he is based is actually much nearer to him than some parts of the diocese of Elphin, which are spread across counties Roscommon, Sligo, Mayo and Galway.

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