The Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Dublin and primate of Ireland, was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, at a ceremony at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus on April 24.
“We here at Fordham, and indeed, everyone in the American church, are immensely proud with you. We see you as an inspiring figure not only for the Church in Ireland, but also for the church universal,” said Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham.
The conferring of the degree, at which the archbishop was presented a crosier custom-made by Fordham’s carpentry staff, was preceded by a lecture and panel discussion, “Catholic Ireland: Past, Present, Future.”
The evening presented an unflinching look at the dire state of the Catholic Church in Ireland, a country that had once been considered the most stable of all Catholic countries, but whose population is now estranged from the church, with plummeting attendance at masses and in seminaries.
Archibishop Martin, who assumed his position in 2004, said that in many ways a comparison could be made to the nation’s economic woes, which have been exacerbated by strict austerity measures. Just as Ireland’s leaders misread the roots of the country’s previous economic successes, he said that the Catholic Church for far too long has felt safely ensconced in the old notion of a Catholic country. It has become conformist and controlling not just with its faithful but in society-at-large.
Faith in Jesus Christ must open us out beyond human horizons, he said. Christian faith requires changing our way of thinking, of trusting in God’s love rather than in the tangible securities of daily life.
“When faith leads to conformism, it has betrayed the very nature of faith. Faith is always a leap into the unknown and a challenge to go beyond our own limits and beyond our own narrow certainties and the distorted understanding that comes from them.”
Conformism in part has led to what he termed an extraordinarily high number of children who were abused by priests. Although overwhelming majority of priests lead exemplary moral lives, it does not excuse those failures, he said. The great challenge for the Irish Catholic Church today is to deal with strong remnants of inherited clericalism.
“The Catholic Church requires lay men and women whose faith enables them to dare to hope, and who will challenge us to expand the parameters of our hope beyond the narrow confines that each of us individually and as communities consciously or unconsciously fix for ourselves,” he said.
Panel respondents included J.J. Lee, Ph.D., Member of the Royal Irish Academy and Glucksman Professor of Irish Studies, Glucksman Irish House, New York University and Theodora Hawksley, Ph.D., School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh.
Lee said that the Irish Catholic Church fell out of sync with its faithful in the 1960s, when industrialization that helped stir a population boom in the country also altered the very nature of Irish society. When abuse scandals erupted in the 1990s, it gave already wavering Catholics an excuse to leave the church for good.
“If there is to be a future for Catholicism in Ireland, it has to be almost be seen as a new missionary endeavor,” he said. “There is no future in simply going back to the past.”
Hawksley complimented the Archbishop for focusing on a homegrown renewal, and shared four places of renewal that she has studied. One of them is Glencairn Cistercian monastery for women near Lismore, County Waterford.
“On some level, people are in touch with, or seeking for, a deeper truth about what the church should be like,” she said.
“They may not be able to articulate what that is, but they recognize it when they experience it. The depth of prayer connects them to the abiding presence of God underneath the turmoil and change.”
The archbishop’s appearance was sponsored by the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture and the Russo Family Lecture, which was made possible by The Russo Family Endowment, created by Dr. and Mrs. Robert D. Russo Sr., FCRH ’39, and Dr. and Mrs. Robert D. Russo Jr., FCRH ’69.