Some in religious life in Ireland are close to despair when they see the enormity of the challenges facing them. These challenges include overcoming ridicule in the aftermath of the Ryan Report, the long and lasting lack of vocations, the lack of energy, the clear need to do something positive, to cast out into the deep, to change or die.

With an average age of 70, according to one congregational leader I spoke with recently, if the challenge can be described as a mountain to climb, it is of Everest proportions. And yet, this is to see it all through the eyes of worldly thinking and not through the eyes of faith like St ThérÉse of Lisieux, and realise the littleness of our ability, and place the mountain of cares in God's hands.

Our natural instinct is to fix, repair and grow -- we've been born and raised in an institutional Church that was far reaching and extremely well-resourced. We've never known institutional weakness in the Irish Church since independence, until now.

We are a wounded Church. Perhaps that is God's greatest gift to our Church at the moment, its wound. Otherwise how can an institutional religion understand the wounds of its members or have compassion for them?

Institutional religion quickly becomes the religion of the Pharisee, the path of perfection and lacks in compassion for the not so upstanding members whose wounds are easy to point out, which cannot be covered up by wealth, or office or uniforms or sacramental garbs. That is why Jesus speaks so often of those who see without seeing and how they are truly blind. The truly blind didn't see that an innocent child should be protected.

I was doing an interview last week with a local Christian (Catholic) radio programme and when I said that the institutional Church was dying, the interviewer said ''that's a bit harsh''.

I countered, saying it may be harsh to her ears but the question she needed to ask was ''is it true?''

And if it is true then it is fact, and facts are neither harsh nor sweet but speak for themselves.

There is a soft-focus in much of Catholic Ireland that would prefer a few painkillers along with their weekly diet of Catholic news, but dulling the senses is not the way to new thinking.

Garry O'Sullivan is the editor of the Irish Catholic, the most influential religious publication in the Republic of Ireland.



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