Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Irish Reformation

In the wake of the cataclysmic fallout of the abuse scandals in Ireland, one proposal for renewal that's garnered particular traction has been a push to slim down the Isle's hierarchical structure, one now comprising 26 dioceses for its 4 million Catholics.

The current map dating to the 12th century, a drastic makeover of the diocesan matrix reportedly won favor even from the Curial chiefs who took part in February's unprecedented Vatican summit on the crisis. With the reorganization talks said to have since remained a matter of "sharp focus" -- and no less than 15 dioceses either already vacant or due to open within the next five years -- today's Irish Times unveils one set of proposals, which would slash the number of local churches to 11, a nearly 60% cut.

By way of comparison, as the Times notes, the US' largest local church -- the 5 million-member archdiocese of Los Angeles -- encompasses in one fold a larger Catholic population than the whole of Ireland. Alternatively, in the heart of the firstborn daughter of the once-vaunted ecclesial model imported by the Irish, the archdiocese of New York, the dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre, served by a combined 17 active bishops, serve an aggregate population of 5.7 million Catholics.

Meanwhile, the specifics remain in the offing, but no shortage of interest remains focused on the major plank of the Vatican's Irish intervention: the Apostolic Visitation of several dioceses announced by Pope Benedict in his March pastoral letter to the Isle church.

According to early reports, one figure expected to play a key role in the inquest is Cardinal George Pell of Sydney. Capping well over a year's worth of speculation on the 68 year-old prelate's future, word from Rome has tipped Pell's appointment as the next prefect of the Congregation for Bishops for next month.

Talk of the move has reached a new fever-pitch since Friday, when Pell had his second private audience with Benedict in the last three months. Following a "rather lengthy" sit-down with the Pope in early February -- during which the post is believed to have been proffered to him -- Australia's senior churchman already raised eyebrows by suddenly extending his stay in Rome by an extra week.

At the helm of the all-powerful dicastery supervising the global episcopate, the reported changing of the guard would make Vatican history; never before has the prefect of Bishops hailed from the English-speaking world, and the move would likewise be unprecedented in seeing two native Anglophones among the Curia's "Big Three," the trio of offices (the others being State and CDF) whose heads report directly to the pontiff at least once a week.

PHOTO: "Papal Cross," Phoenix Park, Dublin/AP