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Statement of the Spring 2023 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference

Members of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference gathered in-person this week for their Spring 2023 General Meeting at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.  The President of the Conference is Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh and the Vice-President is Archbishop Dermot Farrell of Dublin

During their meeting bishops prayed together for peace for the people in Ukraine, the victims of the Turkey/Syria earthquake, the Calabria shipwreck, and those injured and killed in the recent Greek train accident.  During the Spring General Meeting the main issues for discussions were:


  • Bishops offer prayerful congratulations to Pope Francis on the tenth anniversary of his pontificate  
  • Safeguarding children in the Catholic Church in Ireland
  • Ireland’s failure to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Impact of Government’s removal of Ban on Evictions for individuals and families
  • Recommending 30% of parish grounds to be returned to nature by 2030
  • “Racism divides and exploits anxieties by spreading fear through misinformation” - Bishops
  • Reception of refugees in Ireland
  • Emigrant Collection and Awareness Campaign
  • Trócaire – celebrating 50 years serving Catholic Social Justice
  • Update on the Synodal Pathway
  • Lent and preparation for Holy Week and Easter
  • 25th anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement
  • Year of Vocations to the Diocesan Priesthood to start in April
  • Appointment
  • In Memoriam


  • Bishops offer prayerful congratulations to Pope Francis on the tenth anniversary of his pontificate  

As Pope Francis approaches the tenth anniversary on 13 March of his election as Pope, bishops offered prayers of thanksgiving for the Holy Father, for his pastoral leadership of the Universal Church and for his intentions.  Bishops remembered in a special way the inspiring pilgrimage of Pope Francis to the 9th World Meeting of Families in Ireland in August 2018.  Bishops also recalled the warm welcome and open conversation with Pope Francis, for over two hours, when members of the Bishops’ Conference at that time met with him during their Ad Limina Apostolorum visit to Rome in January 2017.  Bishops noted that the writings of Pope Francis - such as his 2013 apostolic exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world, Evangelli Gaudium; his 2015 encyclical letter on care for our planet, Laudato Si’; and his 2016 apostolic exhortation on love in the family, Amoris Laetitia - have all been popular and bestsellers in Ireland.


  • Safeguarding children in the Catholic Church in Ireland

Bishops discussed the impact of Church-related abuse on survivors, and the need to safeguard children in all contexts and at all times.  Ms Teresa Devlin, chief executive of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland, advised the Bishops’ Conference on activities currently engaging the work of the Board.  


Bishops welcomed the announcement of a Scoping Inquiry to shape Government’s response to revelations of historical sexual abuse in schools run by religious orders, saying, “An inquiry that is informed by the views and engagement of survivors, and one which facilitates the telling of stories and a listening process, will serve truth and justice and, as an outcome, should provide recommendations to help address outstanding hurt and inform future child protection policies.  From our own experience of pastoral meetings with survivors who have suffered so grievously, we know well of the importance of time and space for dialogue to deal with concerns, and the need for transparency regarding the horrific and criminal acts that were inflicted on survivors as innocent children.”


Bishops continued, “On 24 February, the Friday after Ash Wednesday, in cathedrals and churches around the country, parishes held a special day of prayer to support survivors of abuse on their path of human and spiritual recovery.  We also prayed for families and communities.  Especially during this season of Lent, we are mindful of the necessity for ongoing atonement, inner healing and hope arising from the abuse scandals in the Church.”


  • Ireland’s failure to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

The matter of Ireland’s ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (relating to the sale of children, child pornography and child prostitution, among other areas) was considered by the bishops during their meeting.  It was noted that the ratification by Ireland of this protocol (adopted by the UN in 2000) is long overdue.  While welcoming reports that the ratification by Ireland has progressed to an advanced stage, bishops called for this important protection for children to be expedited and voiced their support for efforts to keep this matter at the top of the political agenda.


Bishops said, “This protocol includes important protections for the rights and interests of child victims of trafficking, child prostitution, child pornography and child labour.  Other factors include mutual assistance in investigations, extradition and confiscation of assets.  There are also requirements on ratifying States to have legislation in place to outlaw the above crimes as well as, for example, the sale of child’s organs or forced adoptions. Ireland’s failure, to date, to ratify the protocol is due to its failure to have all the necessary laws in place to comply with the requirements of the UN Convention.  Ireland is one of only seven States that have signed the UNCRC treaty but not to have yet ratified this important protocol.  It is therefore imperative that this lengthy process be completed speedily so that the increased protections are put in place and our international obligations complied with.”


  • Impact of Government’s removal of Ban on Evictions for individuals and families

Bishops voiced their deep concern on the impact of the Government’s decision to remove the ban on evictions on families and individuals, at a time of crisis in housing provision in Ireland, coupled with added pressures created by demand and the lack of supply.


Bishops said, “Evicting people from their home resonates deeply in our national psyche and social history.  Eviction will lead to a sharp increase in homelessness, which is already excessive.  The Church – through our parishes, communities and pastoral agencies – witnesses on a daily basis the effects the housing crisis has on individuals and families.  The anxiety that this decision is causing across Ireland is immense.  There is a responsibility on the State to increase housing supply, to protect people, to ensure fair prices and security of tenure. 


Regarding Ireland’s housing crisis, bishops recalled the words of Pope Francis that “there is no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing.”  As referenced in our 2018 Pastoral Letter A Room at the Inn?:

“Housing has become the area where some of the deepest inequalities in our society is evident, not just in terms of housing conditions being experienced, but in terms of the impact of housing expenditure on the level of income available for other needs and on wealth distribution.”


In a call for social solidarity, bishops renewed their support for an amendment to the Constitution of Ireland, first made in 2015, to provide for an explicit right to housing, saying, “housing is a basic social good and cannot be considered as merely a market commodity.”


  • Recommending 30% of parish grounds to be returned to nature by 2030

Bishops received a report on the wide range of work being undertaken by its Laudato Si’ Working Group, together with various related initiatives being undertaken at parish level across the country.


In response to the impending loss of nature to our world, the call of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical letter, Laudato Si’, and the agreements made at the recent UN Conference on Biodiversity (COP15), bishops ask parishes, through their parish pastoral councils and diocesan trusts, as a first step, to identify and care for 30% of parish grounds as a haven for pollinators and biodiversity, in order that it can be enjoyed in perpetuity by the whole community. 


Bishops said, “In embracing this initiative we encourage parishes to expand their circles of solidarity, to protect and care for biodiversity and recommend that, by 2030, 30% of church grounds be returned to nature.  The first goal of  Laudato Si’ asks us to respond to the ‘Cry of the Earth’.  In Laudato Si’ we read that this diversity of species has an ‘intrinsic value independent of their usefulness.  Each organism, as a creature of God, is good and admirable in itself’ (LS 140).  Humanity is called to care for the earth and all of its creatures, in other words to ‘live out our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork’ (LS, 217).”


Key resources to help parishes identify and care for parish grounds will be made available shortly on www.catholicbishops.ie


  • “Racism divides and exploits anxieties by spreading fear through misinformation” - Bishops

In response to recent reports of racism and xenophobia in Ireland, bishops said, “racism is the opposite of encounter.  It seeks to divide and to exploit anxieties by spreading fear, often through misinformation.  There is no place for racism in Ireland.  As a people with a long history of emigration, particularly in the light of the famine, we know deeply within ourselves what it is like to have to leave one’s homeland and seek shelter and a better life.  May our response to people seeking refuge be: ‘welcome, protect, promote and integrate’ (cf Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti. 129).”


Bishops continued, “together, let us continue to build a culture of welcome, encounter, and integration everywhere in Ireland.  May we always see Jesus, who Himself was a refugee, in the face of others, especially those who seek shelter in our midst.  May our communities be spaces of welcome for the flourishing of all.”


  • Reception of refugees in Ireland

Bishops commended the work of parishes across Ireland offering pastoral support to the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic faithful, and expressed their support to Ukrainian priests ministering here.  Bishops also acknowledged the overwhelmingly positive response of people to our new arrivals seeking refuge or asylum as a result of war and persecution.  In line with the values that derive from the Gospel and our strong Christian heritage, bishops thanked people for maintaining our reputation as a country of welcome and a safe space for those in need: ‘I was a stranger and you made me welcome’ (Matthew 25:35).


Bishops said, “The generosity of the people of Ireland, and of the State, in responding to the unprecedented situation, needs to be acknowledged.  It is visible in every parish, town, community and city in the country.  As Church, we too have answered that call.  Over forty Religious Congregations have made a variety of accommodation offers.  There were also a number of good examples of offers and projects at parish and diocesan level.  Many of our teachers, thankfully, have been to the fore in welcoming and accommodating children into our school community.”


Bishops also drew attention to the reality that as the number of people seeking refuge increases, so do the demands and challenges on adequate housing provision and access to services in local communities.  Bishops said, “for too long, there has been a lack of urgency in the provision of housing for all in Ireland.  To integrate refugees and people seeking asylum into our communities requires a focussed plan on the part of government and public bodies and an openness to work constructively with people locally so as to maximise opportunities for real encounter.  This must involve listening to the genuine concerns of local people and allaying their fears.  A concerted effort should also be made to utilise incoming skills for the benefit of all, helping to promote, in the words of Pope Francis, ‘a culture of encounter and openness to others with mutual respect for diversity.’”


Given the importance of our national feast of Saint Patrick, bishops invited parishes to reach out on that day in a special way to the Ukrainian people living in Ireland and around the world, sending greetings of prayer and solidarity to them in this time of anguish.


  • Emigrant Collection and Awareness Campaign

Each year on Saint Patrick’s Day, special collections for Irish emigrants take place in many dioceses across the island.  These collections help fund the work of the Irish Episcopal Council for Emigrants which has been responding to the needs of our emigrants around the world since 1957.  It continues to do so through the work of its pastoral centres in the United States and the UK, which provide a myriad of services to marginalised and vulnerable groups of Irish people, many of whom are living lives of quiet desperation including the destitute, elderly, Travellers and prisoners.  Grants from the emigrant collection are provided to other organisations who provide targeted and specialist support to discrete categories of vulnerable emigrants such as the aged, lonely and to those with addiction and mental health problems.


Bishops said, “We ask the faithful to contribute what they can to collections at Mass to support our emigrants.  As a Church, and a people, we are obliged as Christians to reach out to those who are affected by emigration as they are often the most marginalised in their new home.  We pray for all Irish people overseas – those who are recently departed and for those who left our shores many years ago.  We remember the families they have left behind and pray that they will find strength and comfort as they cope with the pain of separation.”


  • Trócaire – celebrating 50 years serving Catholic Social Justice

Annual Lecture: This year Trócaire, the overseas development agency of the Bishops’ Conference, celebrates its fiftieth year of supporting the most marginalised of our brothers and sisters around the world.  Bishops thanked chief executive Caoimhe de Barra, her management team and staff, for their effective and tireless work and advocacy for justice and peace on behalf of victims of war, climate change, famine and other natural disasters.  Bishops offered their congratulations to the success of last night’s annual Trócaire/Saint Patrick’s College lecture in Renehan Hall, Maynooth, and that was delivered by Dr Ethna Regan of Dublin City University, and Cardinal Michael F Czerny, on the subject, ‘How can Catholic Social Teaching help us to navigate fragility and lead us to local power and global justice in times of unprecedented crisis?’


At the lecture Dr Regan said, “a disposition of solidarity is not just about standing with people in a humanitarian crisis, but an accompanying solidarity that empowers local partners, foregrounds local voices, and fosters local leadership.  Cardinal Czerny said, “this earth, and the local and global relationships which nurture and sustain it, are indeed confronted by a time of unprecedented fragility.  But, it is worth recalling the hope-filled words of Pope Francis in Laudato Sí.  Our world has changed since Trócaire's foundation in 1973, and so have we.  But we remain rooted in the values that shape us and in our belief that a more just and sustainable world is possible.” 


Earthquakes: Following the two earthquakes of 6 February that devastated regions in southern Turkey and Northern Syria, bishops expressed their deep gratitude to the many people who have contributed to local collections, some of which are still being planned for parishes and dioceses.  Bishops commended the work of Trócaire in responding to this emergency in Turkey and Syria through their local partner Caritas Syria.


2023 Lenten campaign: Bishops encouraged everyone to support Trócaire’s 2023 Lenten campaign that was launched on Ash Wednesday.  Bishops said, “This year the Appeal focuses on the plight of more than eight million people in Somalia who are facing starvation. Three years of drought have seen crops and animals die and millions of families have had to leave their homes in search of food to survive.  This Lenten season please consider a donation to this Appeal on www.trocaire.org or in your family’s Trócaire Box.”


  • Update on the Synodal Pathway

Bishops discussed the next steps for both the Synodal Pathway of the Catholic Church in Ireland, and the Universal Synod 2021-2024. 


Continental Stage of the Synod

Ms Julieann Moran and Father Éamonn Fitzgibbon reported on their experience as delegates at the European Continental Assembly, which was held in Prague from 5 to 9 February.  The Irish delegation consisted of four in-person delegates and ten on-line delegates.  Overall, the Irish delegation was very satisfied with the way its presentation was received at the Assembly.  The text of the Irish delegation’s presentation can be read here: https://www.catholicbishops.ie/2023/02/07/speaking-notes-from-the-irish-delegation-attending-the-continental-assembly-of-the-synod-in-prague/


There were 200 delegates present in Prague, representing 39 bishops’ conferences from 45 different European countries with a further 390 delegates attending the assembly online.  The purpose of the Continental Assembly was to deepen the insights that the local churches gained through the Synodal Process to date.


The main themes to emerge from the Continental Assembly included:

  • the affirmation of the synodal process but the need for faith formation to deepen the practice, theology and hermeneutics of synodality.
  • the unity in our diversity as the Catholic Church in Europe with all the treasures of the two great Latin and Eastern traditions.
  • the need to concretely implement the equality in dignity of all the members of the Church founded in baptism.
  • the need to take concrete and courageous decisions on the role of women within the Church, their greater involvement at all levels including decision-making and decision-taking processes.
  • the pain of the wounds that the Church has inflicted through the abuses perpetrated by people who were performing an ecclesial ministry or office.
  • the need to address the question of an all-ministerial Church, reflecting on charisms and ministries (ordained and non-ordained) and the relationships between them.
  • the understand Eucharist as the source of communion.
  • the need to walk and talk with people in a respectful way.
  • the need to listen to the cry of the poor and the earth, and in particular, the desperate cry of the victims of war who demand a just peace.


The Final Remarks of the Continental Assembly can be read here: https://www.catholicbishops.ie/2023/02/13/final-remarks-of-the-european-continental-synod-assembly/


The Commitment of the Bishops at the Continental Assembly in Prague can be read here: https://prague.synod2023.org/en/2023/02/12/continental-assembly-of-the-synod-the-commitment-of-the-bishops/


Next Steps – Synodal Pathway in Ireland

Research is underway to determine the training, skills, and other needs of local leaders (priests, religious and laity) to move forward and go deeper into the Synodal Pathway of the Catholic Church in Ireland.  Diocesan Delegates and Representatives from the Organisations, Movements, and Associations that held listening sessions during the Diocesan Stage of the Synod, and submitted a synthesis, are being invited to complete an online questionnaire to carry out this needs analysis.  A smaller number of delegates and representatives are also being invited to participate in regional focus groups (based on the ecclesiastical provinces) to draw greater insights.


The National Steering Committee will present a report to the Bishops’ Conference in the coming months on how the Irish Synodal Pathway might be shaped in the coming years.  There is a growing realisation that the Synodal Pathway will be a long-term process, and that there is certain urgency to the time-frame to pursue this way of being Church in Ireland.  Therefore, more attention needs to be given to local engagement (particularly with Diocesan and Parish Pastoral Councils as instruments of synodality) and to adult faith formation.


  • Lent and preparation for Holy Week and Easter

Easter Sunday will be celebrated on 9 April next.  Bishops reflected on the call to renewal in our Christian life which is a central part of our preparation for Easter.  Pope Francis reminds us that, as we journey through the season of Lent, “God never tires of forgiving us” (Evangelii Gaudium The Joy of the Gospel).  The faithful are asked to offer up their fasting, prayer, reading of Scripture and works of mercy during Lent for the grace of healing and renewal.  Bishops also encourage everyone to read Pope Francis’ short message for Lent 2023 on the theme: Lenten Penance and the Synodal Journey available here Message of the Holy Father Francis for Lent 2023 (vatican.va)


The faithful are invited to follow this year’s daily #LivingLent digital media initiative that offers a short suggestion on prayer, fasting and charity in response to the Pope’s invitation not to let Lent pass in vain.


  • 25th anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement

Bishops offered prayers for peace in Ireland and expressed their gratitude to all those women and men who worked to create the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement in April 1998.  While recognising there were mixed perspectives regarding the outcomes of the Agreement, they expressed their gratitude for those who have implemented the spirit of the Agreement in the interest of a better future for our young people.  Bishops affirmed that politics and public service are noble professions, and they encouraged politicians in Northern Ireland to work together in the interest of the common good.  At this time of enormous financial pressures on families, bishops called on political leaders to provide for local government decision making, however challenging the choices may be.


  • Year of Vocations to the Diocesan Priesthood to start in April

Bishops prayed for vocations and endorsed the Year of Vocations to the Diocesan Priesthood which will begin next month on the theme: ‘Take the Risk for Christ’.  A media photocall took place yesterday with clergy and seminarians in the national seminary at Maynooth to formally announce the Year.  Bishops thanked all those who encourage men to respond to God’s call and consider discerning a life as a priest, in particularly families, parishes, priests themselves and dedicated groups such as the Saint Joseph’s Young Priest’s Society.


The Bishops’ Council for Vocations has organised the Year that will run from Vocations/Good Shepherd Sunday 2023 for one year.  The awareness campaign will be launched on 25 April, the Feast of Saint Mark the Evangelist, with a special conference entitled ‘Evangelisation and Vocation’ in Saint Patrick’s College,  Maynooth.  The keynote address will be delivered by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, Pro-Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Evangelisation.  Over the next twelve-months, it is planned to host events in parishes and at pilgrim sites around the country and to provide resources for homes and schools.


The 30 April also marks the 60th anniversary of the initiation of the annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations, instituted by Saint Pope Paul VI in 1963 during the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.  Bishops offered the following prayer for vocations (source: the National Vocations Office of the Bishops’ Conference):

Heavenly Father,

we ask you to send labourers into your harvest

and to bless all who strive to listen to your voice.

Inspire, in the hearts of men and women,

vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and

consecrated life.

Bless our families with a spirit of generosity,

so that those whom you call have the courage

to give themselves to your Church in faith.

Send workers into Your great harvest

so that the Gospel is preached,

the poor are served with love,

the suffering are comforted,

and Your people are strengthened by the sacraments.

We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord.



  • Appointment

The Bishops’ Conference welcomed its newest member, Bishop Niall Coll, who was appointed as Bishop of Ossory by Pope Francis on 28 October 2022.


  • In Memoriam

Bishops prayed for the repose of the souls of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who died on 31 December 2022, and of Bishop David O’Connell, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, who was killed on 18 February.