Is taking Tuam’s archbishop the last straw?

I’ve a great auld grá for Tuam. It was there I cut my teeth in the manic world of wordmaking. A proud town, with great characters and great music and great poetry, it was forever getting a lash. If there was a lash to be had, Tuam would be first in line. It lost its sugar factory, its railway. Major industry was never comfortable there; its historic football stadium was allowed to rot while a shiny new one was built in an awkward location in the city, and politically, it was always an afterthought rather than a focal point.

There was never a creature with enough hind tits on which to place Tuam. If they had ducks, they would have drowned. However, through all the years of history, from the wheel-breaking days of St Jarlath through to the present day, the two things it never lost were its soul and its archbishop. But now it seems the latter is in danger and if that goes, it could badly affect the former.

The Tuam archdiocese is a superdiocese, stretching as it does right up far into Mayo and west to the islands off the coast. When the Archbishop of Tuam spoke, the voice reverberated across a vast plain of the west of Ireland.

Now however, there are plans to shift the archbishop from his palace in Tuam and move him to a new location in Galway, probably the home currently occupied by our current bishop. Now, this won’t happen today or tomorrow, but it is part of a plan by the Church to radically restructure the Church in Ireland.

It is considered excessive that this small island with its approximately 4.5 million Catholics should have 26 dioceses when, for instance, the Catholic archdiocese of Los Angeles with a population of 4.3 million Catholics has one archbishop and six auxiliary bishops. There are currently four archbishops and 25 bishops in Catholic Ireland.

To reinforce the point, Austria has a Catholic population of a little over six million but has just 12 dioceses while Belgium has eight dioceses for a Catholic population of about eight million.

So the plan is to merge the 26 dioceses into 11 new dioceses, on which the geographical spread will be wider and the number of bishops and archbishops fewer. In the case of the Archdiocese of Tuam, this will see it enlarged to take in KIllala, Clonfert and the Galway diocese. This would see one archbishop responsible for a population of 300,000 people spread across 141 parishes.

It is envisaged that the archbishop at the helm of this would reside in the largest population centre of this new diocese, namely Galway city. It is timely that this is being done now, at a moment when three or four dioceses are without a bishop, in that their bishops have offered their resignations or have had their resignations accepted by Rome. In addition, over the next five years, a dozen of the sitting bishops and archbishops will have to retire as they will pass the age of 75, so the opportunity for a clean brush is there for the Church. And as for Tuam, St Jarlath’s wheel-breaking will be consigned to history, another setback for a beleaguered town.

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