Northern Ireland

New Irish language documentary asks if Catholic Church in Ireland can ‘weather one of the most challenging storms in its history’

The decline in Mass attendance and a shortage of priests are among the issues examined in the programme

Kevin Magee
Journalist Kevin Magee embarks on a series of interviews for the BBC Gaeilge programme, In Ainm An Athar

The decline in Mass attendance and a shortage of priests in the Catholic Church as well as decisions around celibacy and LGBTQ+ rights are explored in a new Irish language documentary.

The BBC Gaeilge programme, In Ainm An Athar, asks if the church in Ireland can “weather one of the most challenging storms in its history”.

Journalist Kevin Magee interviews current members of the clergy, including Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown, as well as former priests, Catholic laity, the LGBTQ+ community and the church hierarchy.

Former President Mary McAleese, Fr Brian D’Arcy and Rev Gary Hastings from the Church of Ireland also reflect on past and current issues.

Former Irish President Mary McAleese.
Mary McAleese is interviewed for the new documentary

The documentary charts the decline of the church from the 1960s, examining present day concerns around the scandals including decades of institutional abuse, clerical sexual abuse, and stories of neglect and punishment in religious-run establishments such as the Magdalene laundries.

It also looks at the issues surrounding a lack of men entering the priesthood to replace ageing priests as well as the dramatic fall in the number of people attending Mass in recent decades.

“I was in a monastery in the west of Ireland recently and was really taken by the ageing profile of the priests there, and that is what inspired me to make this programme,” said Mr Magee.

“I wanted to investigate what the Catholic church will look in the future in the face of the falling number of priests and smaller congregations.”

A shift towards fewer masses, parishes being forced to amalgamate and services traditionally presided over by priests, such as funerals and baptisms, being carried out by the laity are discussed by Bishop McKeown.

He says Ireland has too many dioceses and foresees changes in the near future.

Bishop Donal McKeown, chairperson of CSTS
Bishop Donal McKeown

In Ainm An Athar is on BBC iPlayer and BBC Two Northern Ireland on Sunday at 10pm.