Bishop of Limerick Dr Brendan Leahy has said the Catholic Church can find "light and new directions" if it listens closely to why so many people who registered as Catholics in last year's census do not connect with the Church.
He also warned that if members keep picking at their Church's wounds, they will never heal and that, while Catholics are admitting to the injuries and ensuring they are no longer inflicted, they must continue to recognise the parts of the institution that are working well and doing great good.
The bishop made his remarks in the course of last night's homily at the annual Chrism Mass at St John's Cathedral in Limerick, where he blessed the oils to be used in the coming year's baptisms, confirmations, priestly ordinations and the anointing of the sick.
He acknowledged that many Catholics are tempted to be discouraged and that "despondency has sometimes struck its arrow into their hearts because of the various headwinds buffeting the Church in recent times, including those blowing tragically from time to time, within the Church".
But despite everything, 78% of the Republic's population still declared themselves Catholic in last year's census, he said.
"It's a striking statistic," he remarked. "On the one hand, it is good news to hear that in the privacy of their own homes, 78% of our population have affirmed their Catholic identity. We can thank God for that. I doubt even the GAA has such a level of affiliation."
He added that as the Church is facing severe challenges, there must be wariness towards quick solutions that can be proposed in response to them.
"As we go out towards families, let's be ready also to listen to those who want to share with us why it is they register as catholic but somehow don't connect with the Church. I'm sure if we hear the deep-down reasons, we'll find light and new directions," Bishop Leahy said.