Monday, March 21, 2011

'Soundbyte Research' on Religious Vocations in Ireland misses the point

Credible and verifiable research on the topic of religious vocations in Ireland (and elsewhere) is more than welcome. It informs those involved in vocations ministry along with their orders and congregations and indeed, the church as a whole. It is regrettable that there is little if any competent research done on the subject in Ireland in recent years. The Year of Vocation (2008-9) would have been the most appropriate time to carry out such research, but the opportunity was missed. Indeed, trying to ascertain the most basic information regarding new entrants to religious congregations in Ireland each year is something of a minefield - because nobody seems to know exactly where to turn to get such information. To its credit, the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference have a council for research and development that posts data on vocations and personnel annually. But the information is quite basic.

Recently, an article in The Furrow (a pastoral journal edited at St Patrick's College, Maynooth) published an article on "Religious Vocations in Ireland - the Church not God is the problem." It was written by Shane Halpin, who is the director of vocation and mission for the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts. Some of the content of the article has also appeared in other Catholic websites including cinews. The article in The Furrow is good and a welcome addition to the ongoing debate and conversation around religious vocations in ireland but it has one major flaw: the information (research) is based solely on an 'engagement' or ''interview' with two groups of young people, aged 22-36. We are not told if the 'engagement' is with 2, 20 or 200 people. Based on the interview/engagement model there are a number of quotes or soundbytes that are used in the article to authenticate the research. The author then draws conclusions along with a list of 'findings' and 'recommendations'. The recommendation that has provoked the most headlines (a sub-editor's dream, no doubt) is the following: The use of the word 'Church' is currently problematic and unhelpful in conveying the life (religious) in a positive light. This is perhaps the most worrying aspect of the feedback in that our Magisterium, and in particular, our Irish Church leadership with its male bias and widening generation gap, is perceived to be deaf and unable to meet the needs and aspirations of its young people.'

It is very difficult to take with any seriousness any of the recommendations and findings on research that is both unauthenticated and based on soundbytes. If anything, it does a major disservice to the church and particularly those involved in vocations ministry. One would expect more from a serious pastoral journal.

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