On 21 March, the Diocesan Communications Officer in the Diocese of Clogher, Gary Carville, was awarded a PhD following the completion of a thesis by research on the subject of Vatican II and Ireland, under the title Ireland and Vatican II: Aspects of episcopal engagement with and reception of a Church Council, 1959-1977. Dr Carville has been researching and writing on this subject for almost six years, beginning in the Mater Dei Institute of Education where he completed a BA in Irish Studies and Religious Studies and continuing in DCU following the incorporation of Mater Dei with the university in 2016. His research was carried out under the supervision of Rev Dr Gabriel Flynn, School of Theology, Philosophy and Music and Dr William Murphy, School of History and Geography.
Dr Carville’s thesis is a historical one, informed by key theological concepts. Much of it is drawn from archival research in a number of Irish dioceses. Uniquely for Ireland, it also draws from the papers on Vatican II held in the Vatican Archives in Rome. The research and analysis covers the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, mainly in the dioceses researched. The period covered ends with the death of Cardinal William Conway in 1977. Conway was the leader of the church in Ireland during and following the council and to him fell the task of introducing the changes brought about by it. While the scope of the research finishes in 1977, the thesis does point to some key events and questions after that period, some of which still dominate church life in Ireland and elsewhere today. Each of the chapters introduce to the reader new material on the involvement of the Irish bishops at Vatican II and their response to it.
This thesis assesses the degree to which Vatican II was received in the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland under the headings of collegiality and communio, the modernisation of Irish society, ecumenism and liturgy. In advance of that, it examines the historiography of church councils together with various understandings of reception. While the reception of a church council is an ongoing process, Dr Carville finds that the reception of Vatican II in Ireland was, on the one hand, aided by a model of church more accustomed to loyally receiving change by directives from above. On the other hand, it was hampered by a lack of theological and intellectual preparedness among clergy and laity. This affected the capacity of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland to fully realise the renewal which the council sought to achieve. Ireland’s deep-rooted identification with an institutional-based traditional and devotional form of Catholicism, the divided nature of the communities in Northern Ireland, the homogenous nature of Irish society in the Republic of Ireland, and the beginnings of economic and social change within that society, all impacted upon the capacity of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland to receive fully the council from the beginning.
Dr Carville is also a former Cathaoirleach of Monaghan Co Board of the GAA and is currently a Director of the GAA Museum in Croke Park.