Archive for Church Life

Missals and Migrants

Migrant’s graves in names just a number….

lampedusa graves

A piece I  had published in this months ‘FURROW’ contrasting  Irish Church action on the translation of the Roman Missal and it’s inaction with regard to the migrant crisis…

Click here for article: Missals and MigrantsV2

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Letting Others Live Again

I wrote this piece as a reflection on my visit to Rwanda a few years has a Lenten/Easter theme..not to be enjoyed but reflected on…..Dedicated this Easter to my good friend Virgil Elizondo who died recently…




A knock came to the door late at night. ‘Who is there?’ asked one of the sisters. ‘Jeanne’, was the reply. ‘How could this be?’ said the sister to herself – only the day before Jeanne had been killed along with five other girls. The soldiers came to the convent and the militia beat the girls to death with rocks. This happened on May 18, 1994, over a month since the genocide started. The next day the soldiers came back and they instructed the militia to bury the girls’ remains.

The sister who opened the door thought she was dreaming. Jeanne was dead as far as everyone was concerned. What’s more, she had been buried. Obviously the wounds had left her heavily concussed. Her hair was matted with clay and she collapsed as soon as she entered the room. More than likely, her body had been thrown on top of the others in the makeshift grave. Maybe the rain had washed away the soil or maybe even the convent dog who had been behaving mysteriously trying to attract attention had scraped away at the soil freeing Jeanne from the weight of inevitable death.

Her head was gashed and her left arm was badly damaged from the beatings. A trip to the hospital was out of the question; every day the soldiers and the militia called by to ‘finish off’ those who were still alive. The sisters brought Jeanne to a safe place. They cleaned her wounds with sterilised water this was the only First Aid equipment available.

D&L Rwanda

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‘A Window on Murphy’… Perspectives and Insights of Clergy of the Archdiocese of Dublin.


Thank you for participating in my recent survey entitled ‘A Window on Murphy’…the Perspective of Clergy of the Archdiocese of Dublin. The survey set out to gain an insight into the life and ministry of the priests of the Archdiocese at the time of the publication of the report of the Commission of Investigation into Child Sexual Abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin; 1975-2004 commonly known as ‘The Murphy Report’.

The first publication on the findings can now be downloaded at:

Please feel free to forward this link anyone interested in this study.

An edited version of these findings is now available in the Winter 2013 edition of STUDIES for a link to a copy of this article please go to To order a copy of this edition of STUDIES please go to

Further publications will be guided by the response to these articles and emerging needs.

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Eucharist – The Vital Life-Source.

This article was published in the February edition of The Furrow, 2012. Please reference the article to The Furrow.

Eucharist – The Vital Life-Source.


This article reflects on the present position of the celebration of First Communion in the light of Pope Benedict XVI’s call for renewal on the occasion of his recent visit to Germany.

‘There comes a point when, tired of losing, you decide to stop falling yourself, or at least try, or to send up the final flare, one last chance’.[i]


During his recent visit to Germany, Pope Benedict XVI spoke on one occasion during this visit to the Catholic Lay Faithful in Freiburg. During his talk he reflected that the church in Germany is extremely well organised, in fact he said it is ‘superbly organised’. He immediately followed on with a challenge; ‘But behind the structures, is there also a corresponding spiritual strength, the strength of faith in the living God?’ He continued, ‘If we do not find a way of genuinely renewing our faith, all structural reform will remain ineffective’. The talk identified the need for new expressions of faith and evangelization, addressed the crisis of faith that abounds and encouraged the establishment of new places where people can give expression to their inner longings.

The question posed is have we any structures or practices in the church that presently militate against a renewal of faith further contributing to the on-going and deepening crisis of faith. This article proposes that the present practise surrounding the sacraments, particularly the reception of First Communion is one such structure in the Irish Church that militates against the focus that Benedict XVI brings to bear on the current crisis of faith.

Presenting the Problem

The hearts of people and priest are uplifted at a dignified celebration of the Eucharist. Positive experience underlines that fact that the Eucharist is the ‘source and summit’ of our Christian faith. However these experiences are less and less common. The Sunday Eucharist remains a source of nourishment for those that attend; other events undermine the dignity of this great gift. At school masses and on reception of communion the reply, ‘cool’, ‘thanks’ or ‘what’s this’ can more readily be readily offered in response to ‘The Body of Christ’ than the reply ‘Amen’. Following school masses, sacristans and priests now check under seats to make sure that the host hasn’t been spat out or dropped on the floor. Funerals indicate further concern. Standing up at the end of a mass for the standard eulogy, people have to been known to thank the priest for ‘the gig’. At such events the manner in which people present for the Eucharist tells of a generation that see the Eucharist at the fringes of faith rather than at the heart of faith.

The programme ‘Do this in Memory of Me’ has brought new energy to preparation for First Communion. However, one might be tempted to ask is it an admission of defeat? Getting those preparing for communion and their families into the pews before the big event is helpful and even commendable but is it not showing how much the cultural tide has turned? For many years culture supported faith in a more forthright and obvious fashion, now less so. In the past one could assume that culture and faith worked closely together, now in certain circumstances the prevailing culture leaves little room for faith and if it does it may remain an unexpressed or inexpressible mystery. One of the most distressing outcomes of these realities is the impact on those who believe and who try to create a positive environment wherein faith will flourish. Seeing something that you believe in, that you love and have a deep respect for treated with seeming disdain is damaging to morale.

The Origin of Today’s Practice

The present practice of First Communion requires examination. Present practice may be an example of a corner that we have painted ourselves into as described by Eamonn FitzGibbon in a recent edition of The Furrow. It may even militate against Benedict XVI’s call to find a way of genuinely renewing our faith. Apart from being less culturally relevant it contains theological inaccuracies and could be seen as a fossil from a bygone era. The decree to allow young people to receive the Eucharist was issued by Pope Pius X on the 8th of August 1910 in an Encyclical entitled Quam Singulari. He argued that a child has a right to receive the Eucharist and Penance on reaching the age of reason or discretion. He deemed that this age is reached in the seventh year of the child’s life. He deplored practices whereby the safeguarding of the sacrament was placed over and above the right of a person to receive the Eucharist. Perfect knowledge of faith was not required however he did state that,

‘it is clear that the age of discretion for receiving Holy Communion is that at which the child knows the difference between the Eucharistic Bread and ordinary, material bread, and can therefore approach the altar with proper devotion’.

And on the issue of who decides whether a person should receive communion he quoted the from the Roman Catechism;

‘At what age children are to receive the Holy Mysteries no one can better judge than their father (parent) and the priest who is their confessor. For it is their duty to ascertain by questioning the children whether they have any understanding of this admirable Sacrament and if they have any desire for it’.

One cannot doubt the sincerity of Pius X. His intention was that the reception of the sacraments would provide spiritual nourishment needed to protect the innocence of young children ‘and who, amidst so many dangers and seductions of the present time have a special need of this heavenly food’. Prior to Pius X, Leo XIII wrote inspiring encyclicals bringing attention to the negative impact of the industrial revolution on humanity. While some may think that Pius X as a pope tried to save the church from the ravages of Leo XIII both, in their own way, were trying to uphold the dignity of each and every human being. Leo XIII, achieved this by calling attention to the dignity of labour and Pius X by providing humanity with the spiritual nourishment to sustain them in the face of various trials and temptations.

The desire to administer the sacraments to young people before they left school was justifiable. A case in point is Ireland. From 1892 education was compulsory for children between the ages of six and fourteen. However, according to the Central Statistics Office most young people left school before the age of fourteen as children were forced to work or go begging to provide for their families as illustrated in James Plunkett’s short story, Janey Mary.

‘Those who did answer her had been dour. They poked cross and harassed faces around half-open doors. Tell her mammy, they said, it’s at school she should have her, and not out worrying poor people the likes of them. They had the mouths of their own to feed and the bellies of their own to fill, and God knows that took doing’.

In his desire to provide nourishment for the Janey Marys of his day Pius X overlooked a theological matter. Theologically the proper order for the reception of the sacraments is Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Eucharist rather than Baptism, Penance, Eucharist and Confirmation as it is ordered today. The reason for the original ordering is the belief that the guidance of the Holy Spirit is necessary to fully appreciate and celebrate the sacraments of Penance and Eucharist. By lowering the age for the reception of the Eucharist and by also encouraging more frequent reception of the Eucharist, Pius X was trying to restore the Eucharist as a right rather than reward. In the encyclical, Quam Singulari he was specifically addressing the fallout from the heresy of Jansenism which saw the Eucharist as reward for good behaviour rather than spiritual nourishment for the pilgrim journey. We are all too familiar with the legacy of Jansenism in Ireland. Writing in 1912 the commentator W.P. Ryan in his book entitled The Pope’s Green Island said, ‘the heart and the spirit gave way in a sort of terrorism before the priest. In his days of dominance, he did much to make Irish local life a dreary desert’.

A Markedly Different Era.

This is a different era. The cultural challenges are not as obvious as was the cultural trap of poverty and industrialisation in the early part of the last century; furthermore, there is very little evidence of Jansenism. If the present method of dispensing the sacraments is not serving to renew faith why aren’t real changes being made? Looking at Pius X’s original intention is it possible that those who partake in First Communion know the difference between Eucharistic Bread and ordinary bread? Do parents, teachers and priests note a genuine desire for the reception of the Eucharist which is distinctly different from a desire to mark a cultural rite of passage? Furthermore is there strong evidence to show that preparation for and reception of the Eucharist in its present form is helping young people overcome the negative dimensions of contemporary culture which demean their dignity as human beings? Is the way we presently celebrate the sacraments perceived by people as just another of the cultural packages that are letting us down rather than raising us up?

The Church is using the term Evangelisation more frequently and more lavishly. This is not an era to be tinkering with new toys; it is a time to delve into our deeper traditions. Many programmes are looking for a focus. Communities can form around novel ideas which do not last long.  If preparation was moved from its present cultural prison, then the Eucharist could well be the source and summit of the new evangelisation. In his address to the Catholic lay faithful in Freiburg, Benedict X said, ‘of continuing importance is the link with the vital life-source that is the Eucharist, since cut off from Christ we can do nothing’.


Referring to change in a European setting Ulrick Beck describes two energies of transformation; revolution and evolution[ii]. Revolution describes the decisions that are made to bring about change and evolution describes how the supranational institutions exhausted the potential of these decisions. The only hopeful note in this is that the presence of these two energies has meant that while European integration has faltered it will never regress. Church practise is regressing, basic statistics tell us this, and maybe this is evidence enough to suggest that this is a time for revolution rather than evolution. This article suggests that it is timely to correct the errors in the sacramental programme. Restoring the Eucharist to its rightful place as the source and summit of people’s faith is best left to the actions of the revolutionary rather than the evolutionary. Today more often than not the confused cultural packaging is often deemed to be more important than the precious present lying within.


On reflection both Leo XIII and Pius X were revolutionaries. Neither allowed the prevailing culture dictate the pace. They made strong statements and implemented changes which sought to support people’s faith journey.  We need to revert to their wisdom rather than their practices in the face of current social, cultural and religious challenges. Starting with First Communion, real choices have to be made. Is First Communion presently in the right place? Does it need to be celebrated after Confirmation?  If Eucharist is nourishment for the journey at what age should it be celebrated? Should it be more closely association with understanding and desire rather than a particular year in school? Should preparation and reception of the Eucharist be more deeply associated with the vision that Benedict XVI holds for faith formation where people… ‘come to see more and more clearly that everyone stands in need of this nourishment of love, this concrete friendship with others and with the Lord’[iii].

[i] McCann Colum,(2009), Let the Great World Spin, London, Bloomsbury Publishing. (pg. 126)

[ii] Beck, Ulrich and Grande, Edgar (2008) Cosmopolitan Europe, Cambridge, Polity Press. (pg. 45)

[iii] Benedict XVI, Meeting of the Catholic Lay Faithful, Seminary, Freiburg im Breisgau, Saturday, 24 September 2011

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Ireland is Changing Mother: Contextualising the Changing Nature of Religious Belief

The paper is posted on this site for the convienience of conference participants. This paper is a work in progress so please limit the circulation to those who attended the conference. Copying the paper onto blog sites may create formating problems so please be considerate of this when you are reading the content. Conference participants are invited to post comments to stimulate a discussion between participants however the author will not be replying to posts in this instance.

Conference: Changing Leadership and Enduring Values

Title: Ireland is Changing Mother: Contextualising the Changing Nature of Religious Belief

Facilitated by the United Dioceses of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert

Saturday, 21st April 2012

Fr. Alan Hilliard M.Soc.Sc. (Applied Social Policy)



From a faith perspective, a study of sociology and social policy provides very helpful insights into the manner in which the life of faith and its practise is contextualised. The study can also examine how this context can impact on the religious faith that one cherishes, holds or leaves aside. At the outset of this talk I’d like to state that there is strong evidence in sociology to suggest that there is evidence of growth in the sector. There are certain characteristics of that growth that are worth noting which can be applied by across the board This paper will show allude to these trends at a later stage of the presentation.

The need to approach religious faith differently is alluded to in a poem entitled Education by Brendan Kennelly:

I am not transmission

I am transformation,

or so the happy Indian philosopher says.

But look at the experts.

When one o’ them stands before you

he transmits and you learn

He knows he knows, and if you

don’t know he knows, you know


The Indian says he heard of a man

so eager to get to the top

he laboured hard for forty years

Until he reached the summit of his dreams.

he looked all about him and found


That’s where transmission led him,

he came back down, went to New York

and became a taxi-driver.

He enjoyed driving strangers whose faces

Were transformed by a new kind of hope

In a city of possibility[i].

The aim of this paper is to bring this gathering to the beginnings of the path that leads to ‘a city of possibility’. It might be too much to expect that when a person leaves this conference today that he or she may be transformed by a new kind of hope, however if this gathering feels they can glimpse hope and the means by which this hope can be articulated and achieved it will have been deemed a success. I know the organisers of this conference want the theme of Changing Leadership and Enduring Values to be couched in the language of transformation, not transmission. This is an immense challenge to those who are presenting today. It raises high expectations and runs the risk that people may leave disappointed. That is why this paper is clear in its remit that it hopes to leave this group with the sense that they have found the beginnings of a path that leads to a ‘city of possibility’.

Sociological Perspective

In order to achieve this, the paper examines what we might term the larger realities. In the first instance this paper will examine how these larger realties influence how we live our lives. We can be like the man reaching the summit of our dreams and finding nothing because we fail to understand or take account of their influence on our lives. By becoming aware of these larger realities we are presented with an opportunity to either use them to our advantage, or to detach from them. It is in this vein that this paper will look at how the concept of Europe affects the our local context. From here we will look at how this overall context impacts on the concept of you and me. The paper illustrates how these larger realities are impacting upon the nature of religious belief and practise. Finally and if we get there, we can begin to indicate how leadership and values need to be transformed in the name of ‘a new kind of hope’.

This approach fits in with what is termed a sociological perspective. There is no doubt that there are many ways of addressing the topic of religion and it’s role from a sociological perspective. There are many factors in society that shape, regulate, advance or support religion. However for the sake of clarity and for the benefit of the gathering here today let us just accept that ‘social perspectives focus our attention on patterns of human life and in the factors that shape it’[ii]. To achieve its purpose, social perspectives often artificially simplify the subject under discussion in order to make the task of analysis less complex. This involves a degree of abstraction from our own complexities and agendas if the task is to be worthwhile and fruitful.

I preface my remarks by highlighting that a lot of my insights come from my work and reflections on migrants and migration. One may wonder what this has to do with the topic today.  The migration perspective is not one that looks solely at migrants; the migration debate immerses one in the larger realities that impact on vulnerable people. This has been outlined in a recent work Paul Scheffer, a social scientist from the Netherlands when he said that;

the debate about migration is so enlightening. A society must win the acceptance of newcomers by seeing their arrival as a reason to measure itself against its own ideals[iii]

Participant’s Perspective

Conferences like this often lessen their impact because the people who attend them are consciously or unconsciously seeking ways to build up their own congregations or they are unconsciously thinking about those people out there, people that we have to ‘get at’ or ‘get in’. Conferences often end with the cry ‘how can we get this message out to the people in the street’. For the duration of this paper and if possible for the duration of the day can we move away from a sense of ‘otherness’. Can we refrain from thinking about ‘them out there’ and think of ‘me’ and ‘us’ in here. Firstly because we are probably the only social factors that we have a degree of immediate control and influence over and secondly because the way that the world is shifting reveals that we ‘in here’, are in as much of a muddle as ‘them out there’. If we can’t muddle through our muddle we won’t be much help to anyone else. As outlined earlier, a sociological perspective demands that we develop a degree of abstraction from our own complexities and agendas.

Left Behind.

There is nothing like a good poet to help us abstract; to stand back from our realties and to examine them. Changing Ireland is captured by the poet Rita Anne Higgins in her work Ireland is Changing Mother

Now the Namibian Gods and the Bally Bane Taliban

Are bringing the local yokels

to their menacing senses

and scoring more goals than Cú Chulainn

Ireland is changing mother

Tell yourself, tell your sons[iv]

There is a sense communicated in this poem that if we peel away the platitudes that pander to our seeming progress as a nation, it appears that rather than progressing there is a growing sense that we are out of control and that people are being left behind. The world as it is currently enfolding, is bringing ‘the local yokels to their menacing senses’.  Yes, Ireland is changing mother, Limerick is changing mother; and it is changing so fast mother that the feeling occupying me more and more is that of a person who is being left behind. Christian Churches spent many years looking after those who have been left behind. But now the Churches themselves are the ones who are feeling left behind and who is ministering to them? When somebody approaches for assistance these days, their plight often opens windows and doors on one’s own uncertainties and insecurities whereas in the past, a person’s plight was fodder for our enthusiastic missions and ministries.  As this paper will show, the uncertainties and insecurities experienced now are not economic ones alone; they more often than not belong to the world of faith, belief and belonging. Ireland is indeed changing mother, tell yourself and tell your sons! Before attempting to examine the sense of being ‘left behind’ this paper will now examine how the larger forces at play in the world are contributing to this situation.

The Impact of Larger Realities.

There is no doubt that globalisation has brought benefits to many. The feeling of being at home in many different places in the world is a reality for some. I heard someone at a conference last week say that they are at home wherever their mobile phone gets a signal! The congruence of nation, state and society is no longer the norm as it was in bygone years and we are all too aware at times that many live in a global society which now transcends national borders. Globalisation, while providing benefits for many has at the same time created difficulties for others. We see this in our own country. There are those that can fly with friends and families to Bordeaux to taste the first grapes and then there are elderly men who can no longer go to the local pub for a social drink. There are others who globe trot to conferences and summits on the theme of environmental destruction using tons of fossil fuels to get there, when others can no longer foot a trailer load of turf for the winter. From the perspective of my own research interest in migration and emigration, I see a large vault opening up between what one might term the plain and simple forced emigrant and the more highly cultivated members of the diaspora. While globalisation creates interconnectedness for some; for many more there is a feeling of being left behind, yes Ireland is changing mother, tell yourself and tell your sons.

This should not come as a surprise as globalisation has served to increase the number of people across the globe who find themselves ‘left behind’. One simple illustration of this point is the fact that in the last two hundred and fifty years, the income ratio between the richest and poorest countries of the world has increased rather than decreased. Over a two hundred and fifty year period the gap has increased from 5:1 to 400:1[v]. One of the greatest analysts of what is termed cosmopolitanism i.e. the way we live as a result of globalisation is the sociologist Craig Calhoun. Calhoun argues that the cosmopolitan ideal of a global civil society ‘can sound uncomfortably like those of the civilizing mission behind colonialism’[vi]. Much of the language of globalisation is framed in the language of economics. Whereas the economic effects can be measured and can be averted to, it is, as the writer Christopher Caldwell reminds us that while the economic effects of globalisation are puny and transitory and ‘the social, spiritual and political effects…are huge and enduring’ [vii].

The implications of these shifts in society for the gathering here today are significant. A conference dealing with the themes of leadership and values could justifiably ask; who is leading the charge on this globalising world and what values are driving those who lead the charge? The task of answering this question is compounded by the fact that systems of governance are less likely to be grounded within specific geographic confines as they were in the past. One view is that;

The logical consequences of globalisation is that the ‘solidarity of communities, which relies on shared territory, disappears and in its place temporary groupings emerge based on shared interests’[viii].

The emerging alliances of shared interests consist of networks that reach far beyond national borders and are to a large degree non-transparent. The shared interests referred to may, for the large part, be at variance with the shared interests of those in this room or those leaders across the world who promotes the values of the Christian Gospel.  The point being made is that the challenge for institutions that subsist in Europe, no matter how large or small, is to define their borders while at the same time being conscious that they are part of larger realties that can affect them in a variety of ways.


Societal Muddle

This conflict between local need on one hand and on the other hand the pressure that the larger realities bring to bear on decisions and actions is a major challenge for those charged with nurturing leadership and values. This is particularly true for those in the Churches. It is in fact a societal muddle that we now find ourselves in. The American sociologist José Casanova describes this muddle as a tear at the heart of Europe. Casanova has an interesting perspective on European culture; simply put he proposes that the reason why Europe is a torn place is that it cannot decide what rules it’s heart. As a single entity, Europe is

unable to answer the question whether European unity, and therefore its external and internal boundaries, should be defined by the common heritage of Christianity and western civilization, or by its modern, secular views of liberalism, universal human rights, political democracy, and tolerant and inclusive multiculturalism[ix].

This indecisiveness over her cultural identity contributes to the tear in the fabric of Europe. Casanova is of the view that this tear appears in all discussions about Europe and it’s institutions including its Churches and the lives of its peoples. Time doesn’t permit, but one could do an analysis of this statement in relation to a number of social institution including, migration policy, education, welfare etc. From the perspective of the Churches, Casanova argues that the denominational basis of American religious belief and the Constitutional approach to belief has protected the religious freedom of people and denominations in the United States. This is in marked contrast to Europe which as Casanova’s outlines has a rather more muddled core and foundation. One conclusion that could be made at this stage is that if people or organisations fail to become the determinants of leadership and of the values which their organisations profess they will end up very muddled as will those in their care.

Casanova is not alone in his views. Institutionally, Europe may at times lay claim to its Christian heritage, however there has been a definite shift in its values and its moral code over the last century. The sociologist Ulrich Beck writes about this shift. Beck explains this shift as one from the previous dominant model of morality of duty which was largely informed by the Christian heritage of Europe to one informed by a more secularist, republican, legal mind-set. This shift is a contributory factor to this tear. The moral framework based in its Christian heritage provided Europe and it’s entities including individuals, nations, leadership and their underlying values with a duty based morality. Presently, the growing legal basis and mind-set in Europe is creating a rights based form of leadership and values.

The implications of Casanova and Beck’s insights into the ‘tear’ at the heart of Europe compounded by the loss of a sense of duty has everyone holding onto their rights i.e. their piece of cloth. This is in no doubt a major challenge to those promoting a strong moral viewpoint based on a religious belief framework. Christian moral tradition may promote the rights of individuals or groups but not at the expense of duties. This tear may be the very item that makes you feel left behind like the ‘local yokel’. It is the view of Ulrich Beck’s that what is in actual fact happening is we are creating ‘a legally binding world society of individuals’[x]. This view is not uncommon. Writing on the subject of toleration one of America’s foremost political thinkers observes;

Rates of disengagement from cultural association and identity for the sake of the private pursuit of happiness (or the desperate search for economic survival) are so high these days that all that groups worry about how to hold the periphery and ensure their own future[xi].

The appearance of a society of individuals whose focus is holding onto their piece of cloth before it is torn out of their hands is not a very pretty picture especially for anyone who is trying to frame the role of leadership and is seeking to identify values that will serve to sustain the future well-being of society.

This paper has so far outlined how the larger realities impact on the institutions of Europe including the Churches. How these larger realties impact on the life of individuals within Europe is the subject of the next section.

The Muddled Individual

Writing on the effect of decades of social change in Europe Christopher Caldwell states that the most important value in Europe is democracy. However he goes onto say that there is a striking lack of confidence in the capacity of democracy to address the important issue of values[xii]. This inability contributes to the tendency of people to recourse to individualism. Despite a deeper desire to act out of Christian duty, people find themselves resorting to a form of individualism. More and more those who desire on the one hand to do the dutiful thing are finding themselves acting in an manner quite opposite to their wishes; they find themselves becoming what they most despise. I remind you that Caldwell writes from the perspective of migration. He makes the following observation.

Contrary to widespread suspicions, the old, cushy social contracts, the Europe of stable marriages, plentiful jobs, light policing and frictionless social relations is not being sneakily withheld from Muslim and other newcomers by Europeans who have grown tired of offering it to them. Such a social contract is no longer available to Europeans themselves. For a good number of European natives, particularly working class ones, expulsion from the culture of their parents is the story of their lives[xiii] .

Yes indeed Ireland is changing mother, tell yourself and tell your sons! This then raises the question as to the type of society that we Europeans are being formed and nurtured in. This paper is of the view that whereas globalisation may be driven by economics, the outcomes of the globalised market are far greater than those which economics alone can account for. Termed factors of production, people are agents of social, cultural and religious change. Europeans see that their countries can no longer be saved by the traditional historical political institutions. This is felt most forcibly in their individual lives. They are discovering that being ‘left behind’ no longer has the luxury of being just a financial matter; it is as much emotional, sociological and religious as it is financial. Listen as to how the sociologist Ulrich Beck describes the contemporary Sitz im Leiben. Describing the plight of the individual in our contemporary western society he says;

They are forced to learn how to create biographical narrative of their own and continuously to revise their definition of themselves. In the process they have to create abstract principles with which to justify their decisions. The notion that the ‘personal lives’ of isolated individuals are controlled utterly by social mega-institutions –the state, science, capitalism, the culture industry – is dubious, if only because these institutions are fluid. On the other hand, ‘individuals –  or ‘dividuals’ – are by no means completely identical with or fully integrated into the networks of society. Caught up in the elimination of tradition brought about by the individualisation and globalisation process, individuals are condemned to transform themselves into ingenious tinkerers and do-it-yourself creators of their own unviable identities.  Their lives become a ‘world of worlds’ from which nothing is excluded and where decisions have to be constantly taken in haste. In the world risk society, individuals have lost the necessary distance from themselves to make reflection possible. They are simply no longer in a position to construct linear, narrative biographies.  They spend their lives balancing on a circus high-wire between divorce, losing their jobs, permanent self-praise and flexible entrepreneurship. They are not artists creating themselves but bunglers cobbling an identity together. They improvise, amalgamate and construct ad hoc alliances in order to cope with inexorable demands, such as ferrying the child to the nursery or substituting a menu of one’s own for the ‘weekly poison’. Everything is always on the point of breakdown. Whether it is a question of the ingredients of the evening meal, flight safety, care for the sick, old-age insurance, the EU, the University, peace, the climate or the Middle East, we find ourselves forced to live in a world full of risk in which both knowledge and life opportunities have become uncertain in principle. This is the new immediacy –which poses automatic responses where in earlier times reflection may well have been possible. Everything becomes too close for comfort; stimuli have to be promptly, immediately resisted, ruled out and held in check. A state of emergency has become commonplace and normal. We are looking at a completely normal state of chaos, the normal fragmentation of an individualised existence[xiv].

In this extract, Beck captures the essence of the individual who is left behind. Maybe he captures our individual predicaments. At the beginning of this paper there was a suggestion that we lose the sense of otherness; the words of Beck leave us with little choice The lack of reflection that he refers to is not the reflection that involves taking time out but the sheer impossibility of the act of reflection as the range of outcomes are now beyond the scope of our wildest imaginings. Beck artfully illustrates the life of the individual within a western European context as one whose limited ability to reflect impacts on decisions and narratives of life. People are described as individuals who are cobbling together bits of life rather than ones who create a beautiful canvas. The balancing act is no longer just between budgets but between social chasms. The weariness of constant stimuli causes people to fluctuate between constant response and creative avoidance, and to further fluctuate between the permanent states of emergency and chaos that we create and are created for us.

Similar to Casanova’s tear, Beck’s tensions run across the institutions of Europe. They are to be found in the world of work, churches, trade unions and party politics which ultimately lead to new kinds of ‘combinations and demarcations’. When you stand back from his description of contemporary humanity and society the life of the individual appears cluttered, frustrated and muddled. To further add to the human plight today, Beck sheds a light on our precarious situation when he explains that in the face of these issues people’s expectations are also very high.

One is supposed to discover in the kingdom of one’s own life the very thing that in earlier times was seemed to dwell in paradise: what is sought today is paradise now, in the here and now of one’s own life[xv].

Indeed, Ireland is indeed changing mother, tell yourself and tell your sons. The tear occurring across our institutions and within the life of the individual is at the heart of understanding the task of leadership today and why the articulation of values is an important part of an organisation’s future.

Marking Religion in a Muddled Europe

Looking at the task in hand namely the identification of changing leadership and enduring values we can rightly ask where does this tear and the move to individualism that has brought about muddled societies and muddled individuals leave us? Could this tear or muddleness be the ‘plan of God’ so to speak?’ Could it be the work of the Holy Spirit? To move from theology or devotional language to the language of sociology could it be the case that rather than religion and religious belief collapsing is it more the culturally defined aspects of religious belief are on the decline? In order to preserve itself is religious belief effectively tearing itself away from a secular based culture that is trying to define it according to its own secularizing needs and as such is taking from religious beliefs the ability and right to define itself? Is it that for too long religious belief has been restricted by a very tight fitting garment, measured and cut in part by state institutions? Are some religious leaders more comfortable with the secular shackles of religious belief and practice and less with its religious content? The answers to these questions are the beginnings of the path that was referred to at the outset of this paper. The answers are key to mobilising leadership and identifying values.

These are the types of questions and matters for discussion that one finds in the writings of Olivier Roy. A world renowned authority on Islam and politics he has now turned his attention to the various manifestations of religious belief in contemporary European settings. Roy’s thesis is that there are four elements at play in the interaction between religion and culture. (So that there is no confusion as to his stance on religion,Roy’s view is one that is shared by many sociologists and anthropologists that religion is one of the many symbolic systems and as such ‘is an integral part of any given culture’pg. 28). The four elements are: norms; religiosity; theology and finally, religious markers. The first of these terms namely norms indicate that religions have their own norms which even though may be subject to revision at certain times, for the large part they govern the moral order of the various religions. On occasion and in specific cultural settings, religious and social norms can overlap; on other occasions they can be at odds with one another. Religiosity is defined as faith as it is lived among believers and it is how individuals most often define themselves to the outside world. Theology is a set of beliefs which can be discussed rationally and are in keeping with certain methodologies. Most of the world religions have a theological dimension; there are some that rely more on myth than theology. However, of these four it is the category of the religious marker that is most applicable to this paper.

To understand the concept of a religious marker one must first realise that ‘pure religion’ cannot exist. To the extent that faith exists without culture it is seen as a form of fanaticism. In order to manifest itself, religion creates a culture as it has done in Europe and in other countries within which it subsists. Even within the culture that religion creates religions have to manufacture religious markers to sustain and reproduce itself. It is within this context that Roy defines the religious marker as;

The sign, the action, the name, the heading that endorses the sacredness of an object, area or person[xvi].

Religious Markers

What is of value to this paper is Roy’s observation of the cultural markers ability to nullify the religious marker. He cites examples of these phenomena. For instance in France in the early part of the last century, the Catholic Church was encouraged to become involved with the various social, cultural and sporting activities in the belief that God’s grace was to be found in the ‘profane’ areas of life. This approach was supported by the theologies of people like Dietrich Bonheoffer. These actions in a way contributed to laïcité’s ambition of excluding religion from the public space[xvii]. Similarly, in the era of colonisation religions, both Catholic and Protestant, were initially aids to the colonisation process. Bishops were appointed only with the approval of the colonial power, anyone who set up an independent mission was promptly sent home as was the case of the first Catholic priest in Sydney. In certain branches of Protestantism the view was promoted that one could only enjoy communion with the church if they were manifesting ‘visible civilities’[xviii] i.e. that converts dressed properly and spoke a grammatically correct form of the colonists language. In other words the demonstration of the cultural marker was deemed at times to be as important, if not more important than the religious marker The main point made by Roy from these varying examples is that the belief dimension of religion can be swallowed up by culture, reducing it to a vague form of religiosity at best and at other times reducing religious belief to mere folklore. Putting this phenomenon into the ‘marker’ terminology the religious marker loses its identity becoming just another cultural marker.

This phenomenon is captured beautifully by John O’Brien in one of his poems entitled ‘The Boy from Tangmalangmaloo’. The poem describes a visit by the Bishop to the local bush school where he set about examining the religious knowledge of the students; i.e. checking the strength of the religious marker. One of the questions he asked was ‘what is the significance of Christmas day?’. Without hesitation the boy from Tanmalangmaloo raised his hand and answers; ‘It’s the day before the races, out at Tangmalangmaloo’. While this may be amusing; religious people today can be today disturbed when Easter is more about bunnies and chocolate than death and resurrection and Christmas Day can be reduced to the days before the races out at Leopardstown!

What is interesting to note from our colonial examples that there came a point in time when both Catholic and Protestant missionaries realised that their religious marker was being swallowed up by the cultural marker and steps were taken and revisions were made to address this. Some were happy to continue promoting the cultural marker as they didn’t really understand or know the religious content their mission. Others, over time tried to make themselves independent of the colonial powers and the cultural marker. For the Catholic Church this saw the seeds of Ultramontanism. Fearful of the control of religion by nation states and subsequent erosion of the religious content of their labours, Rome retreated and direct control became the tool of Vatican policy. Within some of the protestant churches there was a marked a shift from a theology dominated by predestination to an ‘Arminianist’ view that salvation was available to the entire human race if people chose to be saved.

For the ordinary Christian, Roy’s insights may help illustrate why it is getting more difficult to find a foothold in society. The sense of a tear in the fabric of society, the sense of being left behind, maybe is less to do with what one might see as a conscious religious bias. Rather it may be as much about a secularist world that finds itself taking possession of and defining the content of the religious markers which in the first place ought to be primarily the prerogative of the religious communities. Churches can collude with non-regligious entities as the content of the religious markers are defined by those who have little knowledge of their value and tradition for a variety of reasons. For instance, the religious marker can be compromised in cases where established Churches may want to hold onto status or funding. The fact that Roy has spent most of his academic life researching the relationship between Islam and politics contributes to his valuable insights. As we are aware Islam is less inclined to have its religious marker compromised by secularist mind-sets and agendas.

The interplay between the religious marker and the cultural marker provides a key to the future. History reminds us that the religious marker refuses to be swallowed up completely by the cultural marker. The evidence of this abounds. In the protestant tradition religious revivalism serves to strengthen the religious marker and similarly the establishment of new religious orders in the Catholic tradition with charisms that challenge the enmeshment of the cultural and religious marker at that specific point in history. Roy show’s that religion and religious belief is always reformulating itself but to do so means it often has to loose ‘its original and incestuous link with culture’. One consoling conclusion that religious people could possibly make in the light of these insights is that the crisis today may be not be just a matter for religious belief and practice alone. It may have more to do with the collapse of contemporary European culture. Religion and religious belief is going over the cliff like the trailer on a car; the challenge is to uncouple the trailer. Maybe this is the gift of this present age. As Roy says;

Secularization and globalisation have forced religions to break away from culture, to think of themselves as autonomous and to reconstruct themselves in a space that is no longer territorial and is therefore no longer subject to politics[xix].

Trends in Religious Markers

This paper aimed to find the beginnings of a path that would take people on a journey towards some sense of a future for those who have an interest in the challenges facing religious leadership and formulating religious values in a contemporary European setting. Whereas the value of the local community is a non-negotiable, one cannot ignore the larger realities that impinge on our daily tasks and efforts. Identifying the religious marker may be seen by some to be a little obvious or predictable but it does raise important issues for established Churches. People can choose to ignore the need to discuss and identify the nature of ‘religious markers’ in the faith life of individuals and communities today at their peril. If churches continue to be enmeshed in the overarching culture from which the religious marker is trying to free itself, refusing to notice the signs of the times, then they will only succeed in leading their flocks into an abyss and into a valueless social entity. What is necessary is to move the search beyond identity to a distinct way of being.  Indeed it is the view of Roy that the discussion and debate about identity has succeeded only in distracting churches from the demands of pastoral engagement. Religious faith and belonging can no longer be presumed to be as it was in the past. Religious markers have to be identified in the midst of people’s muddleness as described earlier. In this regard, debates about identity alone have to cease in favour of a discussion on definite values that point to the sacred and the way the sacred is made manifest in the life of those that profess them.

There are many reasons why those of us engaging this process at this conference should revisit the religious content of the churches. The marker according to Roy, give expression to that which is crying out for expression in the face of a collapsing culture. The marker reinforces the importance and significance of endorsing or re-endorsing the sacredness of a person, an area or an object in signs, actions, names and headings. That which is sacred needs to be raised up and moved beyond the taken for grantedness that recent research has shown to be a characteristic of not only the institutions of Europe but also by the membership of the Churches.

However there is a more compelling reason why one should define religious markers. Those that have done so are thriving. The fastest growing religions in the world are conservative groups on the one hand and evangelical groups on the other. People are walking away from the established religions whose markers are enmeshed in secular mind-sets.

Secularisation mainly erodes unconscious religion: the taken-for-granted, moderate faiths that trade on being mainstream and established[xx].

The religions that are thriving today are religions that have less dependency on clerical overlords, they have named and emphasised what are easily accessible religious markers. Islam is a case in point. The world’s Muslim population has grown from 200 million in 1900 to 1.5 billion today.  Capturing the spirit behind this growing phenomenon the recent publication God is Back reports that

The most common response to the question of what people in the Muslim world most admire about themselves is faithfulness to their religious beliefs. The definition of a lackadaisical Muslim is somebody who prays only once a day[xxi].

The evangelical churches reveal a similar trend. In Brazil the ratio of Protestant evangelical pastors to worshippers is eighteen times higher than the ratio of priests to Catholics[xxii]. The established churches may pride themselves in their intellectual traditions but it is a notable trend that people rely less on intellectual tradition and more on what one might term the emotional engagement of their religious quest. The title of Oliver Roy’s work Holy Ignorance is testament to this. It is not that people set out to reject an intellectual tradition. Those drawn to Pentecostal and Evangelical Churches believe that the presence of the almighty is un-mediated by knowledge[xxiii].

This may sound extreme; however there is a similar trend in Islam as only twenty per cent of Muslims speak Arabic as their first language. Furthermore illiteracy rates are quite high in Arabic countries; as a result approximately forty per cent of those living in Arab countries are unable to read Arabic.  For a religion where the vast majority of its people are unable able to fully access what they are reciting or memorizing; their religion is growing at an extraordinary rate[xxiv]. The fear that Europe has towards Islam is similar to the fear the political establishment in America had of Catholicism in earlier centuries. This fear related not just to the growing numbers among their membership but to the unmeltable nature of their religious markers[xxv]. When looking at the religious markers in the frame of reference of the established churches one is reminded of ‘Christian Europe’s enduring preoccupation with practical ritual and abstract theologizing’[xxvi].

Discussion and Conclusion

The muddleness of life in a European context as outlined in this paper may resonate with some you here in this room. The sense of a tear or a rip in the culture of Europe and felt in the lives of individuals and institutions may help clarify the reasons why many feel left behind. That Ireland is ‘changing mother’ and that we ‘the local yokels’ are being brought to our ‘menacing senses’, may not be news but it may be a relief to understand that our sense of helplessness and isolation is determined by the impact of larger realities. Knowing this, local communities can withstand the impact of these influences if they take responsibility for certain aspects of their lives such as the definition and ownership of religious markers.

As individuals desperately hold onto their piece of the cloth and as Europe subtly creates what Beck terms as ‘ a legally binding world society of individuals’ where do the Churches and those within them stand. Are we trying to grab our bit of the cloth; are we trying to cleave bits together for the sake of an empty historicity and a cosy familiarity or are we trying to shape something new?

The finding that the religious marker is separating itself from a culture that is draining it of life provides an interesting starting point. It is in actual fact, the beginnings of a path that leads to ‘a city of possibility’. The sacred character of the religious marker is a characteristic of growth in religious movements; those within religious organisations that are overly defined by secular culture are witnessing an accelerating decline. It is not the job of individual leaders to tell people where and what the religious markers are today. It is the task of reflective communities to lead one another unapologetically towards a naming and claiming of the sacred in the various strata’s of life. This again is a characteristic of the religions that are growing in membership

One does not have to take an overly scientific view to realise that many people are separating their religious markers from institutional aspects of religions. Even those that do attend church regularly are consciously separating aspects of their lives from the institutions so they can preserve some sense of their integrity. Research shows that those who have left formal religion are not ardent secularists; they actual may still pray, believe in the importance of religion and have no issue with attending church on occasion[xxvii]. The results of the recent survey conducted by the Association of Catholic Priests confirm this. People undergo this process of separation to preserve and protect their God. If established church communities rely on traditional totems to the detriment of the religious markers which capture the presence of the sacred in todays’ world, then established churches will become nothing more than, ‘a religiously bound world society of individuals’ thus manifesting the symptoms of a society in free fall.

[i] Kennelly, Brendan,2009, Reservoir Voices, Northumberland, Bloodaxe Books Limited, pg. 62

[ii] Arweck, Elisabeth and Beckford, James A. Social Perspectives in Woodhead, Linda and Catto Rebecca, 2012 Religion and Change in Modern Britain, Oxford, Routledge. pg 353

[iii] Scheffer, Paul,2007, Immigrant Nations, Cambridge, Polity Press, pg. 320

[iv] Higgins, Rita Ann,2011, Ireland is Changing Mother, Northumberland, Bloodaxe Books. pg 10.

[v] Goldin, I., Cameron, G., Balarajan, M., 2011 Exceptional People, How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pg. 221

[vi] Calhoun Craig, The Class Consciousness of Frequent Travellers: Towards a Critique of Actually Existing Cosmopolitanism IN Vertovec, Stepehn and Cohen, Robin eds, 2008, Conceiving Cosmopolitanism, Oxford, Oxford University Press. pg 92.

[vii] Caldwell, Christopher 2009, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe; Can Europe be the same with different people in it?, London, Allen Lane. Pg. 32.

[viii] Guéhenno, Jean-Marie in Scheffer, Paul, Immigrant Nations, Cambridge, MA: Polity Press. (pg. 105)

[ix] Casanova, José, 2009 Immigration and the New Religious Pluralism IN Levey, Geoffrey Brahm and Modood Tariq,(eds) Secualrism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press,( pgs 144-145)

[x] Ibid pg. 66.

[xi] Walzer, Michael 1997 On Toleration, New Haven, CN: Yale University Press. pg. 102

[xii] Caldwell, Christopher,2009, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, London, Penguin Books. pg 261

[xiii] Ibid pg. 282

[xiv] Beck, Ulrich, 2010, A God of One’s Own, Cambridge, Polity Press. pg.124

[xv] Ibid pg 129

[xvi] Roy, Olivier, (2010) Holy Ignorance, London, C.Hurst & Co. (Publishers) Ltd. pg.30

[xvii] Taylor, Charles, Forward: What is Secularism?, IN Levey, Geoffrey Braham and Tariq Modood, 2009, Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pg. xix

[xviii] Ibid (pg 53)

[xix] Ibid pg 2

[xx] Kaufmann,2010, Eric, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth, London, Profile Books Ltd. Pg,253

[xxi] Micklethwait, John and Adrian Wooldridge,2009, God is Back: How the Global Rise of Faith is Changing the World, London, Penguin Books. pg. 278

[xxii] Ibid pg 221

[xxiii] Roy, Olivier, 2010 Holy Ignorance, London, C.Hurst & Co. (Publishers) Ltd. (pg.145)

[xxiv] Micklethwait, John and Adrian Wooldridge,2009, God is Back: How the Global Rise of Faith is Changing the World, London, Penguin Books. pg. 269

[xxv] Kaufmann,2010, Eric, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth, London, Profile Books Ltd. Pg,184

[xxvi] Davies, Douglas J., Changing British Ritualization IN Woodhead, Linda and Rebecca Catto, 2012 Religion and Change in Modern Britain, Oxford, Routledge. pg 204

[xxvii] Putnam, Robert D. and David F. Campbell, 2010, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, pg. 176. Rick Warren is one of Americas most successful evangelists. His church emphasises the following issues: leadership training for pastors, addiction recovery based on the bible; an AIDS initiative; humanitarian aid to the developing world; fostering public dialogue, care for orphans and a program to oppose religious persecution. Putnam and Campbell wrote that even though he is a social conservative his churches do not include mention of issues like abortion, gay marriage or other such issues which have preoccupied fundamentalist churches.

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Please Leave in an Orderly Fashion

This article is published in Milltown Studies No 67 Summer 2011 pg 85-118

Please Leave in an Orderly Fashion


Alan Hilliard*


Growing up as a member of the Catholic Community in Dublin in the seventies, I was familiar with the term ‘rapidly expanding diocese.’ The phrase was coined by the late Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Dermot Ryan. Dublin was growing; areas such as Tallaght, Clondalkin, Swords, Lucan and Bray were undergoing major development and growth. In fact, Dublin promoted itself as the fastest growing Catholic Diocese in Europe.

This paper is not about the Archdiocese of Dublin. The reference to Dublin is made to highlight the transition from a church that was growing rapidly a few decades ago to one that is now in decline. This overview of the church in Dublin in the 1970s and 80s is significant if we are to understand the present. While members of the church in Dublin may respond emotively to the term ‘organisation in decline,’ it is important to point out that one of the main proponents marking the declining nature of the church is the present Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin. In various addresses, he specifies that certain parishes have a practice rate of 3%.[1]

The German Catholic Church has also experienced decline since revelations of clerical child sexual abuse have come to the fore. Recording membership of the Catholic Church in Germany is an easier exercise than it is in most other jurisdictions, owing to the ‘Church Tax’ (Kirchensteuer) which is collected alongside the regular state tax and redistributed to the various religious organsiations and churches of those people from whom the tax is collected. According to the weekly Die Zeit newspaper and based on the number of people who have indicated that they no longer want their ‘Church Tax’ to go to the Catholic Church, about 180,000 Catholics officially ended their church affiliation in 2010, a rise of 50,000 (or 40%) from 2009.[2]

It is the aim of this paper, which is written from a social policy perspective, to identify a framework within which one can investigate, examine and name the present realties at play in the organisational decline of the church with a view to further identifying ways in which this decline can be addressed and even reversed.


G. Bouma defines social policy in terms of

“Efforts to control, organise or direct the shape and operation of a society
designed to achieve particular ends usually seen to be making things better for the society and its people.”[3]

Seeking to make things better for society and its peoples is not at odds with the mission of the Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral constitution of the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, states:

Throughout the course of the centuries, men have laboured to better the circumstances of their lives through a monumental amount of individual and collective effort. To believers, this point is settled: considered in itself, this human activity accords with God’s will.[4]

Finding a framework of understanding that helps to address many of the dynamics that contribute to the decline of organisations is a difficult exercise. Frameworks have a useful purpose, one of which is to allow society to stand in the midst of a decline without being overcome by the various aspects of that decline. Furthermore a framework provides a space to hold opposing ideas in place while being able to continue to function. Finally, a framework means that “One should … be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”[5] A perspective such as the one proposed in this study can offer positive support to an organisation committed to recovery and identify further elements requiring remedial action.

In the absence of an expansive framework such as the one already described, a person could be forced to rely on empirical methodologies or the more traditional propositional approaches. Empirical evidence alone, highlighting number and kind, limits opportunities to explore the nature of motivations and mindsets which, when properly analysed and understood, can assist the work of remediation and re-visioning. At the other end of the spectrum, we can often try to place the events outlined in these reports into one overarching theory that can leave us academically smug but a good bit distant from reality.

While offering a framework as a means of exploring the present circumstances in the Irish Catholic Church, one is aware that the mission and the organisational map of the Catholic Church cannot be reduced to a ‘framework.’ The organisational nature of the Church is far greater than can be captured by any one theory or framework. This paper seeks only to give insights that address the present experience of decline within the current Irish context.




A possible framework worthy of consideration is one proposed by Albert O. Hirschman in his seminal work, Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organisations and States.[6] Written from an economic perspective, this work considers how firms react to a decline in market share.

Hirschman is primarily an economist, who spent much of his working life focusing on economic development in South America. This work convinced him that the remediation of economic recessions was beyond the scope of monetary policy alone. The problem of what he termed a “slack economy” was due to a range of causes, including poor management practices, the existence of monopolies, inefficient use of resources, regulatory failures and mismanagement.[7] In summary, he believed that “No matter how well a society’s basic institutions are devised, a failure of some actors to live up to the behaviour which is expected of them is bound to occur, if only for all kinds of accidental reasons.”[8]

Hirschman’s theory is not so much a finished book but an ongoing research programme,[9] which is proving to be a useful resource in the world of social science. The framework “offers a middle range approach in the continuum between empiricism and grand theories.”[10] Hess values the “middle-range approach”[11] provided by Hirschman and, in particular, the theories ability to “stand within” that which one is critiquing while at the same time creating an “analytical realm” from which one can overview a particular system.

In the sections that follow, I will consider Hirschman’s framework in three phases: a brief overview of Hirschman’s framework; developments of this framework; and, finally, variables that influence the framework.


Hirschman’s basic principle is that people who are unhappy with a good or service can exercise a number of choices. They can choose not to buy the good or service finding another supplier who provides the same or a similar good or service that they are satisfied with (exit). Alternatively they can seek to change the situation by voicing their concerns and dissatisfaction (voice). They can also choose not to exit from the provider of the good or service, choosing not to give voice to their dissatisfaction while remaining loyal to the goods or service on offer (loyalty).

In summary, his initial work argues that an individual has a choice between exit and non-exit, (leaving or staying) and between voice and silence (activity and participation or inactivity or non-participation);[12] these decisions can be tempered by loyalty. From an organisational point of view, decline can be arrested to the extent that exit or voice brings about change.


In order to chart the development and additions to Hirschman’s framework this study will show a number of contributory developments to the concepts of exit, voice and loyalty (EVL). An overall addition to the framework emerged in the application of Hirschman’s framework to human relationships. This addition is termed “neglect.” The terms exit, voice, loyalty and neglect will be jointly referred to as the EVLN framework


Hirschman’s initial understanding of exit reflected a decision by a customer not to purchase a good because they were experiencing a growing dissatisfaction with that good or they were unhappy with an increase in the price of that good. The person then switched their allegiance to another good. Hirschman’s interest was less with the consumer of the good and more with the provider. He believes that the action of an individual or a number of individuals over time constitutes a signal to the provider of that good.

The actual act of exiting is predicated by actively searching for possible alternatives. Regarding employment, the hours spent deliberating over ‘should I stay or should I go’ and considering ‘what are my alternatives’ are indications that one is unhappy with an organisation. In terms of dissatisfaction, they are as significant as the act of leaving. The research of Withey and Cooper found a number of variables that influenced those who choose to exit.[13] These include the following: calculating that the cost of leaving was low; the cost of voicing your opinions and misgivings was considered too high; people were generally dissatisfied anyway; they lacked any hope that the situation would improve; they didn’t care about the organisation and they had attractive
alternatives awaiting them.

It is worth reminding ourselves that the framework is less about the consumer and more about the response or lack of response of those responsible for the provision of a good or service. Examinations of organisations that choose to pay little attention to the exit of its members show the usefulness of this framework. For instance, if leadership is aloof and the exit of people does little to hurt the leadership, collective action is found to be relatively less attractive, thus reducing the incentive for those who feel disenfranchised to organise themselves.[14] This category identifies the worst excesses of the public sector or other sectors that enjoy privileged status in society and who can “for a long time
ignore public opinion and all kinds of pressures.”[15]


This examination of the development and application of Hirschman’s theory of voice within his EVL presents an opportunity to apply the framework to a broader number of settings and contexts. Hirschman returned to his framework in 1993 and applied his EVL theory to the events leading to the collapse of the Berlin Wall.[16] On 3 October, 1989, the frontier of the Federal Democratic Republic of Germany (FDR) at Dresden had to be closed. Former members of the FDR, who had secured permits to travel to the west from FDR embassies in Poland, were being transported via the station in Dresden in sealed trains. Many East Germans hoped they could board the train in the station making their way to West Germany with the many other FDR citizens who had secured permits. The crowds of people grew so large that action had to be taken. Protesters shouted ‘we want out.’ When told to go home, they shouted back ‘we’re staying right here.’ A culture, which for many years had as its hallmark a people who departed ‘secretly, softly and silently,’ was now brought to its knees by a people who chose not to exit and to claim their voice. Private exit became public exit which in turn became public voice. Within days of claiming their right to stay and to give voice to their frustrations, delegations were received by the authorities and negotiations started. Commenting on the events Hirschman concludes,

‘The story that has been told here provides a welcome counterpoint: it essentially chronicles how many East Germans found the road back from exit and apathy to voice, from withdrawal and purely private reaction to public action’.[17]

This example not only shows the importance and adaptability of voice; it reveals that Hirschman’s framework can be applied to situations that extend beyond the rational sphere of the market place.

The use of varying degrees of voice to elicit change from within or without is dependent on one factor identified by Withey and Cooper in their longitudinal study on dissatisfied workers. Their observation was that the effectiveness of voice “is dependent on someone else responding to the behaviour.”[18] The time in which the people of the FDR found their voice coincided with a visit of the then Russian President, Michael Gorbachev. His more tolerant approach to revolutions in neighbouring communist countries supported the citizens in their belief that their voice might now be heard. This suggests that people who use voice do not do so just to be disruptive or cause difficulty; they act in the belief that things can get better. They believe that their voice can impact on those who are responsible for organisations that experience a decline.

Withey and Cooper’s study found that it is often people who have a well-developed internal locus of control that resort to voice (and exit). Those that are motivated by an external locus of control resort to other more passive methods when dealing with decline in an organisation.[19] This would seem to indicate that the most valuable members of an organisation in decline are those that give serious consideration to exiting or those that are most vocal. As a matter of fact, from an organisational point of view loyalty to exit can be more powerful than loyalty to the status quo. For this reason, encouraging voice and facilitating voice gives certain vitality to an organisation, as it is found to have a positive effect on the self-esteem of members and increases their identification with that group.[20]

Conversely, an organisation that quells, distorts, ignores, underestimates or patronises the voices of those that need to make themselves heard or the motivations of people who leave the organisation acts in an irresponsible manner. An organisation that acts with a collectivist mindset, taking little account of the needs of its membership by ignoring voice, creates a situation whereby the exit of its members heralds a further deterioration of that organisation, rather than an occasion to change, adapt and improve the organisation.

A recent study shows the importance of structures that facilitate voice in an organisation.[21] In a rather unusual research topic, the authors asked how structures within Benedictine Monasteries can provide insights to those undertaking Public Sector Reform (PSR). These reforms in the Public Sector have introduced a series of business-like incentives in moving from the concept of public welfare service to a culture of efficiency and economy. The researchers chose Benedictine Communities as a subject for their research; they believed that they are an archetype of public sector organisations as they have a lot in common in terms of purpose and self-conception. The major justification for the study, however, rests in the longevity of monasteries. Whereas fewer than 10% of companies listed in the United States were less than 83 years in existence and the oldest was 280 years old, Benedictine monasteries had an average life span of 463 years as of 2008.[22] The study investigates how the structures within the Benedictine communities have supported their longevity.

The new methodologies of PSR known as New Public Management (NMP) dwelt heavily on external rewards and incentives, whereas the governance of monasteries relied heavily on common value systems, members’ voices and external governance mechanisms. The role of the voice mechanism is to act as a check and balance against the overall governance structure in the monastery which facilities improving control, increasing loyalty and building trust within the community. “Monastic governance demonstrates that voice enhances good governance.”[23] The mechanisms of voice are not merely facilities for monks to have their individual voices heard but structures that ensure that internal agency problems are addressed in a systematic fashion. One practical way of supporting voice is allowing monks to elect their leader. Visitation Teams charged with the responsibility for external governance and periodic monitoring spend time less on the economic situation of the monastery and its various fields of activities and more on the communication structures and the relationship between monks and their superiors.

Participation in codetermination and voting is seen by the rule of the order as compensation for the life-time tenure of the monk. One finding that supports the wisdom of this approach is that a democratically elected abbot had fewer agency problems – “18% of the good but 40% of the poor abbots were outsiders from other monasteries.”[24] Furthermore, the members of the community can discipline the abbot and leadership team in the monastery, preventing fraudulent behaviour. These mechanisms are interpreted by the community as “gift exchanges” rather than disciplinary tools. In return for the life commitment of the monk, the community gift is a mechanism that allows the members voices to be heard within that community. This is an effective process for two reasons; firstly, the mechanism allows the monastery to adapt to agency problems as they arise; secondly, studies have found that in situations where internal motivation is high, the impositions of externally driven motivational incentives “can backfire and reduce the agents’ performance.”[25] Voice that works from within as a continuum is always more effective than voice from without for healthy governance. Voice from without always comes too late.[26] This is a characteristic not just of the Catholic Church but of the institutions of western society generally (one only has to think of recent bank collapses).


Loyalty is seen as the most underdeveloped aspect of Hirschman’s framework. Since his initial publication in 1970 much work has been committed to the role of loyalty within his framework. This study shows that loyalty is less an individual behavioural outcome and is more a factor that is highly motivational informing the dynamic between exit and voice[27]. It will show how loyalty, while being a highly motivational factor needs to make itself known in active concern for the organisation. If an organisation demands loyalty, this creates certain obligations for the organisation which will be explored in this section.

Hirschman’s initial understanding of loyalty suggests that he created loyalty as a filler concept that remained poorly developed.[28]  One reason why the concept was poorly developed was that loyalty for Hirschman was quite simply, brand loyalty.[29] Naming the concept while leaving it underdeveloped may be Hirschman’s way of saying that there are factors at play in the market that cannot be accounted for by rationality alone. One cannot understand the choices that people make without giving due consideration to internal motivations, which shed light on the complexities influencing and informing actions and choices.

The importance of internal motivation in the longevity and health of an organisation is discussed in the study of monastic governance by Inauen et al.  The loyalty of the members of the monastic community is rewarded by the presence of strong internal voice mechanisms. These internal voice mechanisms are manifest for example in voting rights and other mechanisms that facilitate discussion an resolution of crisis before they gather too much momentum. Overall these mechanisms act as “an appropriate design of values, which fosters social approval, makes individuals happier and affects their behaviour.”[30]

Randal’s (2001) work on loyalty discusses the differing nature of loyalty to a community and loyalty to a corporation[31]. This distinction is useful. In his conclusion of his work, Randels makes the point that some loyalties are more important than others. People, rather than deciding between being loyal or disloyal are often more focused on balancing competing ways of being loyal[32]. In the face of this an organisation has to clarify the object of loyalty that it is promoting. Organisations may be of the view that they deserve loyalty, however the loyalty of potential members is not to be presumed as potential members are all the time discerning and balancing their loyalties. An organisation therefore needs to be very clear as to whether its nature is more akin to a community or a corporation because there is an overlap between the image that an organisation presents and the discerning self interest of those whose loyalty they seek.  Organisations like the Irish Catholic Church may speak the language of community, but in the public eye and the eye of its members it may be perceived as an organisation that has more in common with a corporation. Research conducted by Shane Halpin, Director of Vocation and Mission for the Congregation of the Sacred Heart in Ireland, was carried out on two groups of young people, male and female, aged between 22 and 36, in June 2010. Halpin noted that it was starkly evident that there is a level of animosity, anger and hurt emanating from this cross- section of young people. From the outset “the option for a religious vocation in their minds is intrinsically linked to the Institution.”[33] This study shows that perceptions such as these impede attempts at renewal. While those who try to foster vocations return again and again to the promotion of the communitarian context of vocation, they have to address, first of all, the corporate image of the church that limits the impact of their attempts to recruit candidates for the ministerial priesthood.

The confused identity of a religious organisation vis-à-vis the state is not unique to Ireland. This study will now highlight how the involvement of the Spanish Catholic Church with the Spanish State and the enmeshment of Confucianism with the democratic government in Taiwan have adversely affected the membership of both these religious groupings. As regards the former, in exchange for giving legitimacy to the Spanish political system, the Spanish Church enjoyed a privileged status whereby it exercised a large degree of social control.[34] This is generally the case when a religion provides ideological justification for the state.[35] Rampant clericalism in Spain meant that the church shared a high degree of political power and control which resulted in a high degree of internal contradictions for the members of the Spanish Church.[36] Unbeknownst to itself, this tendency towards corporate identity created a neglect of the more fundamental elements of community which the Catholic Church promotes.

Aware of the growing problems within the church and the accompanying need to highlight its identity, the Spanish National Assembly of Bishops and Priests met in 1971 and decided to break the formal link between the Spanish Church and the Spanish State. Following on from this decision, the next decade registered the highest number of priest resignations and a very high falloff in sacramental practice rates.[37] The sense of corporate identity that the Spanish Church fostered during the reign of General Franco at the expense of the more important community-based identity contributed to this decline. A similar fate befell Confucianism in Taiwan. Following their expulsion from China, refugees set up new forms of government in their new homeland. The government, known as the KMT, trying to distinguish itself from the repressive political systems on the Chinese mainland, promoted Confucian values as ones which were supportive of democratic principles and practices. In later years, political reformers rejected Confucianism as it was seen to stand in the way of political progress. Referring to the impact of state legitimisation on Confucianism, Fetzer and Soper are of the view that the best hope for the future is that Confucianism would emerge without an overt political message and wholly independent of the state … Confucianisms’ social values could be promoted on the basis of their intrinsic values rather than their political usefulness…and should be used to judge the political practices of democratic and authoritarian regimes, not legitimate them.[38]

Taiwan and Spain are examples of  both demonstrate instances where, rather than promoting community values, religious organisations got caught up in corporate identities which proved to be a ‘poison pill’ for both faith groups. Their alliance with the state created identity problems. This is reflected in the findings of Inauen that monasteries had shorter life spans if they developed internal agency problems than monasteries that were closed down due to external factors such as the Reformation.[39]

This overview of faith based organisations in Spain and Taiwan identifies the importance of clarity around that to which people are asked to be faithful. Of particular importance for religious organisations is its interplay with the context within which it operates. For a dominant religion there are benefits when the political culture favours and endorses their particular belief system. However, becoming absorbed into the dominant political outlook may undermine the communitarian dimension of the religious organisation. This observation reflects the findings of Randels work quoted earlier in this section and underlines the significance of a corporate or communitarian identity.

Randal’s discussion on loyalty draws on the work of Philip Selznick[40] and Ronald Duska [41]. According to Selznick if an organisation has a dominant corporate identity wishes to foster a greater sense of community, it must hold out the hope of comprehensive interaction, commitments and responsibility that offer a degree of mutuality for the members of the aspiring community. In order to foster loyalty an environment must be created whereby a person develops a commitment to a cause that extends beyond them. To achieve this level of commitment and loyalty any organisation aspiring to be a community rather than a corporation has to contribute to the human fulfilment of its membership. This is not an easy challenge.

Regardless of how easy or difficult this challenge is as in all things a starting point is necessary. This study identified that a person lends their voice in the expectation that they will be heard, those that offer their loyalty similarly expect that there is an object to receive, acknowledge and respect their loyalty. Loyalty is not given lightly, a person or group choose to stay so they can influence things directly.[42] Duska’s hold the extreme view that loyalty to a corporation is ‘misguided’ and those who give their loyalty to a corporation are full of ‘foolish romanticisms’ is challenged by Randels’ standpoint. Randels’ view is ‘that a loyal person’s self-interest is tied up with that of the object of loyalty’, however we must remember that Randel’s make the distinction between loyalty given to a corporation and loyalty given to a community. Inauen’s research into Benedictine communities noted that in exchange for a monk’s commitment to the monastery, they are granted voting rights and have access to other mechanisms permitting them a say in the decisions affecting the life of the monastery, which is the object of their loyalty. This observation suggests that a starting point for re-visioning is the point where the self-interest of loyal parties and the interest of the organisation meet. The this for this is ‘gift exchange’. This is good for both parties involved, firstly because loyalty is not given easily and secondly it challenges those in receipt of loyalty not to act on the
presumption of loyalty. These two points are explored in turn.

Firstly, individuals and groups that give their loyalty to a cause do not give their loyalty too easily. The work of Selznik quoted earlier affirms this by saying that ultimately if a community is to foster the loyalty of members or aspiring members it must contribute to their human fulfilment. An assumption made by Withey and Cooper at the beginning of their work on Hirschman’s framework in the workplace suggested that a loyal person is “a passive person with strong ties to the current setting who thinks acting is costly and believes that things will get better on their own.”[43]

People who are loyal can’t afford to be passive. Withey and Cooper’s work found that their thesis with regard to the passivity of a loyal person was not supported by research. There are people who are passively loyal, but not every loyal person is passive. Their study concluded that passive loyalists were people who were experiencing “resignation and entrapment.” This is a complex state which needs to be addressed before re-visioning takes place. Witney and Cooper further admit that they neglected to examine more active indicators of loyalty, relying rather on Farrell’s notion of loyalty as “people who wait patiently, quietly do their job, and say nothing to others [44].” This category of person fits more with the category of neglect which is the fourth element of the framework explored in the next section. Even though loyalty can be observed in various outcomes, loyalty of itself cannot be reduced to behavioural outcomes alone. A loyal person wants to contribute to the improvement of an organisation. A loyal person’s commitment seeks an engagement with those to whom their loyalty is offered with a view to improving the organisation that is the object of their loyalty. Loyalty not passivity is “commitment without raising the question of usefulness.”[45]

This degree of commitment is open to abuse and betrayal by any organisation. Djupe’s work on the nature of loyalty states that loyalty, if it is to flourish, requires mutuality and reciprocity. If an individual (or an organisation), who in giving their loyalty freely and generously, fails to receive mutuality and reciprocity, can resort to the other elements of the framework: they can exit the organisation; they can give voice to their concerns; or, if they cannot exit because of a very high ‘exit tax,’ they can move towards a situation which can best be described as neglect.

Secondly, a loyal person is a very valuable asset, reinforced by the finding that choosing another organisation or institution with more favourable benefits is not an option for someone who adopts a loyal attitude towards the organisation to which they align themselves.[46] Knowing this, the organisation that is the object of a person’s loyalty can act in a presumptive manner towards that loyalty. Focusing on the exact nature of the person’s or group’s loyalty and the specific role of the organisation that one commits to (i.e., is it a corporation in community clothing?) will protect both parties, but particularly the person or group who offer their loyalty. Presumed loyalty is a preferred stance for those in leadership in corporate situations, as leaders are aware that they have to concede less when loyalty is present or presumed – in other words, when peoples’ loyalty is high their overall welfare can suffer.[47] If the organisation bases programmes on presumed loyalties rather than certain loyalties, the organisation is set to decline further. Neither can leadership presume that commitment to any one aspect of the organisation implies a commitment to the entire organisation, for loyalty cannot be segmented as it is pervasive and complex. Rather than condemning commitment as á la carte, leadership could begin to explore that to which people are committed to so that they can build on the elements of an organisation that are cultivating loyalty and commitment. A person who is loyally and actively committed to a part of the organisation is a better asset than someone who is passively loyal to the entire organisation.

Reflecting on the impact of the interplay between religion and politics in Spain and Taiwan provides valuable insights for an organisation like the Irish Catholic Church. Since the rise of nationalism in Ireland in the 1850s, the Catholic Church has been aligned with the nation-state project to varying degrees. The 1937 Irish Constitution held that the Catholic Church held a “special place,” thus embedding the Church in the national project. This “special place” was overturned in a constitutional referendum in 1972.

For the Catholic Church in Ireland, the observation made about the role of faith-based communities in Spain and Taiwan raises the need to revaluate core missions, identity and common value systems. Like the Catholic Church in Spain and Confucianism in Taiwan, the Irish Catholic Church has close associations with the emergence of the Irish Nation. While leadership may promote a community based model, the perception might be that the church is just another faceless corporation that is not deserving of loyalty.

When a religion contracts an alliance like this … it sacrifices the future with a view to the present, and in obtaining a power that is not due to it, it risks legitimate power … Religion, therefore cannot share the material force of those who govern without being burdened with a part of the hatreds to which they give rise.[48]


A study of human relationships undertaken by Rusbult et al has identified a possible fourth dimension to Hirschman’s theoretical framework.[49] This fourth category, which they called neglect, is summarised as a stance that allows a relationship to decline further. At times, it can be hard to distinguish between neglect and the type of passive loyalty discussed in the last section, as both are decisions to remain inactive when decline sets in. In terms of relationships, neglect is manifest as ignoring, refusing, criticizing and “just letting things fall apart.” When EVLN is applied to job satisfaction, neglect “is passively allowing conditions to deteriorate through reduced interest or effort, chronic lateness or absences, using company time for personal business, or increased error rate.”[50]

Neglect is stronger than passive loyalty as it refuses to act in a manner that fosters recovery in the relationship or the workplace whereas passive loyalty refers to a situation where people think things will get better if they wait around long enough.[51]

From an objective point of view, it may be difficult for those trying to manage a declining organisation to identify if those affected by the decline are taking a position that reflects neglect, or if people are stuck in passive loyalty in the hope that things will improve, or more worryingly if the members of the organisation are experiencing resignation or entrapment. One solution to this dilemma is to offer a range of alternatives that will encourage ‘shaping up or shipping out.’


As Hirschman’s framework developed and was applied to various different situations those who used his framework noted factors that influenced outcomes. These factors can be applied to a variety of situations when addressing a decline in organisations or relationships. Studies that identified these factors often overlapped in their findings, giving certain credibility to the role of the factor in the framework. For the
purposes of this study, the factors will be categorised under three headings:
factors that relate to the action itself; factors that are environmental; and
factors that relate to the individual or group.[52]

Factors Relating to the Action

The first factor is the cost of action. Sometimes there may be a cost to exiting. One may not want to emigrate because of ties to family or leave a job because of costs associated with relocation. Another person may have built up specialised skills that are not transferable. A person may stay in an abusive relationship because they have little or no means of support if they leave the household. These costs count as an ‘exit tax.’ They are costs that have to be taken into consideration before a decision to exit is made. Comparing the numbers of priests who left priesthood in the USA and Spain, Vilaniño and Tizón are of the opinion that “During the sixties and seventies Spanish priests … were more likely to continue in ministry.” [53] They believe that his was due to the high value that the culture placed on
priesthood in Spain, thus creating higher cost to the person if they resigned from priesthood. The high cost of exit was calculated in terms of the loss of social standing in the community.

Voice also has costs. Some of these costs may come in the form of penalties like retaliation, loss of reputation and further emotional costs of confronting people with power.[54] Voice has costs that sometimes have to be set against the cost of loyalty and exit. If it is a question of being unhappy with a product in the supermarket, it may be more effective to just switch to the next brand on the shelf, as voicing a complaint might be too costly in terms of time and procedures. Exit costs from an organisation like a political party or a religion may be higher. Kato (2000) discovered that people who exited political parties in Japan increased the use of voice prior to exit [55]. Generally speaking, people will prefer to act when the cost of their action is low and when the action benefits the setting or the individual. People will avoid action if they deem that action to be costly or pointless.

The next factor is the efficacy of the action. People will only invest in an action that they feel is worthwhile; the person believes that there is a strong possibility of improving the situation and they hold the belief that actions matter.

Factors Relating to the Environment Where the Action Takes Place

The first factor in this section is the attractiveness of the setting in which
the actions occurs
. This factor is affected by the quality of alternatives available and the commitment that one has to the organisation at the point when the action occurs. When there is high satisfaction regarding the attractiveness of the setting, loyalty is likely to be high. Knowing that alternatives are on offer, a person chooses to remain loyal to an attractive setting which in turn “makes it likely that voice will be heard and that reduces the risk of exit.”[56] This is precisely what happened on the station platform in Dresden. Knowing they had the option to leave, people chose to stay, committing themselves to necessary change.

The second factor is the presence of an environment that is fulfilling. Where an environment is fulfilling (i.e., it contributes to human fulfilment), there is a high degree of loyalty and very little exit. To sustain this environment it is important to create partnerships where the loyalty of the participants is respected. This respect further enhances an organisations recovery and growth. Inauen’s study on governance in monastic communities revealed that partnership was sustained through ‘gift exchanges’ such as voting rights and codetermination which was supported in the governance structures of the monastery. These factors show that loyalty is a quality that underlies and informs environment. It influences behaviour rather than being a variable or factor of itself.[57]Djupe’s concludes that loyalty has an important part to play in the stability of an organisation. While Barry highlights the link between loyalty and behaviour, Djupe understands loyalty as an ordering principle within an organisation.[58] Any organisation attending trying to reverse a decline would benefit greatly form an ordering principle that would serve to give direction and foster commitment.

The third factor in this section is the level of job satisfaction prior to the
problem or decline occurring
. Where one is setting about addressing decline in an organisation, memories of happier times in that organisation will act as a stimulus for engagement with the task. Strong, happy memories inhibit exit and neglect and encourage voice and loyalty. In situations where there is little previous experience of job satisfaction prior to the problem arising exit will be in greater evidence. Withey and Cooper’s longitudinal research found that happy memories of better times promote recovery when an organisation experiences decline However “when no such basis for hope exists we expect that people won’t work to improve things, choosing instead to withdraw into neglect and/or exit.”[59]

Factors Relating to the Individual or to the Individual within a Group

The first factor in this section is locus of control. There is a distinction
between those that are highly internally motivated and those that rely of an
external locus of control. Findings by Withey and Cooper show that in a
declining organisation there are those “who think that somebody should do
something but are not willing to do it themselves.”[60] One could not attribute high internal motivation to this cohort. In summary, people who hold a strong internal locus of control believe their actions can make a difference; those who hold an external locus of control tend to believe that their actions don’t matter. Inauen believes that one of the reasons why monasteries have such a long life span when compared to businesses and
organisations is that they managed by strong internal mechanisms. External monitoring serves to support these internal mechanisms; they do not seek to override or overrule them.[61] This has particular relevance when one is acting to support a declining organisation. When internal motivation is high there is a danger that external controls can back fire and reduce the agent’s performance and compliance. If an organisation tries to address a decline by increased bureaucracy and external monitoring they can actually contribute to a more rapid decline as they reduce the performance and loyalty of their best members. “Control and supervisory institutions … are more likely to signal neutral or even ‘unfriendly’ intentions in the sense that these might signal distrust or insinuate the
selfish nature of the employee.”[62]

The level of investment that a person has in a situation that is experiencing decline will affect their choices. Investment is not just economic investment; it is a person’s social and psychological investment as well. People, as individuals or as members of groups who have high investment stakes in an organisation, encourage strong voice and conditions of high satisfaction. High investments create increased voice and loyalty, low stakes encourages exit and neglect. Among the topics that come under the title of investments are the following: housing that is close to the place of work; pension benefits; relationships with colleagues; relationships with supervisors and familiarity with the job. In summary, investments imply that a person has put something of themselves into their position or their organisation. This is a considerable advantage that Hirschman’s framework holds over statistical sources of information as “many of the econometric models suffer from specification errors, such as failure to allow for endogeneity, which makes results difficult to interpret.”[63] Dowding’s study refers to an economic model showing how levels of investment affect decisions. The revival of the Rover Car Company could be explained by a reaction to the exit of customers created by the presence of increased competition; however, the main impetus for change came from pressure from shareholders, suppliers and banks. Unlike customers, they could not exit; they had high investments in the company and subsequently they had to make it work.

Another factor that affects the way a person engages with the framework is length of service. This is a self-explanatory factor. A person with many years of service is less likely to exit (quit) from a post. In the study of clergy exits in the United States for the years before 1975, it was found that “virtually all resignations occur during the first twenty-four years of ministry and virtually all retirements after that.”[64] The conclusion from this is that length of service reduced the number of resignations as the majority of exits after twenty-five years of ordination “take place only because of retirement or death.”[65]

Another important factor is the heterogeneity of the group. There is a distinct difference between the value an individual within a group may place on certain aspects of the framework and the value attached by the collective voice of that group.[66] Ultimately, this will test the ability of leadership to discriminate by putting different polices in place for different members or different groups within the larger group. In an Irish Catholic Church setting, this may take the form of establishing polices for clergy as part of the process of revitalisation.

Finally, a factor that influences engagement within the framework is what is termed identification with the role. This is a particularly strong factor in community and religiously based enterprises. Strong identification with a role inhibits exit from an organisation. A person who exhibits strong identity to a religious organisation also exhibits a strong identity with other institutions of society.[67] Djupe’s study reveals a general decline in brand loyalties, whether these loyalties are to relationships, or to religious or political organisations. Recent work by Putnam and Campbell highlight the interrelatedness of political and religious brand loyalty in the United States.[68] While this may be the case, one cannot ignore the growth in ‘the politics of identity’ where demands for social inclusion, traditionally made on the basis of redistribution are now more often made on the basis of recognition. Despite difference in gender, sexual orientation and more frequently religion, individual and groups are being asked to be recognised as a moral equal despite difference.[69] Loyalty to a group or organisation, which was a large part of society in the past, cannot automatically be assumed to provide for the identity and needs of individuals as they arise today. For anyone addressing the needs of a declining organisation, the presumption that loyalty to a brand and identity are one and the same would be acting on a false assumption. The evidence suggests that the
growth of mega churches has a clear connection with the decline of religious brand loyalties.[70]


On Tuesday, 21September, 2010,in a “Rite and Reason” article entitled “Empty Pews Might Make the Powers That Be Think Again,” the following line appeared in the Irish newspaper, The Irish Times:

‘It seemed there were organisations and people protesting all over the place, and the idea came to me of a boycott of Mass for one Sunday (26th of September) to draw all these voices together.’

These were the words of Jennifer Sleeman, who felt that a boycott of Sunday Masses would bring attention to issues in the Church that needed an airing. Believing this, she orchestrated a campaign requesting people not to attend mass on Sunday, 26 September, in the hope that empty pews would send a message to “the powers that be.”

In terms of Hirschman’s framework, Sleeman was asking people to resort to exit to bring attention to voice. However, she underestimated loyalty to that which she asked people to boycott, namely, the Sunday Eucharist. Hirschman’s earliest work noted that loyalty held exit at bay; the general church-going public felt that loyalty to the Sunday Eucharist, which is a core element of a person’s faith and a mark of belonging, was more important than a campaign. This is one event in the wake of The Murphy Report that Hirschman’s framework provides some enlightenment and scope for further discussion.

On Monday, 17 January, the religious affairs programme, Would You Believe, gave airing on Irish national television to a letter from the Vatican relating to the management of child sexual abuse. During the programme, reference was made to a Bishop who threatened to resign if Rome insisted on overturning a decision made by the diocese to laicise a priest who was judged to be guilty of Child Sexual Abuse offences.  Hirschman’s framework tells us that that voice is at its strongest at the point of exit. The threat of the bishop to resign (exit) strengthened his voice. In dealing with the fallout from the report, a number of bishops were ‘stepped down’ from service within the Archdiocese of Dublin, and others were asked to step down. Hirschman’s framework shows people are often ‘exited’ to quell voice and protest.

Soon after the publication of The Murphy Report, a website was set up to communicate information regarding defections from the Catholic Church;[71]The website reports that 12,007 people have completed the defection form. By the time the reader has digested these facts a pop-up box appears on the screen informing the viewer that process of defection has been stalled due to a change in Canon Law. Could it be that giving voice to exit is not desirable and if people are going, if they are leaving the church, they leave, ‘secretly, softly, silently’, in an orderly fashion?

Is it that most people have just moved into neglect rather than defection? Neglect implies that people don’t work on the relationships that sustain; they ignore, refuse, criticize and ‘just let things fall apart.’ Or are they just passively loyal waiting for a reason to engage again? One could discuss any of the narratives that occurred after the publication of the Murphy and Ryan reports in the context of Hirschman’s framework. However, the key question for this discussion is how the framework helps the Irish Catholic Church address the present decline that it is experiencing. The marked decline in what could be termed the traditional indicators of organisational well-being is a signal that action is needed. The drop in vocations to the priesthood; the shortfall in priests; the reduced numbers in the pews; the inability of sacramental programmes to generate commitment to life within the Church; and the failure to be involved in the ‘corporal works of mercy’ due to decreasing numbers of religious sisters and brothers.

The main purpose of exit and voice is to send a signal to the organisation that change is needed and adjustments have to be made. This study has shown that in certain settings, nothing registers with leaders and with those whose position it is to respond to signals as they emerge. Those whose position and status is protected can ignore public opinion and all kinds of pressures ad infinitum. Healthy internal mechanisms are both necessary for an organisation and are important for the voice of its membership. This study has shown that voice is not merely a voice for individuals who want to get things off their chest but also for structures of communication that promote healthy governance. Healthy voice mechanisms reduce exit; they also acts as an early warning system “where reconstruction and reform could be instigated prior to a crisis.”[72]

At this juncture in the decline of the Irish Catholic Church we are in a very dangerous position. To offset the decline, the Church is immersing itself in a range of activities to support its corporate identity – trusteeships, trusts, charitable status – the list goes on and the list can be justified. This paper shows how the corporate appearance of religious bodies and organisations such as the Catholic Church in Spain and Confucianism in Taiwan has contributed to their downfall. While it may be necessary to create governance structures, the community dimension of religious bodies and organisations cannot be neglected.  To paraphrase and adapt the aforementioned reference by Fetzer and Soper to Confucianism in Taiwan: the best hope is that the Irish Catholic church will emerge without an overt political message and wholly independent of the state. Irish Catholic Social values will be promoted on the basis of their intrinsic values rather than their political usefulness…and will be used to judge the political practices of democratic and authoritarian regimes, not legitimate them.[73]

If the Irish Catholic Church is to protect itself from further decline, it is necessary to sever itself from a corporate identity and commit to reconceptualising itself as radical community. For those that offer their loyalty, they deserve greater direction; they deserve, as Selznick says, the hope of comprehensive interaction, commitments and responsibility that fosters mutuality and respect among members of this aspiring community.


This study set out to show that it was possible to find a framework that can shed light on the many events resulting from the fallout from the Ryan and Murphy reports. The study outlined the limitations of frameworks that are empirical and frameworks that are purely propositional. Empirical findings produce a series of data outputs that give little scope to examine the context and nuances associated with any examination of human behaviour and the subsequent impact on society. Similarly, propositional approaches sometimes referred to as ‘Grand Theories,’ can overlook context and nuances from an entirely different perspective to that of the empirical approaches. The complexities of the fallout from the Ryan and Murphy reports demand a wide-ranging framework that can analyse the range of possible outcomes. A framework allowing a mid-range approach is more desirable for an organisation that is trying to find a way forward while its primary narrative is that of decline.

This study shows that the framework initially proposed by Albert O. Hirschman in 1970, which has been amended and adapted by many other contributors, fits comfortably within the design of a mid-range framework. The dynamic of Exit, Voice and Loyalty and the later addition of ‘Neglect’ allow one to stand within the various responses and reactions that have occurred. Standing within the flow of narratives gives us the ability to examine the myriad of effects resulting from the fallout while walking among them. Attempting to find primary causes (which usually resort to blame) serves to inhibit or even halt the re-visioning of the Irish Catholic Church.

* Rev. Alan Hilliard
is a priest of the Archdiocese of Dublin. He has a long and varied association
with migration. In 2000 he set up a pastoral centre for Irish Backpackers in
Sydney. He was later appointed Director of the Irish Bishop’s Commission for
Emigrants and the Irish Commission for Prisoner’s Overseas. The work involved
the coordination of emigrant services in Great Britain, Australia, United
States and support services for Irish prisoners across the world.  He led
campaigns to highlight the plight of the ‘Forgotten Irish’ in Britain and he
canvassed for immigration reform in the United States on behalf of the
‘Undocumented Irish’. Since taking up the post as coordinator of the NOSTRA
programme at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Mary
immaculate College, Limerick he has co-founded the Mid-West Interfaith Network.
He recently completed a M Soc Sc (Applied Social Policy) by Major Research in
at UCD, entitled Mind the Gap: Social Cohesion, Migration and Integration.

[1] Comments made on the 5th
of February 2011 at a mass for a Liturgy seminar where the Archbishop estimated
that the practise rate in the Archdiocese of Dublin stands at 20%.

N. Sorrels, “Germans Leaving Catholic Church in
Droves,” National Catholic Reporter  12th April 2011.

[3] G. Bouma, Australian
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006) 172.

[4] Pastoral Constitution On
The Church In The Modern World — Gaudium et Spes
by Pope Paul VI. [Vatican City]: 1965, 34. Web.20 June 2011.,

[5] F. Scott Fitzgerald, quoted by
R. N. Foster and S. Kaplan, “Survival and Performance in the  Era of Discontinuity,” in W. W. Burke D. G. Lake
and J. W. Paine (eds.), Organisation
Change: A Comprehensive Reader
(San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons,
2009) 49.

[6] Harvard: Harvard University
Press, 1970.

[7] See T. Flew, “The Citizen’s Voice: Albert Hirschman’s Exit Voice and Loyalty and Its
Contribution to Media Citizenship Debates,” Media,
Culture & Society
31/6 (2009) 977-994, at 979.

[8] Hirschman, Exit, Voice and Loyalty, 1.

[9] C. O. Christiansen, “Lost in Translation: Bringing Hirschman’s Concept of
Voice Back into the Spirit of Capitalism,” Management
& Organisational History
5/1 (2010) 19-35.

[10] A. Hess, “‘The Economy of Morals and Its Applications’: An Attempt to Understand
Some Central Concepts in the Work of Albert O. Hirschman,” Review of International Political Economy 6/3 (1999) 338-59, at

[11] Ibid., 354. Hess refers to two
concepts developed by Hirschman that enhance his middle-Range approach. These
are “nibbling” and “possibilism.” Nibbling helps to avoid the futile attempt to
look for and apply a generally valid solution noting that solutions differ for
different societies at different times and in varying circumstances.
“Possiblilism” refers to the possibility of creating time and space to allow
more time for thinking and acting in complex situations.

[12] B. Barry, “Review Article: Exit, Voice and Loyalty,” British Journal of Political Science 4/1
(1974) 79-107, at 91.

[13] See M. J. Withey and W. H.
Cooper, “Predicting Exit, Voice, Loyalty and Neglect,” Administrative Science Quarterly, 34 (1989) 521-539.

[14] S. Gehlbach, “A
Formal Model of Exit and Voice,” Rationality
Society 18/4 (2006)395-418, at 402.

[15] J. P. Vilaniño and J. L. S. Tizón, “The Demographic Transition of the Catholic
Priesthood and the End of Clericalism in Spain,” Sociology of Religion 59/1 (1998) 25-35, at 34.

[16] A. O. Hirschman, “Exit, Voice, and the Fate of the German Democratic
Republic: An Essay in Conceptual History,” World
45/2 (1993) 173-202.

[17] Ibid., 201.

[18] Withey and Cooper, “Predicting
Exit, Voice, Loyalty and Neglect,” 535.

[19] Ibid., 524.

[20] K. Dowding, P. John, T. Mergoupis and M. Van Vugt, “Exit, Voice and
Loyalty: Analythical and Empirical Developments,” European Journal of Political Research 37/4 (2000) 469-495, at 492.
This work is particularly significant as his research conducts a
comprehensive review of Hirschman’s theory and its application to conceptual
and empirical fields.

[21] E. Inauen, K. Rost, B. S. Frey, F. Homberg and M. Osterloh, “Monastic
Governance: Forgotten Prospects for Public Institutions,” The American Review of Public Administration 40 (2010) 631-653.

[22] Ibid., 638.

[23] Ibid., 642.

[24] Ibid., 637.

[25] Ibid., 635, citing a study by B.S. Fray, and M. Benz, (2004). From
Imperialism to Inspiration: A Survy of Economics and Psychology. In J.B. Davis,
A. Marciano, & J. Runde (eds.) in The
Elgar Companion to Economics and Philosophy
, Cornwall, UK:Edward Elgar

[26] Christiansen, “Lost in Translation: Bringing Hirschman’s Concept of
Voice Back into the Spirit of Capitalism,” 31.

[27] Dowding, John, Mergoupis and Van Vugt, “Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Analythical and
Empirical Developments,” European Journal
of Political Research
37/4 (2000). Dowding et al. refer to the expansive
work of Henri Tajfel on intergroup relationships and social class. H. Tajfel, “Social Psychology of Intergroup Relationships’’, Annual Review of Psychology 33:1-39

[28] Withey and Cooper, “Predicting
Exit, Voice, Loyalty and Neglect,” 522.

[29] Barry, “Review Article: Exit, Voice and
,” 79-107.

[30] Inauen, Rost,
Frey, Homberg and Osterloh, “Monastic Governance: Forgotten Prospects for
Public Institutions,” 636. This
conclusion is based on the work of E. Fehr and A. Falk, “Psychological
Foundations of Incentives,” European
Economic Review
46, 687-724, and “On the nature of Fair Behaviour,” Economic Inquiry, 41, 20-26.

[31] G. D. Randels, Jr., “Loyalty,
Corporations and Community,” Business
Ethics Quarterly
11(2001) 27-39.

[32] Ibid, 36.

[33] S. Halpin, “Religious Vocations in Ireland: The Church, Not God, Is the
Problem,” The Furrow 62/3 (2011) 155.

[34] Vilaniño and
Tizón, “The Demographic Transition of the Catholic Priesthood and the End of
Clericalism in Spain,” 25-35.

[35] J. S. Fetzer and J. C. Soper, “Confucian Values and Elite Support for Liberal
Democracy in Taiwan: The Perils of Priestly Religion,” Politics and Religion 3 (2010) 495-517, at 498.

[36] Vilaniño and
Tizón, “The Demographic Transition of the Catholic Priesthood and the End of
Clericalism in Spain,” 31.

[37] Ibid., 27.

[38] Fetzer and
Soper, “Confucian Values and Elite Support for Liberal Democracy in Taiwan: The
Perils of Priestly Religion,” 512.

[39] Inauen, Rost,
Frey, Homberg and Osterloh, “Monastic Governance: Forgotten Prospects for
Public Institutions,” 638.

[40] G. D. Randels, Jr., “Loyalty,
Corporations and Community,” Business
Ethics Quarterly
11(2001) 29. P. Selznick, The Moral Commonwealth: Social Theory and
the Promise of Community
. (Berkeley: University of California Press 1992)

[41] Ibbid., 35.R. Duska,
Whistleblowing and Employee Loyalty in
J.R. Des Jardins and J. McCall (eds.), Contemporary Issues in Business Ethics, 2nd ed.,
(Belmont CF: Wadsworth, 1990) 142-146. Reprinted in T.I. White (ed.) Business
Ethics: A Philosophical Reader, (New York : Macmillan, 1993) 551-556.

[42] Christiansen, “Lost in Translation: Bringing Hirschman’s Concept of
Voice Back into the Spirit of Capitalism,” 22.

[43] Withey and Cooper, “Predicting
Exit, Voice, Loyalty and Neglect,” 525.

[44] Farrell applied the Hirschman
framework to satisfaction in the workplace. D. Farrell ‘’Exit, Voice, Loyalty
and Neglect as responses to job dissatisfaction: A multi-dimensional scaling
study’’, Academy of Management Journal,
(1983) 596-607.

[45] P. A. Djupe, “Religious Brand Loyalty and Political Loyalties,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

39/1 (2000) 78-89, at 79.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Gehlbach, “A
Formal Model of Exit and Voice,” 397.

[48] Alexis de Tocqueville, quoted by Fetzer and Soper, “Confucian
Values and Elite Support for Liberal Democracy in Taiwan: The Perils of
Priestly Religion,” 512-513.

[49] C. E. Rusbult, D. Farrell, G. Rogers, A. G. Mainous III, “Impact of Exchange
Variables on Exit, Voice, Loyalty, and Neglect: An Integrative Model of
Responses to Declining Job Satisfaction,” The
Academy of Management Journal
31/3 (1988) 599-627.

[50] Ibid., 601.

[51] Withey and Cooper, “Predicting
Exit, Voice, Loyalty and Neglect,” 522.

[52] This section draws particularly
on the findings of the following works: Withey and Cooper, “Predicting Exit,
Voice, Loyalty and Neglect,” 521-539; Inauen,
Rost, Frey, Homberg and Osterloh, “Monastic Governance: Forgotten Prospects for
Public Institutions,” 631-653; Rusbult, Farrell, Rogers and Mainous III,
“Impact of Exchange Variables on Exit, Voice, Loyalty, and Neglect: An
Integrative Model of Responses to Declining Job Satisfaction,” 599-627; and C.
E. Rusbult, I. M. Zembrodt, L. K. Gunn, “Exit, Voice, Loyalty and Neglect:
Responses to Dissatisfaction in Romantic Involvements,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 43/6 (1982) 1230-1242.

[53] Vilaniño and
Tizón, “The Demographic Transition of the Catholic Priesthood and the End of
Clericalism in Spain,” 28.

[54] Withey and Cooper, “Predicting
Exit, Voice, Loyalty and Neglect,” 523.

[55] J. Kato, “When the Party Breaks
Up: Exit and Voice among Japanese Legislators.” The American Political Science Review 92/4 (1998) 857-870

[56] Hess, “‘The Economy of Morals and Its Applications’: An Attempt to Understand
Some Central Concepts in the Work of Albert O. Hirschman,” 346.

[57] Barry, “Review Article: Exit, Voice and
,” 79-107.

[58] Djupe,
“Religious Brand Loyalty and Political Loyalties,” 78-89.

[59] Withey and Cooper, “Predicting
Exit, Voice, Loyalty and Neglect,” 523.

[60] Ibid., 535.

[61] Inauen, Rost,
Frey, Homberg and Osterloh, “Monastic Governance: Forgotten Prospects for
Public Institutions,” 633.

[62] Ibid., 636.

[63] Dowding, John, Mergoupis and Van Vugt, “Exit, Voice and Loyalty:
Analythical and Empirical Developments,” 486.

[64] R. A. Schoenherr and A. Sorenson, “Social Change in Religious Organisations:
Consequences in Clergy Decline in the U.S. Catholic Church,” Sociological Analysis 43/1 (Spring 1982)
23-52, at 40.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Gehlbach, “A
Formal Model of Exit and Voice,” 411.

[67] Djupe,
“Religious Brand Loyalty and Political Loyalties,” 78-89.

[68] R. D. Putnam and D. E. Campbell, American
Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us
(New York: Simon and Schuster,

[69] M. R. Somers,Genealogies of Citizenship (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2008) 17.

[70] See Djupe, “Religious Brand Loyalty and Political Loyalties,” 78-89; and
Putnam and Campbell, American Grace: How Religion
Unites and Divides Us

[72] Hess, “‘The Economy of Morals and Its Applications,’” 345.

[73] See n. 36 above; also Fetzer and Soper, “Confucian Values and Elite Support
for Liberal Democracy in Taiwan: The Perils of Priestly Religion,” 512.

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