An Ageing Priesthood

An Ageing Priesthood–diocese-by-diocese-the-state-of-the-catholic-church-on-the-island-of-ireland-today-469022.html

News Item of Interest;

The Irish Examiner of 03 April 2018 carries an article titled “Special Report – Diocese by diocese: The state of the Catholic Church on the island of Ireland today

The special report, by Noel Baker, Social Affairs Correspondent, opens by stating

“Senior figures within the Catholic Church are warning that the ageing profile of priests and the lack of new ordinations could mean a further reduction in its footprint around the country.

A survey of archdioceses and dioceses highlights the changing face of the Catholic Church in Ireland. It found that human resources are being stretched, that a small but growing number of parishes are without a resident priest, and that there is an increased role for deacons and for priests coming to serve from overseas.

There is a shrinking number of Masses, according to the survey, and, in some areas, limitations on when ceremonies such as weddings and baptisms can be conducted.”

The full article can be accessed here.

The article goes on to give a snapshot of the current position in most dioceses in Ireland with regard to priest numbers and the efforts that are being made to counter the declining number of priests in active ministry.

A spokesperson for Clogher Diocese is quoted as saying,

“Some parishes have reduced Sunday Masses to take account of the reduced numbers of priests. As a diocese, we emphasise the community and active participation dimension of our liturgies. Therefore, fewer Masses with greater participation can have a positive impact in parishes. Weekday Masses are celebrated according to local needs.

Lay people will continue to play an increasingly important role in the diocese. While we have not yet determined a policy regarding weekday liturgies celebrated in the absence of a priest, the diocesan commission has examined the question, with a view to the future. We currently have one person completing formation for the permanent diaconate and he will be ordained in June 2018.”

Of Meath Diocese it is said

“In the past five years, 18 priests died; of this number, seven were in active ministry. Seven priests were ordained in the same period, with eight foreign priests joining the diocese from abroad. These priests come from Romania, India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Uganda. Three are engaged in full-time post graduate studies in Maynooth (which is near to this diocese) while five are full-time ministering in parishes.”

The spokesperson for Elphin Diocese is quoyes as saying

“In the past two years, we have established a formation programme for volunteer catechists, who will offer opportunities for their fellow parishioners to deepen their faith through various spiritual and educational programmes.

We don’t really need more priests than we currently have in ministry, but we do need a greater balance in the age range of priests. While it is wonderful to be able to welcome priests among us from countries which were evangelised by Irish missionaries, we do also need to provide priests of our own, whose own faith and experience of Church is rooted in the West of Ireland. A faith community which did not inspire people to mission would have to question its depth of faith. We are blessed currently to have two men preparing for the priesthood for our diocese.”

The Cashel & Emly spokesperson also pointed to the role of the laity.

“With fewer priests, more focus will inevitably fall on the role of the lay people in any parish — especially as they involve themselves more in administrative activity.”

Killaloe Diocese;

“We have more than 20 parishes which do not have a resident parish priest and where the people of the parish have to take responsibility for the day to day running of the parish. This includes finance, safeguarding, liturgy, maintenance and school board functions. Many parishes have trained people to lead liturgy in the absence of a priest.

……. The challenge facing the Diocese of Killaloe is how maintain the Christian community which exists around each of the individual 137 churches, particularly in rural areas where there is serious depopulation due to demographic factors. The principal issue facing this diocese is not so much the scarcity of priests but the age structure. The average age in Killaloe is 66 and so the quantity of priests is not so much the issue as the decreasing energy due to older age.”


The full article can be accessed here.






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  1. Phil Greene says:

    “Seven priests were ordained in the same period, with eight foreign priests joining the diocese from abroad. These priests come from Romania, India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Uganda.”

    Problem solved.. bring Priests in from poorer countries.. Will they be very grateful to come here? Will they speak up.? .. celibacy and married priests discussions can be put on the back-burner and as for lay people, they will be there to help, no changes needed..!
    I recognise and am grateful to these foreign priests for wanting to spread the Good News and fulfil their call to service, they want to do God’s work like those before them… but coming here to fill in for lack of vocations contributes little to the any real progress being made in the first world.. its just delays the inevitable further.. But then again, maybe , in the absence of any other action taking place , this is the only option available..we reap what we sow. As a lay person and a lowly woman , should I really care.?

  2. Joe O'Leary says:

    I agree that an influx of foreign clergy could be very wholesome, weaning the Irish church away from immemorial parochial obsessions and giving a deeper awareness of the church worldwide. It would be very interesting to have feedback from them about how they adjusted to the Irish scene and how they were received.

  3. Phil Dunne says:

    Phil Greene, you express my sentiments exactly. Thanks.

  4. Paul O'Malley says:

    In answer to Phil Greene, it wouldn’t be in the foreign priests’ self-interest to speak up. Change isn’t going to come from conservative priests from the developing world. Change can only be generated from the faith communities themselves. The problem is the bishops don’t want to listen.

  5. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    The Examiner report is entitled: “The state of the Catholic Church on the island of Ireland today.”
    But it turns out to be much more like the ACP title above: An Ageing Priesthood. Not at all the same thing. The diocesan reports focus overwhelmingly on the ordained priesthood in the life of each diocese. Limerick seems the only exception. I wonder what were the questions put by the reporter to each diocese. Do the reports reflect accurately the understanding of church held by diocesan authorities? Where are lay people in all of this?

    Phil Greene #1:
    You write: “As a lay person and a lowly woman, should I really care?”
    I certainly hope so!
    Although John Paul II didn’t quite measure up to this, look at what he said at Greenpark Racecourse in Limerick in 1979:
    “Today, I would like to speak to you about that special dignity and mission entrusted to the lay people in the Church. Saint Peter says that Christians are “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Pt 2 :9). All Christians, incorporated into Christ and his Church by Baptism, are consecrated to God. They are called to profess the faith which they have received. By the sacrament of Confirmation, they are further endowed by the Holy Spirit with special strength to be witnesses of Christ and sharers in his mission of salvation. Every lay Christian is therefore an extraordinary work of God’s grace and is called to the heights of holiness. Sometimes, lay men and women do not seem to appreciate to the full the dignity and the vocation that is theirs as lay people. No, there is no such thing as an “ordinary layman”, for all of you have been called to conversion through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. As God’s holy people you are called to fulfil your role in the evangelization of the world.”

  6. Sean O'Conaill says:

    John Paul II: “Sometimes, lay men and women do not seem to appreciate to the full the dignity and the vocation that is theirs as lay people.”

    How can they when the Irish church that the same pope did so much to hamstring in Ireland gives only clergy a speaking role? Clericalism is so deeply institutionalised in that church that it effectively teaches that only ordination can qualify anyone to interpret the Gospel or to lead.

    Catholic dialogue and the dignity of mere Baptism died in Ireland in 1968 – and my guess is that no Irish bishop ever told this pope the truth about that, or warned of the inevitable consequences. To read a quote from John Paul II now on the role of the laity is to be reminded of just how much empty rhetoric on that subject has poured forth from Rome over so many decades.

    Just a few months ago a curate hereabouts informed me that he wasn’t authorised to discuss his homily with me – on this very same subject. So much for Irish ecclesiastical respect for the dignity and vocation of lay people!

  7. Phil Greene says:

    To Padraig @ 5
    I often ask “should” I care because it is a valid question for lay people and without getting too deeply into the gender issue it is such a relevant question for women in particular.
    In 1979 I did my L.C. and finished school. I was in Galway to see Pope JP II and everyone was happy to be an Irish Catholic, living the Faith and getting on with our lives, it was easy for both to co-exist together once life was easy, add any complications and there was the “right way” or you could leave/ be told to leave.
    I experienced much of what was good in our Church throughout my younger life, but we all must grow up and ask important questions… all by ourselves.
    Today, I see laypeople viewed as the last resort in many parts of the Church, it is only when necessity rears its head that we become important! We have seen on these pages laypeople writing in, totally frustrated, because their PP will not allow them to evangelise. Evangelisation is about our Faith, rather than the church’s control. Of course, this does not apply to all clergy as we also see on these pages, but should it apply at all if we really are that important to OUR Church?
    We have clergy in Rome and elsewhere who are living the life of royalty in palaces, it is flaunted in front of our eyes. We have it here at home and we see it in the poorest of countries. We have we hear, a corrupt bank in Rome and too many riches held in vaults whilst still being asked to part with our money. We have women treated as “less than” men.
    We have children who ask us why do we stay with an institution that goes against so much of what we believe and teach our children to believe in?
    So “should” I care if this institution fails? Based on above it would be quite reasonable to answer “no”!
    But “do” I care? I do.

  8. Brian Eyre says:

    This survey points out that in the diocese of Limerick in the last year more than 120 parish volunteers have been trained to lead public prayer. The Mass is a public prayer. Some of these volunteers, men and women, would, if they were invited go forward for ordination to the peiesthood.
    Statistics are important and should not be denied. As we see from the survey of Irish dioceses the number of priests in active ministry is getting smaller and smaller. Yet Our Lord gave the command: “Do this in memory of me”.His command is to be listened to and obeyed today so that the Eucharist will not become a museum piece, something rare that happens now and then. If not future generations will criticize this present generation for its lack of courage and pastoral vision.
    If we believe that the Eucharist is the center of a community and that you cannot build community without it then surely the priesthood should be open to men and women, some of whoom are married, and not limit it only to a male celibate priesthood.

  9. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    Phil #7:
    “Today, I see laypeople viewed as the last resort in many parts of the Church, it is only when necessity rears its head that we become important!”
    Yes, that pinpoints the obstruction. That is what is askew in the Examiner report. “Church” continues to be identified with clergy. The “Church” is not there unless there’s a bishop or priest; or, failing that, a religious brother or sister. This is the clericalism which permeates minds, and which is more difficult perhaps to change than organisational structures.
    Every time we see or hear or think the word “Church”, we need to check what is referred to, and to blow the whistle when it does not refer to the full community of the church.

  10. Phil Greene says:

    Padraig @ 9
    “This is the clericalism which permeates minds, and which is more difficult perhaps to change than organisational structures.”
    I take your point Padraig and understand that we are talking about the media and how they present the church to the world. But the Church hierarchy seem to favour the division of Clergy and laypeople.. Otherwise they would do 1 thing very quicky that would say “we” are Church; they could stop dressing up in such costume displays! Media coverage would quickly follow and a new visual message would permeate the mind very rapidly.
    However, it would have to be followed up with meaningful dialogue and change or otherwise it is just more empty rhetoric as Sean #6 states.
    I am unsure as to whom you mean we must the whistle to.. if it is the media they really don’t care .. if it is the Bishops, they might voice concern and correct the media.. if it is the priests.. they might also voice concern and relay it to their respective bishops… but what actually changes..?
    I think Brian #8 has the answer (and the millions of other people who want to see change) but let’s see how many new priests we get this year from abroad to replace our ageing priesthood instead.The layperson has no say in this process.

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