Irish Examiner: 20% of clergy have died in three years

Neil Michael reports in the Irish Examiner:

More than 21% of Ireland’s entire population of parish priests and brothers — both serving and retired — have died in just three years.

The Association of Catholic Priests says that parishes are going to have to be amalgamated, churches closed, and fewer Masses held.

Fr John Collins, one of the ACP’s directors, said: “The figures are shocking. It is very sad to see so many have died in such a short space of time.

“We are all aware of an ageing priest population, but it is only when you look at the figures that you realise what a high number it is.

This is a truly shocking illustration of the extent of the problem facing the Church.”

He added that the number of those dying every year is “only going to keep rising”.

The number of serving Diocesan priests was officially recorded by the Catholic Church as being around 2,067 in 2014.

However, this was when the number of priests aged 75-84 was increasing steadily compared to previous years, as was the number of priests aged 65-74.

By the end of 2018, there were an estimated 1,800 working priests and around 720 retired priests, some of which were still helping out for holiday and sickness cover.

The list of most — but not all — clerical deaths in Ireland is contained each year in the Irish Catholic Directory, the official directory of the Irish Catholic Church published by Veritas Publications on behalf of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

According to those statistics, 174 nuns and 166 priests and brothers died in 2019.

A further 191 nuns died in 2020, and 223 priests and brothers also died.

Up to September 2021, another 131 nuns had died, as had 131 priests and brothers.

However, the figures from the directories are likely to be conservative, because not every religious order or diocese reports the death of its clergy to Veritas.

In addition, according to, at least another 76 nuns, at least another 36 priests, and five religious brothers died between October and January 4 this year.

The Irish Examiner reported recently that the number of priests is set to decline dramatically over the coming months as pressures on parishes from the pandemic ease.

Link to article:


Link to previous article in the Irish Examiner (13 Dec 2021) on declining numbers of priests in Ireland:

Pressure on parishes with dozens of ageing priests due to retire


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  1. Elderly Catholic says:

    20% of clergy have died in three years…

    1. More parishes will mean less priest contact. A priest will be ‘spread too thinly’ and become too removed from his people.

    2. There are 41 Eastern churches – 22 in union with Rome, 15 with Constantinople and 4 ‘lost in translation’… Most have married priests and there is no problem with that. Therefore, we should allow mature married men to become priests; they would be more than able.

    3. Bring back priests who left to get married. They have faculties in an emergency; we are now in an emergency, let’s use them.

    From an elderly (mid-80s) practising Catholic, known to the moderator.

  2. Eugene Sheehan says:

    Irish Examiner: 20% of clergy have died in three years

    It pleases me that the national media are addressing the issue of priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland as communities need people who are trained as facilitators to celebrate and commemorate the great moments and occasions of life and death. When I left the ministry in 1994, a local County Councillor took the unusual step of raising at a Council meeting the impact a dwindling of clergy numbers would have on the fabric and spirit of Irish community life. I doubt many people took him seriously at the time, nor indeed has the institution of the Catholic Church since.

    What to do? Well, so far the Irish Bishops (and elsewhere) believe that “clericalising the laity” is one solution through the ordination of lay deacons (who are male only and preferably unmarried). As chair of our local Parish Pastoral Council some years ago, I received a letter from our Bishop inviting the group to a meeting to discuss initiating this process in the Diocese. It was indicative of the disconnect between the Institution and the reality that most of the members of the Pastoral Council (women) nor I (priest out of ministry) were suitable candidates to apply.

    In my opinion, this continued disconnect from lived reality is at the heart of the so-called “vocations crisis”. Reality is where the Truth lives – and a male, celibate, hierarchical priesthood no longer rings true. In the words of Paul Brady, it is “trying to reach the future through the past!”

    Yes, we need “priests”, but a reimagined priesthood, freed from the shackles of history. A priesthood where people who are trained in spirituality and an understanding of the Gospel message, who are willing to work in their community as facilitators at community gatherings to celebrate “Eucharist”, a celebration of the universal presence of a loving God, to forgive, to heal, to mourn.
    These people would be drawn from their own community of faith, not separate from, nor above it (celibacy and gender exclusivity are weapons of power & authority).

    This debate on priestly vocations must lead to an examination of the episcopal structure of the Church, a structure of leadership and authority that has little relevance or credibility in modern society.
    When I hear members of the Episcopate speak about the need for a wider role for women in the Church, I am annoyed as it is this same exclusively male Episcopate who will determine what these roles should be!

    As a Church, we need to step into the deep, to ask the pertinent questions, to have the ears to listen to the prophetic voices of our time. We are weighed down by so much historical baggage – we need a new freedom.
    The synodial pathway will be a long and winding road indeed…

  3. Bernard Barrett says:

    20% of clergy have died in three years…

    It’s good to see some acknowledgment of the urgency of the coming crisis, as indeed many members of the Association at the recent AGM last year also saw clearly.

    The question is how do we respond to this? Is it a question of how we keep the show on the road (or as one priest wrote in a local paper, “re-arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic”) or do we attempt to see this through the eyes of Christ and his Father? When Christ was physically present among us, the challenge that was (and still is!) made to all of us is to continue to grow and develop – not just maintain an existing system – which the existing system of his time found so hard to countenance.

    Few priests does not mean no priests – rather it may mean moving to a different understanding of priesthood – one where the emphasis is on empowerment and enablement and getting local eucharistic communities to take responsibility for managing themselves, with all that means – in which case we may not need so many priests. Yes, no reason why we can’t have married priests – lets face it – we had them before – but not to simply prop up the existing system – as part of the next phase of development which our Saviour wills.

    It means quite a few changes both theologically as well as pastorally, which it is understandable that some priests (and even more Bishops) will find difficult – but now is the time to start thinking, planning and preparing. We have plenty of examples from earlier periods in the Church to draw on. But this does not mean turning the clock back – rather taking the learning and applying it to the present and future. As my late mother used to say “God gave us brains – and he expects us to use them”!

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