Statement from the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) on crisis in vocations

With diocesan changes taking place at present and priests being allocated
extra responsibilities for neighbouring parishes, the Association of
Catholic Priests (ACP) wishes to add its voice to the growing demand in the
Roman Catholic Church for a realistic and planned response to the present
crisis in vocations.

We believe that, in the resolution of the problem of fewer and older priests
in the developed world, three elements are coming together to usher in
significant change in our response to the crisis: need, expectation and

(i) The need is obvious. It is clear in the statistics now available (not
least on the Irish Bishops’ own web-site) and in the lived experience at
parish level. For instance, it is mathematically indisputable that, in ten
to fifteen years, the steep decline in the number of priests will provoke a
Eucharistic famine in Ireland.

(ii) Expectation of change in the re-imaging of priesthood, not least in the
celibacy requirement, is growing. Pope Francis has signalled the possibility
of change in his recent interview with Brazilian Bishop Erwin Kräutler and
the growing expectation is that the Brazilian bishops will adopt the Pope’s
suggestion of making a direct approach to Rome as a bishops’ conference.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, on a number of
occasions has pointedly indicated that celibacy is not a church dogma and
it can be discussed because it is a church tradition.

(iii) The promise is contained in the contribution almost 400 married
Catholic priests (most of whom have converted from Anglicanism) are already
making to the Catholic Church in England.

In a meeting with the Irish bishops on June 4 last, the ACP suggested that,
as a matter of urgency, the Irish Church should propose the following to

(i)  Ordain suitable married men;
(ii) Invite priests who left the active ministry to get married to return to
(iii) Ordain women to the Permanent Diaconate.
(For our statement of 06 July, 2014 see this link

While the ACP recognise that this is an issue for the worldwide Catholic
Church, we appeal to the Irish Bishops to add their voice to the growing
chorus now accepting the need for a married as well as a celibate priesthood
in our Church.

Gerard Alwill    087 2305557 / 071 9648025

Seamus Ahearne    0876782746 / 018343722

Brendan Hoban    086 6065055 / 096 31288

Gerry O¹Connor      087 2320295 / 01 623 3813

Sean McDonagh      087 2367612 / 0469098229

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  1. 1. Not mentioned is allowing active priests to have the option to marry. I for one, would love to see priests who left return to the ministry BUT would consider it tough on those who ‘stayed’ to be excluded from the option to marry as well. Can it just be a decision of those who wish to return? I hope not!!!
    2. Propose taking a survey of all active priests: ask how many of them would love to continue in ministry but if given the opportunity, would get married.
    3. I think of many priests that I have met who in love with God and the ministry would have taken marriage if it were made available.

  2. Chris McDonnell says:

    I tried to highlight the seriousness of this issue in my article in the Tablet (July 19th One man two vocations). The Church in England is not many steps behind that in Ireland. We have this small window of opportunity to say something, do something positive, yet we are faced with silence or at the best platitudes from our bishops. What has to happen before honest and open dialogue is opened between bishops, priests and people that acknowledges the serious situation we face? Or will time tell us nothing but I told you so?
    Chris McDonnell UK Secretary Movement for Married Clergy

  3. Teresa Mee says:

    ‘ is mathematically indisputable that, in ten
    to fifteen years, the steep decline in the number of priests will provoke a Eucharistic famine in Ireland’.
    In many Dublin parishes we have priests celebrating Mass in semi-empty or three quarters empty churches, due to shortage of people to attend. Is this an ‘ism’ problem, or something deeper that calls for a re-appraisal of how we understand and celebrate the Eucharist?

  4. Canada and the United States have priests from Poland, Sri Lanka, and other Asian countries….is that not acceptable in Ireland? Just a query….

  5. Deirdre Lane says:

    Interesting article. My sister lives in Wales and attends a wee parish is Usk – Our Lady’s Priory. The priest there (Fr. Richard), although a small community, empowered his parishioners to be fully active participants in the liturgies and community. He happened to fall in love whilst there, and subsequently had few options, he chose to leave as he wanted to get married. I believe his marriage took place late July. In June 2014 the Archdiocese of Cardiff ordained a former Anglican priest, Fr. Bernard Sixtus, married with three children and made the decision to appoint him to the parish in Usk. Must be so confusing for parishioners. I agree with Paul S, it’s high time that the church allow active priest to marry if they so choose. It will come about, I am sure of that.
    Continue the dialogue, it is encouraging to all, even here in Vancouver!

  6. Bernard Cotter says:

    Probably the best policy option for the ACP would be to recommend that priests NOT take on additional responsibilities outside their present parish. That’s only kicking the problem down the road.

  7. I do not agree with the associations proposal for Rome regarding the ordination of women to the diaconate, but would prefer the dissolution of the order of permanent diaconate altogether. I see the permanent diaconate as a reinforcement of clerical hierarchal structure and a further distancing of the ‘laity’ from ministry. We are all deacons, by nature of our baptismal call and consent, all called to serve the church, the people of God. The ‘laity’ may minister all the services pertaining to deacons in the absence of such ordained people. Why establish a further position of privilege and obligation in the church community? Instead, encourage those in the local community to respond to their call to service, and as has been done with the deacons, provide them with some tools to equip them in their tasks.

  8. “Instead, encourage those in the local community to respond to their call to service,”
    I was visiting an older priest who has an advancing form of Dementia last week in Essex. He has suffered much in his life but never complained. Always a smile.
    Shadow of his former self. Now in a nursing home. All thrown into together. Not knocking nursing homes but they are not always the best places for optimal care.
    He has given up the will to live. Was obvious to me. Lost interest in everything, reading, listening to his music, doesn’t want to pray etc and ‘angry with God’ which is perfectly understandable. Just 74 – always youthful for his years but last 12 months has gone down hill very rapidly – since being put in a nursing home.
    I knew looking at him when I walked in that he was dehydrated too. Took him out in a wheelchair and he drank near six glasses of water.
    I was speaking to a sister who knows the PP in that area well and asked why the parishioners were not being offered (maybe from the pulpit)a chance to visit this man; maybe take him out occasionally, or make sure he has adequate water to drink. He served them now they might be happy to serve him – if made known and asked. I am sure many in that congregation would be happy to do that. He was well liked and a good man.
    Sad to see a life of service end that way. Or does it have to ? Not just the priests. Should be part of it all anyway.

  9. Mary Vallely says:

    No, Marie,@8 it shouldn’t have to end that way. The poor man has no sense of purpose, no sense of being useful. That’s the problem with Nursing Homes. The residents need more than food, water and shelter. (He shouldn’t have been dehydrated. The Home needs to know about this.) They need to feel valued and useful in some way. I am quite sure many parishoners would gladly visit him if they knew and chatting about former times might help bring him comfort and validation. He needs to feel valued again. This is such a sad story. Thank you for drawing our attention to the plight of many an elderly servant of God. To feel abandoned and isolated must be a sort of purgatory.
    P.S. If he likes animals, find someone with a dog which is trained to visit. It is amazing the therapeutic effect of an animal on someone suffering from dementia and locked in a world few humans can reach.

  10. John Duffy says:

    I would firstly like to commend the great work undertaken by the ACP with a view to exploring how best pastoral ministry can be exercised by both the ordained , religious and the lay faithful who each have been mandated by their common Baptism to both live and exercise the Good News.
    On the specific issue of your policy regarding the shortage of Priests I see much merit in a number of your proposals and it appears that our Holy Father Pope Francis is likely to examine at least some of those same proposals where there is no sacramental or doctrinal impediments preventing their consideration.
    Pope Francis is leading the way in setting an example of what Pastoral model best reflects Gospel values by his initiatives to emphasise the need for pastors and Bishop’s in particular to identify with the poor and marginalised in their respective flock’s and lead the way of humble service which in turn can resonate with the young in the Christian community. The public ministry of Jesus as outlined in the Gospel narratives is based on the template of the humble servant – power and status are seen as obstacles to authentic discipleship and sadly traditional clericalism in the Church portrayed symbolic aspects that could only be associated with those of Power and Status, and undermined their credibility as shepherd’s of the flock and ministers of the word. We need to get back to the model of Servant leadership and I am certain that such a model will influence a growth in vocations.
    In the meantime I do hope and pray that some of the proposals you now make will bear fruit and that the Irish Church will continue to have an adequate number of priests to minister to all as without the Sacraments and the celebration of the Eucharist the Christian life can have no meaning.

  11. Teresa (3) “Is this…something deeper that calls for a reappraisal of how we understand and celebrate the Eucharist?”
    It would be very easy to pass over your question as some kind of throwaway comment. However, I see it as very important, profound and inspired. And I would like to add a few more questions as a possible pause for thought.
    1. Could this crisis in vocations and indeed many other “crises” in the church today be a necessary part of a much bigger picture in the evolution of humankind and of the universe?
    2. Do we treat the Eucharist as something static that we do every day or every week without asking if there are further meanings to its implications for the future of the cosmos and our place and responsibility in it?
    3. Are we far too insular in the way we think of the church and the Eucharist? And are we too ready to be satisfied with merely reciting the Creed?
    4. Is it time for the “official” church not only to “tolerate” the insights of Teilhard de Chardin and numerous more modern mystics, but to embrace their scientific findings re. modern cosmology in evolutionary theology? Failing this, is it time for the more enlightened members of the ACP to take the lead?
    5. Are thousands of people leaving the church because to them it seems we are almost stuck in an Old Testament view of the world? And have they ever been told that there is nothing incompatible between modern science and faith in Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection–(The Eucharist)– but rather that the one is a supremely perfect fit for the other?
    6. Did any one of us ever hear Colossians 1:15-20 commented on in our churches in the light of the Eucharist and modern cosmology?
    Just sayin’!!

  12. Peter Clifton says:

    Marie @ 8, this is a truly distressing story. Care for priests in this situation should be a priority for the diocese,
    and it may be that a telephone to the bishop’s office might do some good – possibly arranging a weekly visit from a still active retired colleague.

  13. Noel Casey says:

    In my recent readings on the subject of the shortage of priests in Ireland and how to tackle the problem I have noted many suggestions for its solution. I think at least three of these need to be questioned: abolish the rule of mandatory celibacy, invite priests from other countries to minister in Ireland, invite back those who have left the ministry to marry.
    It may be my bad memory, but I cannot remember ever reading any statistical evidence given to support these solutions.
    What evidence is there to support the belief that abolishing mandatory celibacy will lead to an influx of new aspirants? What evidence I have from dealing with young people indicates that the drop in vocations is due more to a shallow faith, a change in cultural priorities and a change in economic circumstance, rather than to mandatory celibacy.
    Where is the evidence that there is a large number of foreign priests (and compliant bishops) willing to reverse the historic missionary trajectory and come to minister among us?
    Is there a significant number of men who left the priesthood to marry in a position to, and willing to, return to the ministry?
    We can do without plans to solve the problem buoyed up on false expectations.
    Incidentally, is the idea that removing the barrier of mandatory celibacy will lead to an increase in vocations not an insult, subliminal at least, to the dedication of today’s young people who, all things being equal, might be willing to take the extra step taken by so many generations of men over the past millennium or so?

  14. Cornelius Martin says:

    Noel Casey
    Amen. Amen.
    Let’s get praying for an increase in faith.

  15. I am so thrilled to see this topic open for conversation! Never did I think I would say this–please pray for the Roman Catholic Church to allow priests to have the option of partaking in the Sacrament of Marriage!! Love should not exclude someone from being a priest!!

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