I am the youngest Kildare priest

I REMEMBER nervously beginning to minister in Newbridge parish 11 years ago.
During my first visit to a local community event, I recall a comment by a
parishioner who said: “Not another young priest being sent to us here in
I happened to be just gone 26 years of age and was wearing a badge that I
never anticipated I would still hold: I am still the youngest diocesan
priest at 38.
In fact, today, that same parish ­ one of the largest in the country ­ has
just three full-time diocesan clergy ministering.
I recall this memory in the context of the startling statistic that some
weeks ago just 12 men began their formal studies for priesthood for the
entire country, none of whom come from our own diocese.
These are most challenging times for the Catholic Church in Ireland ­ a time
for honest reflection, open conversation and humble listening.
As a Church, I suggest we discern and articulate a vision of Church that
continues to be deeply relevant, based on the spirit of the Second Vatican
Council and inspired by the living presence of Jesus Christ, following his
compassionate and courageous example, as told through the Gospels.
This is not a time to silence conversation or retreat to the ‘good old days’
of ‘black-and-white’ clerical certainty.
There is an obvious tension within the Church at this time.
Tension can be a positive fuel that brings an open and frank conversation,
which often leads to a creative dialogue.
Recent attempts to silence and censor progressive voices within the Church
are deeply worrying examples of an institution that seems to be fearful, and
removed from many of its members.
The language and direction of renewal within our Church, I suggest, should
be much greater than the liturgical gestures, postures and responses that we
use when we gather for worship.
It is obvious that the present reality of priesthood is a totally
unattractive life option for the vast majority of young graduates in this
country, including many who are committed to their faith.
In order for the priesthood to be rejuvenated in Ireland, we must listen to
the reasons for its diminishing numbers and ageing profile.
I have no doubt that the clerical child abuse scandals and subsequent
cover-ups have and will continue to deservedly undermine the value and
integrity of our vocation.
This is a time that we cannot just get over; this reality that will be felt
for many years to come.
Priestly celibacy prohibits so many good people from entering into ministry.
Many fantastic priests who left their clerical lives to marry would
willingly embrace ministry as married clergy.
The question of ordination of women has been totally banished, even in terms
of conversation.
I am certain that within the life of every faith community, priesthood has
an important role and, in my experience, a positive and fulfilling one.
Priesthood is mingled with the wonderful values of generosity, compassion
and inclusion.
In a time when many vulnerable people actively seek out hope and light, the
Gospel message confronts us with profound opportunity.
It would be a great pity if I still hold the title of the youngest priest in
the diocese at 50 in 12 years time ­ and that could well be possible!

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  1. Mary O Vallely says:

    “…but what counts here is the presence of the laity. And when the latter are trained, when they have a theological base and know how to see the future, they not only serve as advocates for the people or group, but they also serve as a pathway of service to the world, a necessary service because it’s not just the hierarchy or the missionaries who are going to do something but the laity, and even more effectively, with leaven in the dough.”
    From a recent interview with Dom Tomás Balduíno, bishop emeritus of Goiás, about to participate in a symposium on The 50th anniversary of Vatican 11.
    He remains full of hope and I’d like to think that young Fr Paddy Byrne takes heart from this. He is not on his own.
    Here in the ecclesiastical capital we have 3 full time priests at present, a forty niner and two in their early thirties. A newly ordained under-30 year old arrives this weekend. Mind you, they probably age faster in Armagh than in other parts. ( that heavy barometric pressure again.)
    I’d like to wish young Fr Byrne many, many happy years full of hope, friendship and fulfillment and it does my 6o year old heart good to read his comments which are full of the spirit of Vatican 11.
    Mary V

  2. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Mary, in 1964 Armagh’s PPs were only dying at the rate of 2.3 (or was it 2.3%?)per annum, so most of the young fellows were still being sent ‘on the missions’ for five or six years to the foreign fields of Lima, Birmingham and St Colman’s in Newry. Promotional prospects were so poor that most of us said, ‘To hell with this for a game of soldiers,’ and jacked it in. (I think I meant that as a joke!) I hope your new neophyte from Cookstown or Magherafelt doesn’t succumb to your barometric pressure. Young Rory Coyle was a promising lad when he escaped to you lot from Crossmaglen, just as our first PP did in 1795. We don’t forget these insults easily.
    I hope Paddy Byrne loses his youngest title fairly soon though the prospects don’t seem very encouraging. Two years ago his colleague, Paul Dempsey, then 39 and possibly K & L’s second youngest priest, wrote a sober yet hopeful article in The Furrow. What is encouraging and hope-filled about these two young men (well, to be forty or younger is ‘very heaven’ after all) is that they are still talking the same language as the best of those twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years older. I’m delighted to see Wilfrid Harrington’s comment above. Now there’s a man who’s not much over thirty in heart, just as many of us remember him.
    However we may parse that phrase, ‘the spirit of the Second Vatican Council’, it is good to see Paddy making it his own, just as it was heartening to read Paul quoting Rahner on the need for “a missionary style aiming to speak to those for whom Christianity has become alien.” I’m afraid some of those Maynooth products ten year younger than Paddy or Paul may be too intent on slotting Vatican II into a secure neo-Benedictine Rahner-free niche among the twenty councils that went before. Who preaches about the excitement of the opening of the 1st Lateran or still articulates a vision of Church that continues to be relevant, based on the spirit of Trent? Oops! I forgot. Many do.
    Paddy, for your mention of celibacy and married priests and even the ghostliest hint of a hint about women’s ordination, I’m afraid the inquisitors in the CDF’s back offices will have already added the Carlow Nationalist to The Sunday World, The Western People and Reality on their weekly/monthly ‘close reading’ list. Most Rev Charles Brown will not be subtly sounding out your K & L colleagues about your episcopal qualities. Rejoice and sing Hallelujah! The purple bellyband has strangled many a good man before you.

  3. Ger Gleeson. says:

    What a breath of fresh air Fr Paddy Byrne is. He points out the problems, and simply request that ALL contribute to the solutions. We are again back to Dialogue, Dialogue, Dialogue.
    Is there anyone listning? Is there anyone there?

  4. Raymond Hickey Bordine says:

    To begin with, Paddy, it is my hope and prayer that Jesus will continue to be your source of strength, courage, and insight. It is evident from your writing that you still hold on to those energizing and life-giving hopes of Vatican Council II.
    I have always believed that when it comes to matters of trust [faith], trust the young! Perhaps when the RCC buildings are all EMPTY, the leadership will begin to take seriously what the youth are saying. Here in America, the youth have by and large quit participating [if you could have ever called it that] in the RCC.
    I think the reason for that is the same as for the married clergy no longer participating; and the same as for those who cannot be obsessed by dogma and doctrine; and the same as for those who feel marginalized and dehumanized by the teaching of the RCC regarding human sexuality; and the same for the other half of the human race who are told not to apply for ministerial duty!
    Community in and through Jesus, the Christ, will continue and will flourish but clearly not in this RCC. As long as the hierarchy and leadership close their ears and minds to what the People of God are saying, they cannot be of Jesus. As Vatican Council II and Pope John XXIII taught us [documents on “The Church in the Modern World” and “Freedom of Religion”] if the church is to survive and flourish it must listen to “the signs of the times”.
    Well, the “Signs of the Times” could not be any more clear, but the leadership refuses to acknowledge them and continues to peruse the news accounts and affairs of the Middle Ages. In the meantime, Jesus and the “People of God” continue to progress and move on while shaking off the dust from their cuffs.

  5. I hadn’t logged on the the ACP website for a long time. Today I just read your article,Paddy and I rejoice! If we do not have quantity in the younger priesthood, thank God we have quality. God bless you and all whose lives you touch.

  6. Stephen Edward says:

    Yes, Father, all we have to do is to copy the Anglicans and all will be well, people will flock to church and the seminaries will be full. Or do the FSSP have more to teach us about the problem? The numbers seem to clearly favour taking lessons from the latter group.

  7. Ger Gleeson. says:

    I personally have no interest in the seminaries being full. They were full in the 40s, 50s,and 60s and look where we are as a church today. Honesty and Integrity in both identifying and dealing with our problems is what is needed, and Fr Paddy and the ACP are both on the same wavelength there.

  8. While wishing all the best to Fr. Byrne, I would have to agree with Stephen Edward. One is reminded of the reply of a Lutheran Pastor to a lecture given by Hans Kung, in which the latter advocated married clegy, women priests etc., – “all very good Fr. Kung, but we introduced all of these innovations years ago, yet our churches have emptied much more rapidly than the Catholic Church”. I think the Western world is going through one of its frequent periods of intellectual infantilisation, and simply doesn’t want to hear the Church’s inconvenient teachings. No amount of tweaking to accommodate the zeitgeist is going to bring it to its senses.

  9. Joe O'Leary says:

    I just read Küng’s recent book “Ist die Kirche noch zu retten?” and I failed to find anything in it with which I could disagree. The irrefutability of his diagnoses is what drives his critics crazy, so that they resort to ridicule, which boomerangs on themselves. “Tweaking to accommodate the zeitgeist” is not the issue; it is a question of dealing with the huge shortage of qualified ministers in the Catholic Church; ideological purism is not helping here. Counting the numbers of Catholics gained or lost by doctrinal or disciplinary developments is an absolutely futile game, especially at a time when membership of the Catholic Church is in free fall in Germany, Austria, Ireland, Poland, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, the USA (and of course has long gone through the floor in Canada, the Netherlands, etc.).

  10. Hans Kungs diagnoses are totally refutable. Are you suggesting that the Lutheran Minister who replied to him was making things up. The fact is that the ” solutions ” suggested by Hans Kung have already been tried by other denominations and have had no impact whatsoever. He is a darling of the media as he can be relied upon to denigrate the Pope & the Church’s teachings. In any event, as Catholics the ” numbers game ” is irrelevant. It’s nothing to do with ” ideological purism “. The Church started as a tiny group, but Jesus did’nt soften his message to gain public favour, he stated boldly – ” if you love me, keep my commandments “. Lets look at the example of Archbishop Bruskewitz in Lincoln, Nebraska, instead of Hans Kung. A thriving, vocations rich diocese from a tiny Catholic community. Way to go !.

  11. Ger Gleeson. says:

    Clear and to the point Joe O Leary. Thank you.

  12. God bless you Paddy. You are a light in darkness. I will pray for you. I know none of you have easy vocations. Mary asks we pray for you all and that is enough for me.
    You take care of you too and don’t burn out.

  13. I am heartened by the fact that a lot of commentators on this site are suggesting that the renewal of the Church will come through the youth. Well, I as a 21 year old would like to share something regarding this. I, like many of my praticing Catholic peers, am sick and tired of listening to patronising middle-aged Catholics saying how the young people don’t like the Church’s teaching on a range of issues including sexuality, abortion, woman’s ordinations etc. The youth in my experience are more faithful to Rome and to the Church’s teachings than many of our parents and grandparents. We are loyal to the Pope, to the Tradition and Magesterium of the Church and want to see the authentic CATHOLIC renewal take place. I went to World Youth Day last year and was surprised to see how many young Catholics were there to show their fidelity to Christ and His Church. And that I think is the point, the Catholic Church is Christ’s Church. We live by His divine will not our own human desires. That’s what separates us from other Christian communities, as someone already pointed out, the liberal agenda’s have already been tested in Protestant churches, women’s ordinations = failure, married clery=failure, contraception=failure, acceptance of homosexuality as normal= failure but the biggest failure of all is the separation from Rome and a disregard for the legitimate Authority of the Holy See.
    Oremus pro Pontifice nostro!
    Christus Vincit, Christus Regnat, Christus Imperat!

  14. Brendan # 14
    God, Brendan, you sound more like Hitler youth, I think the young people whom hope is being placed in here are people with compassion for others,- THAT is Gods calling – NOT going back the way to the merciless Middle-Ages.

  15. Raymond Hickey Bordine says:

    Thanks Debbie [#15], for supporting the youth of the 21st. century. I have worked with those kids for over 45 years, and they are the hope for the future and in direct opposition to what Brendan proclaims both in English and in Latin. We need to remember that his ‘leader’, Benedict XVI, was a member of the Hitler Youth when he was young. We also need to recognize that Benedict XVI is now under investigation by the International Criminal Court at The Hague for crimes against humanity due to his involvement in the global Catholic clerical abuse massacre.
    Catholics of the world, these are facts! Look at Bishopaccountability.org and view the tens of thousands of notarized and sworn documents involving this crime of Catholic clerical sexual abuse. We are WAY PAST the point of putting the blame on anti-Catholic press, or the excuse of “a few bad apples”, or of saying it is the fault of society. Wake up, Catholics, and smell the coffee! This Catholic Church of the 21st century is NOT a Christian church. It is an AFFRONT and INSULT to Jesus, the Christ, and to the virgin Mary, for it to call itself Christian.
    Clericalism is at the root of the problem. It flies in the face of everything Jesus told us about a community based on equality of membership and love for all humanity and creation. It is no more a ‘church’ founded by Jesus, the Christ, than is McDonalds! Wake up and look at the facts!
    Read and study history; and read the non-Catholic scholars. Your eyes will be opened to what Jesus wants of his followers: it has nothing to do with clericalism, nothing to do with a ‘church’ amassing obscene wealth, and nothing to do with misogyny, nothing to do with status and power, nothing to do with magisterial teaching and royal trappings of dress and jewelry, and certainly NOTHING to do with sacrificing the ‘little ones’ to clerical predators to save its reputation. Jesus was all about love, inclusivity, and equality. You would never know that by looking at the Catholic Church. It is a blasphemy to Jesus, the Christ.
    I am a cradle Christian and have had to in the past year, following my conscience in loyalty to Jesus, withdraw ALL support of the RCC.

  16. Raymond Hickey Bordine # 16
    I think that both John Paul II and our present Pope were strongly affected by circumstances in their lives, both were affected personally by the 2nd W.W. and also by Communism afterwards, and this may have lead to the need to “keep the Church the same as has always been”. However, one has to wonder what excuse there is for the Curia’s lack of willingness to change?

  17. Sean (Derry) says:

    Raymond @ 16, can I take from your comments that you are not a Catholic and do not recognise Pope Benedict XVI as the Vicar of Christ, as the visible head of his Church on earth?
    It would help with further correspondence to know if you are a non-Catholic or a sedevacantist .
    Please remember that ‘his (Brendan’s) leader’, Pope Benedict XVI is also ‘my’ leader and the leader of ‘all’ who proclaim themself Catholic. You have the ‘free will’ and the ‘religious freedom’ to follow your own leader, but a little bit of respect, when referring to the Holy Father would not go amiss.

  18. Joe O'Leary says:

    “Benedict XVI is now under investigation by the International Criminal Court at The Hague for crimes against humanity due to his involvement in the global Catholic clerical abuse massacre.”
    Don’t forget that anyone can choose to sue anyone, but many cases are tossed out. “Lawyers familiar with the international court said it was unlikely the complaint against the Vatican [brought by SNAP] would fit the court’s mandate to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.”

  19. Debbie and Raymond,
    I am sorry if my fidelity to the Church and my experience of the Catholic faith, especially amongst the Youth are so offensive to you.
    As for your likening me to Hilter Youth not only do I find such comments highly offensive and disrespectful, I also find them quite immature. I understand that the Irish Church is in disarray at the minute, and that tensions are running high, but allowing ourselves to be reduced to using such offensive language is highly un-Christian.
    As for my experience of the faith of the youth, I can only refer you to Don Bosco’s vision. The Church only stays on course when She is set between Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, devotion to Our Lady and fidelity to the Church under the guidance of the Holy Father. I will not apologise for believing that this is the only authentic path to true renewal.
    In Christo,

  20. Dear brothers and sisters,
    Might I suggest some rquired reading
    Christ and His Church: Why Infallible? by the eminent English theologian Fr. Edward Holloway.
    And also his writing: Sexual Order and Holy Order

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