Waterford: Bishop Cullinane warns of possible closure of churches in Waterford due to ‘crisis’ in vocations

Irish Independent article. Link to full article:


Eoin Kelleher

A public meeting is to be held next week to address the crisis in vocations to the priesthood in Waterford, possibly leading to church closures and fewer Masses, local clergy have warned.

In a sign of the changing times Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Alphonsus Cullinan has circulated a letter inviting all parishioners to come to apublic meeting on Wednesday, February 28, at 7pm in the Abbeyside Church.

“Bishop Cullinan would like to consult parishioners to seek advice as to how we should respond to the present crisis,” wrote Fr Ned Hassett. “He suggests some options, such as reducing the number of Masses, closing churches, or amalgamating parishes.”

With only six priests covering 13 churches in Dungarvan, Abbeyside, An Rinn, Stradbally, Kilrossanty and Kilgobinet, the letter states that there is a “significant decline in vocations to the priesthood” and with an aging clergy today “it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the current level of service in our parish and in the wider pastoral area.” There are 17 weekend Masses in the area.

The Parish Pastoral Council recommended that they broaden the scope of the consultation, and “to see the crisis as an opportunity to encourage and promote greater lay participation in ministry and leadership in parishes.”

Some of the ideas around local reform include “offering a possibility for all the baptised to more fully live out their faith” whereby parishes could be managed by lay people, or where pastoral workers could be engaged to lead ministry groups.

“Lay-led liturgies of the Word could be introduced: all such initiatives would support a more collaborative style of ministry with priests and people working together. We have the opportunity now to explore new ways of being Church.”

Irish society is very different now than even ten years ago, the letter continues. “While we must try to maintain parish identity, we know that there is a lot more mobility of people nowadays and that parish structures and schedules need consideration. There are some parishes without a priest.”

In recent months, senior clergy travelled to each of the Pastoral Areas to meet all the priests and discuss how best to use resources, especially with regard to providing the Sacraments.

“We are all concerned about a more beautiful and meaningful celebration of the Eucharist. With the decline in the number of priests and priests’ age and health, the current Mass schedule cannot be sustained.”

The number of Masses “cannot be sustained in the long term,” warns the Bishop. “I am very conscious that the people of the parishes must be very much part of any discussion about change and how to grapple with this situation.”

The following options for change are being discussed: to alternate the Mass venues, such as having six months in one church and six in the other, to rotate churches each weekend, or to host a Vigil Mass only in one church, and Sunday Mass in the other or others.

Other proposals include having a hub church and, or, satellite churches having no weekly Mass but used only for special occasions, such as for Baptisms.

Another option is to close churches, or to change Mass times so that times don’t clash. “What happens if your priest is sick? Or on holidays,” asked the Bishop. “I ask you to please take these things to prayer and to discuss them at parish level, in small groups, or at the parish pastoral council meetings.

“Your involvement is essential. But decisions have to be made. We cannot avoid change. Either we manage it now or we end up in confusion. By the 1st of June 2024, I hope that you will have reached some proposals and decisions.” Parishioners can email their suggestions to abgparish@gmail.com by February 23 or post them to the Abbeyside Parish Office, Standside South, Abbeyside, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford.

Bishop Cullinan also paid tribute to the area’s newest priest, Fr Mark O’Farrell, who was ordained on August 20.

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  1. Joe Mulvaney says:

    The Lord be with you all. The Good News for Bishop Cullinane is that there is an abundance of good Catholic women and men in every parish with the talents and charism and calling to provide ministry, governance, leadership and service. Polls over the last decades have shown that a large majority of Irish Catholic people favour equality and ordination for women as well as the abolition of the cruel abuse of enforced celibacy. I suspect that the forthcoming public meeting in Waterford will confirm the above assertions as well as the insights of the ongoing Synodal Process. There is no need for us to self harm with the disastrous clerical policy of Eucharistic and Pastoral Ministry famine. We are all horrified at clerical regimes in foreign countries which suppress women, oppress LGBTQ+ people and who refuse to share power. The patriarchal control group in our Catholic Church need to listen and proceed urgently with much needed reform. The ongoing Synod will be a total con job if there is no substantial change and freedom allowed for regions to proceed at their own pace. Straight talking and honest admission of outdated nonsense is preferable to pious balderdash. The truth will set us free and bring joy and peace.

  2. Joe O’Leary says:

    “Straight talking and honest admission of outdated nonsense is preferable to pious balderdash.”

    The synodal process is a wonder: Input: straight talking — Output: pious balderdash.

  3. Sean O'Conaill says:

    To speak of a ‘crisis in vocations’ is not just to allege that God has gone hoarse. It ignores a fact obvious from the totality of youth culture: that every young person feels a call to heroism. The huge popularity on e.g. Netflix of young people fighting a myriad of evils is proof enough.

    That Jesus fought evil by calling out religious hypocrisy – and suffering the consequences – is as obvious as the fact that ordained clergy very rarely highlight that. Do the seminaries not teach them that?

    How long will it take for the penny to drop that most young people can simply see nothing intrinsically heroic about a role centred instead on signs and symbols and rituals – especially when the ‘sacrifice’ of celibacy has been hopelessly compromised by the total failure of the magisterium to prove that the cover-up of child abuse had nothing to do with concealing the fact that an unknown number of priests were flouting the celibacy rule?

    Has Bishop Cullinan noticed Archbishop Scicluna’s call for a reconsideration of celibacy, to prevent priests leading ‘double lives’ – a frank admission that this must be the inevitable result of the celibacy rule? How can young people today see heroism in a ‘calling’ from the magisterium that is in such stark denial of the recent past that they know all about?


    At a stroke the Irish Bishops Conference could tell us exactly why most school leavers don’t seriously consider the ordained priesthood – simply by asking them and then publishing the results. Are we supposed to see heroism in the ducking of that obvious recourse?

    Let’s pray for realism about ‘vocation’ in Waterford. All of us are called to heroism and integrity in the service of others. Celibacy was entirely incidental to Jesus’ heroism, and he never made it a condition of service or salvation. Why not, at last, make the sacrifice of total honesty about that?

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