Killala diocese is typical of many Catholic dioceses in Ireland. It consists of 22 parishes in north Mayo and north west Sligo, and struggles to provide a priest to each of those parishes. The diocese, unless something changes dramatically, will have just five or six active priests in less than two decades.
The collapse in vocations is so dramatic that the diocese has started a process to reflect on a vote that indicated that 85% of Catholics felt priests should be allowed to marry, while 81% supported priests who had married resuming ministry. The survey found that 80% backed women being ordained to the diaconate and, in opposition to the Vatican, 69% said women should be ordained.
It is hard not to think that those views would not, more or less, reflect views right across Ireland. The fall in vocations has been persistent over many years but, even so, it may be hard to appreciate that in 2018 there were, proportionately, more ordinations in France than in Ireland.
In France, where religious teaching is prohibited in public schools, 114 priests were ordained — roughly three priests per million Catholics. In Ireland, eight men were ordained, fewer than two priests per million. Ireland’s ordination rate is less than two-thirds that in a determinedly secular France.
Irish Catholicism faces a stark choice between purity or presence. It must, it seems, either pragmatically embrace the once unimaginable, or fade further towards the margins.