The Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin has spoken of a “new reality” of fewer priests, the questionable viability of some churches, and the need for a “radical reappraisal” of parish communities.
Bishop Denis Nulty highlighted the issues in a letter to mass-goers in the diocese, which covers 56 parishes in Kilkenny, Wicklow, Wexford, Laois, Offaly, Kildare, and Carlow.
“This new reality will see fewer priests in the not-too-distant future. At the moment, there are 90 priests ministering in our diocese; 27 of them are over 75.
“This stark figure points to the clear realisation that, unless there is a radical reappraisal of what a parish community should be, how it should be organised, co-ordinated, funded and ministered, there can be no real progress,” Bishop Nulty wrote, in a letter distributed through the diocese’s 117 churches.
“There will be changes for lay people who, for example, are perhaps used to having a mass at a certain time and place. A revision of mass times, funeral times, wedding and baptism times are obvious issues in our diocese, as is the ongoing viability of some churches in lesser-populated areas continuing to have weekly mass.
“Is it time to consider lay leadership and chaplaincy in some of our parishes, schools, hospitals and prisons and how can this be achieved?” Bishop Nulty asked.
He said that there will be challenges for priests in finding new ways of serving their people. “In light of the number of priests in active ministry in individual parishes, and particularly those over 75, the following questions need to be urgently addressed: Is it time to welcome more priests from abroad and work with them to make sure they are fully integrated and welcomed into the life of the diocese?
“Ought there be more concern with mission than with maintenance, with priests being willing to delegate more, so that there is a greater importance given to ‘a team’ and not an individual leading our parish communities?” he asked.
Bishop Nulty described the level of volunteerism in the diocese as staggering and said he was encouraged that 78% of people had identified as Roman Catholic in the 2016 Census.
“This is at a time when priests, religious congregations, and committed people of faith find their deeply-held beliefs under daily attack. I believe all of us, who love our diocese and parish, must realise the work that remains to be done to reach out to the 78%, and beyond that percentage,” he said.
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