The dramatic slump in vocations is devastating morale among priests, the Bishop of Ferns has said.
Denis Brennan said the lack of new priests was one of the biggest challenges facing the Catholic Church which had to rethink how to minister to its faithful.
Bishop Brennan said 50 years ago, 441 priests were ordained in a year while now it is 12 or 13 annually.
“This sharp decline in numbers studying for the priesthood obviously has huge implications for the future shape of ministry. It also impacts on the present by undermining and sapping our morale,” he said.
“The effect of this should not be underestimated. I know farmers and business people, who when they realise that none of the family are interested in continuing on the farm or in the business, sell up.
“They lose heart, they see no point in continuing when it becomes obvious that nobody is going to carry on the business. This realisation can take its toll in priesthood and religious life too.”
Bishop Brennan told diocesan vocations directors in Maynooth that abuse scandals had “poisoned the well” but that the cultural shift had begun before them. He said, however, they were not the first Catholics to be anxious about what lay ahead and said “faith has to believe in the future”.
He quoted Pope Francis as saying: “None of us should be dour, discontented or dissatisfied, for a gloomy disciple is a disciple of gloom”.
The bishops have agreed in principle to set up a National Office for Vocations to promote the call to priesthood and rejuvenate initiatives at diocesan level.
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