A body representing over 1,000 Catholic priests has called on bishops to open up dialogue with their members to find a solution to the vocations crisis.
In a report published following their annual general meeting last week, the Association of Catholic Priests’ members rejected the strategy of ‘clustering’ as the answer to the decline in priest numbers.
In response to the falling numbers of ordained clerics, Catholic Church leaders have resorted to clustering — the process of amalgamating parishes into larger units — across most dioceses in the country.
But in its report, the ACP said: “The consensus of the meeting was that clustering is not working and will not work. It merely provides the perception that something is happening, while it is clear to everyone that it’s a form of ‘moving the deckchairs’ to reassure the passengers in the short term.”
Solutions to the crisis put forward by the ACP include ordaining married men, inviting back priests who’d left the parish previously to get married and ordaining women to the diaconate.
The group also called on bishops to engage more with their priests and parishioners to find lasting and realistic solutions to the vocations crisis.
The report added: “The present model of priesthood is not working. Ultimately we need to re-imagine a new form of ministry which will build up the community of the faithful and involve many people in different ministries. “The community of believers must be at the centre of this new theology of priesthood.”
Last week the ACP warned that ordained clerics are facing the grim prospect of having to celebrate joint funeral Masses in the near future.
Fr Brendan Hoban, a founding member of the group, said the vocations crisis has become so critical that the day is looming when there won’t be enough priests available in some parishes to conduct single funeral and wedding Masses.
The Co. Mayo-based priest said he believed the Hierachy now had little choice but to implement radical new changes to save hundreds of parishes from closing across the country.
He added: “Unless the bishops make changes, we’re facing a catastrophic situation in the next 10 to 20 years because there simply won’t be enough priests to supply Mass to our people. And if you haven’t got Mass, then you no longer have a Church.”
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