Special Report - Diocese by diocese: The state of the Catholic Church on the island of Ireland today

Pope Francis will visit Ireland later this year, but will find a different country to that which welcomed his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, almost four decades ago.

To take just one example, pubs can open on Good Friday — another sign that the influence of religion over the workings of the nation is on the wane.

On the ground, a survey of archdioceses and dioceses around the country shows an ageing priesthood, with human resources stretched.

It has meant parishes relying more on the laity, particularly the volunteering parish councils, while a small but growing number of serving priests are from overseas.

Here the Irish Examiner takes an in-depth snapshot of the Catholic Church and the issues affecting it in Ireland today.

NEWS: Survey warns about ageing Church 

By Noel Baker, Social Affairs Correspondent

Senior figures within the Catholic Church are warning that the ageing profile of priests and the lack of new ordinations could mean a further reduction in its footprint around the country.

A survey of archdioceses and dioceses highlights the changing face of the Catholic Church in Ireland. It found that human resources are being stretched, that a small but growing number of parishes are without a resident priest, and that there is an increased role for deacons and for priests coming to serve from overseas.

There is a shrinking number of Masses, according to the survey, and, in some areas, limitations on when ceremonies such as weddings and baptisms can be conducted.

At least half of the 25 archdioceses and dioceses around the country have seen an aggregate fall in the number of priests serving within them in the past five years, while almost half have parishes which have had to reduce the number of Mass services they can offer.

A handful of dioceses and archdioceses have parishes which do not have a resident priest or share a priest with another parish — with warnings that this could increase unless there is a rise in the number of people who can serve.

In Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, training for parish catechists commenced in September 2017 with more than 30 participants. A permanent diaconate has been launched, although there are currently no people in receipt of training.

Four parishes have reduced the number of Masses. Bishop Francis Duffy said: “In visiting parishes and meeting parish pastoral councils, it is very clear that parishioners value their priests very highly. Unfortunately, we will not have enough priests to replace those who will retire. This will result in more parishes not having a resident priest.”

In Dromore, Bishop John McAreavey said: “Several priests have more than one parish. Naturally, the decreasing number of priests has had an impact on the service available by priests through the parishes. The rescheduling of Masses has been happening for more than 10 years, [for example], dropping from four to three, or three to two.”

The archdiocese of Cashel and Emly has seen nine departures from its complement of priests in the last five years, with just two ordinations.

Fr Nicholas Irwin, diocesan secretary, said: “With fewer priests, more focus will inevitably fall on the role of the lay people in any parish — especially as they involve themselves more in administrative activity.”

In the diocese of Limerick, there are 60 parishes and 65 priests, but 27 are due to retire in the next decade.

In Kilmore’s 34 parishes, there are 72 priests, but just 45 are below the retirement age of 75 and there have been no ordinations in five years.

Fr Donal Kilduff, diocesan secretary, said: “The number of priests serving in parishes has been reduced by up to half. Where once there were two priests ministering, now there is only one.

“Parishes have been ‘clustered’ into pastoral areas to facilitate co-operation and locum cover in case of illness and annual leave. Mass times have been rationalised within parish areas, to facilitate priests assisting with Masses in neighbouring parishes, and especially in the event of locum cover.”

Fr Francis Mitchell of the Tuam archdiocese said a number of positive steps have been made in recent years, including the enhanced role of deacons.

“My greater concern is the decline in religious practice despite census figures showing the majority of people in Ireland identifying as Catholic,” he said.

“The underlying problem is not the number of priests being ordained or available to serve in a diocese, it’s the cultural challenge.”

He said while Pope Francis is popular with many Irish people, “the same people do not feel the need to actively engage with their local parish on a regular and ongoing basis”.

ANALYSIS: Snapshot of the Catholic Church and the issues affecting it in Ireland today

Archdiocese of Armagh

61 parishes

115 priests and 14 permanent deacons. There are also 25 retired priests, a small number of whom are able to provide assistance locally on a part-time basis.

In the last five years nine priests have retired. This has been offset by the ordination of seven priests and the introduction of five priests on loan from Poland, India and Africa, in the same timespan.

Currently there are 14 permanent deacons ministering in the diocese, of whom, five were recently ordained in September 2017. All 14 permanent deacons are assigned to parishes and a few are also involved in hospital and prison chaplaincy. Most of our permanent deacons are still in full-time employment in the secular world and exercise their ministry on a part-time basis.

Currently, every parish in the Archdiocese of Armagh has at least one priest assigned to it.

Another initiative in the diocese has been the establishment in 2012 of a seminary, based in Dundalk, Co Louth — The Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary.

The 17 seminarians who study there come from Neocatechumenal Way communities throughout the world and will be ordained as priests of the Archdiocese of Armagh.

Special Report - Diocese by diocese: The state of the Catholic Church on the island of Ireland today

To date a Polish man from the Redemptoris Mater Seminary has been ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Armagh and is serving in a parish in the archdiocese.

Caroline Hicks, diocesan office, said while there have been cutbacks, no parish is without a priest.

“Although some parishes in this diocese have had to reorganise and reduce the number of weekday and Sunday Masses, there haven’t been significant reductions. No parish within the diocese is without a resident priest.

“The Archdiocese of Armagh, like other dioceses in Ireland, is in a time of transition: From a period in which there were large numbers of clergy and religious and substantial practice of the lay faithful including attendance at Sunday Mass, to a time where the age profile of clergy and religious is getting higher and vocations are fewer, while at the same time there is a much reduced religious practice and attendance at Mass by lay people, especially in the southern part of the archdiocese.

“To address these issues the Archdiocese of Armagh launched a five year Diocesan Pastoral Plan, 2015-2020: Share the Joy of the Gospel. The plan focuses primarily on the areas of mission and outreach, catechesis, and liturgy.

“Priests fulfil a vital ministry within the Church. There is a need, therefore, for vocations to the priesthood to be maintained. To this end the Diocesan Vocations Commission has been active in promoting calls to the priesthood.

“One notable change we have noticed in parishes over the past five years has been the increase in the number of parishioners from other countries. This has been one of the reasons that we have sought help from priests from other countries.

“We currently have eight priests on loan to the diocese from overseas (Nigeria, India, Poland, Zimbabwe, Kenya) exercising a variety of ministries including chaplaincy to ‘new Irish’ communities.

“There has also been an increase in the age profile of priests in the last five years. The introduction of the Redemptoris Mater Seminary into the diocese, with currently 17 seminarians, will, please God, bear fruit over the next number of years. There are also three students studying for the priesthood, for this diocese, in seminaries in Maynooth and Rome,” she said.

Almost all of the 61 parishes have an active parish pastoral council, made up of both clergy and lay people; many of which are also chaired by lay people.

“Over the last ten years there has been a huge uptake by laity to support their clergy in significant roles within the archdiocese. It has become common practice for all parishes to have trained ministers of the Word and ministers of the Eucharist.”

Down and Connor 

87 parishes

108 priests — down seven in last five years

6 ordinations in last five years

16 deceased priests in last five years

45 retired priests in the area

Interestingly, there has been an increase in confirmations and First Communions over the past five years, but a slight fall in baptisms and weddings.

Special Report - Diocese by diocese: The state of the Catholic Church on the island of Ireland today

Fr Eddie McGee, Diocese of Down and Connor, said 83 out of 87 parishes currently have at least one priest in attendance. Three parishes are administered by religious orders. Parish priests in seven parishes also serve as parish priests in seven other adjoining parishes. Over the five-year period, one parish has had long-term assistance from a priest from Australia.

“We have had a number of priests temporarily assisting in the diocese from a number of countries across Europe and further afield. We have also had a number of religious priests who have retired into the diocese and who assist parishes at times.

“Over the past five years, we have two priests from India, two priests from Poland, one priest from Australia and one priest from Uganda assisting in full time ministry.

“While there have been some changes to times of Masses, all pastoral needs of parishioners continue to be met.

“In response to changing demographics one major recent initiative with regard to the distribution of clergy has been the creation of 13 pastoral communities. An important aim of this initiative is to help clergy to support one another as they seek to further the Church’s mission of evangelisation.”

He added: In the years ahead, with a significant decrease in the number of priests anticipated, it is expected that this structural arrangement (clustering) will significantly influence the distribution of clergy across the diocese.

“The Diocese of Down and Connor has also recently introduced the permanent diaconate (2013) and there are currently 10 ordinations to the permanent diaconate scheduled for later in the Autumn.

“Priests exercise an essential sacramental ministry within the Church. It is critical as a Church that we continue to promote and support vocations to the priesthood.”

Ardagh and Clonmacnoise

41 parishes

55 priests

In the last five years, 7 priests have left active service: 2 priests in active ministry died, 4 have retired and 1 priest from a missionary order has returned to work for his order.

Seven new entrants; 2 are newly ordained for the diocese, 2 are from abroad, 2 from a missionary order and 1 diocesan priest has returned from mission work.

The permanent diaconate has been launched in this diocese although there are currently no people in receipt of training.

A training programme for parish catechists commenced in September 2017 with over 30 participants.

Special Report - Diocese by diocese: The state of the Catholic Church on the island of Ireland today

Four parishes have reduced the number of Masses. Weddings do not take place on Sundays; this has been the case for quite a while. In this same pastoral area, a Sunday evening Mass has been introduced.During the period the diocese has introduced the Pope John Paul II Awards; it has an increasing number of participants year on year.

Bishop Francis Duffy said: “In visiting parishes and meeting parish pastoral councils it is very clear that parishioners value their priests very highly. Unfortunately we will not have enough priests to replace those who will retire. This will result in more parishes not having a resident priest.

“The bishop has alerted parishioners to this in a pastoral letter in March 2017 and also at various meetings with parish groups at local level.”

Dromore

22 parishes

25 priests

8 priests left active service in the last five years

2 newly qualified priests in the same period

5 Permanent Deacons and three more in training.

The restructuring of Mass schedules has been under review over the past 10 years and work is continuing on a diocesan pastoral plan.

Bishop John McAreavey said the diocese has five permanent Deacons and three more in training. Some pastoral workers are being trained but have not begun serving yet.

“Most parishes have parish pastoral councils and parish finance councils. In some places in the absence of Mass there are eucharistic services and other forms of prayer, such as exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Several parishes have baptism teams.”

He said several priests have more than one parish.

“Naturally the decreasing number of priests has had an impact on the service available by priests through the parishes. The rescheduling of Masses has been happening for more than 10 years — dropping from 4 to 3, or 3 to 2.

“We have three Polish priests; they look after the needs of the Polish community but they serve the needs of the rest of their parishes.

“I do not think we will bring in priests from abroad. We are more inclined to train lay people, such as the parish pastoral workers I mentioned. The possibility of the diocese taking over some administrative responsibilities is also being considered.

“We currently have a group of clergy and lay people from across the diocese working to develop a strategic plan for the diocese. This will be issued in June.”

Derry

51 parishes

76 priests

Nine priests have left ministry in the past five years.

Eight new priests have entered ministry in the Diocese in the same period — and includes seven ordinations for the diocese.

There have been no changes with regard to parish configuration over the past decade and “nothing significant” with regard to any alterations to Mass schedules or carrying out services such as weddings and baptisms.

According to a spokesperson: “Focus is strategically changing from ‘how do the laity help the priest to do his work’ to ‘how do the clergy prepare the laity to do their work in a missionary Church’.”

The Derry diocese has only two priests from overseas, one serving as chaplain to the Polish community and one serving the Syro-Malabar community, and has no plans to bring priests from overseas to take up full-time parish appointments.

Kilmore

34 Parishes

72 priests — 45 are below retirement age (75), 12 are aged above 75 years and remain working in parish ministry. 15 priests have retired fully from parish ministry.

8 priests retired in the past five years

Zero ordinations

Fr Donal Kilduff, diocesan secretary, said eight priests have retired from parish ministry in the past five years.

“We have not had any ordinations in that time. One priest joined the diocese from a diocese in Poland. At present three priests are working in parish ministry, on temporary secondment from their missionary society.

Special Report - Diocese by diocese: The state of the Catholic Church on the island of Ireland today

“The number of priests serving in parishes has been reduced by up to half. Where once there were two priests ministering, now there is only one. Parishes have been ‘clustered’ into pastoral areas to facilitate cooperation and locum cover in case of illness and annual leave. Two permanent deacons have been ordained and are ministering in our diocese. Four lay pastoral assistants have been engaged in assisting with ministry in pastoral areas.”

He said Mass times have been rationalised within parish areas, to facilitate priests assisting with Masses in neighbouring parishes, and especially in the event of locum cover.

“Priests are required to exercise a vital ministry in the Church. Therefore, the need for vocations to the priesthood is critical, notwithstanding the involvement and support of the lay faithful in reaching out to parishioners. Naturally the decreasing number of priests has had an impact on the service available by priests through the parishes.

“Technically, none of our parishes is without a resident priest, in that no parish is without a Parish Priest. In the past, some of the parish work would have been delegated to the ‘curate’ (assistant to the parish priest). The situation that has arisen is that the number of curates has fallen significantly.

“In this respect, the area in the parish, in which the curate formally resided, has no longer a priest resident, but is administered by the parish priest. In the past five years, two parishes have been ‘suppressed’ and amalgamated with a neighbouring parish. This is a variation on the above, where a smaller parish has been subsumed into a neighbouring parish. The newly created parish is administered by one priest, thus reducing the personnel.”

Clogher

37 parishes

63 priests and 1 deacon presently serving in the diocese.

14 priests have died since 2013; one has retired from ministry, one has been granted leave to minister in the USA and one has been granted leave of absence.

Since 2013, four new priests have been ordained and another is due for ordination next July. Another priest has come to work in the diocese on a temporary basis during that period. A permanent deacon will be ordained in June 2018.

There have no significant changes regarding weddings, baptisms, but a diocesan spokesperson said: “Some parishes have reduced Sunday Masses to take account of the reduced numbers of priests. As a diocese, we emphasise the community and active participation dimension of our liturgies. Therefore, fewer Masses with greater participation can have a positive impact in parishes. Weekday Masses are celebrated according to local needs.

“Lay people will continue to play an increasingly important role in the diocese. While we have not yet determined a policy regarding weekday liturgies celebrated in the absence of a priest, the diocesan commission has examined the question, with a view to the future. We currently have one person completing formation for the permanent diaconate and he will be ordained in June 2018.

“More priests are required to cater for future needs in terms of the celebration of the sacraments. Our work on promoting the vocation to priesthood and religious life is important here. The role of lay people will be critical also, in answering the baptismal calling of all of us, priests and laity — as the People of God, to be witnesses to Jesus Christ in the world and to the values of the Gospel.”

Raphoe

No details supplied

Meath

69 parishes

125 priests (15 retired).

In the past five years, 18 priests died; of this number, seven were in active ministry. Seven priests were ordained in the same period, with eight foreign priests joining the diocese from abroad. These priests come from Romania, India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Uganda. Three are engaged in full-time post graduate studies in Maynooth (which is near to this diocese) while five are full-time ministering in parishes.

Fr Paul Crosbie said there has been no considerable changes in general to provision of Masses, sacraments or pastoral services over the past five years.

“There has been a long-standing prohibition on Sunday weddings that dates back many years.

“Specifically, there are four circumstances where two neighbouring parishes are now served by one parish priest; these are situations where there were two small rural parishes now being served by one PP rather than two separate PPs.

Special Report - Diocese by diocese: The state of the Catholic Church on the island of Ireland today

“Every effort is made to ensure that each parish continues to retain its own identity; the parishes are not being amalgamated; one PP is covering both parishes. In two of these situations, there are two priests available to the two parishes; in two cases just one priest is serving both parishes. In those circumstances there has been some rescheduling of Sunday Masses but I understand that the Sunday Mass still takes place in every parish.”

Tuam Archdiocese

55 parishes

65 priests currently serving.

In the past five years six priests retired. One new priest ordained, four others have come from elsewhere to serve in the archdiocese.

Some parishes have had changes in the number of priests ministering there, or in some cases where there was one priest previously, now the neighbouring Parish Priest has taken charge of the second parish too.

The archdiocese has just introduced the permanent diaconate. Expressions of interest were received and a selection process was embarked upon. Six married men have now begun their formation course, which will last for four years. (The archdiocese also has six young men in seminary.)

Every parish now has a pastoral council, the members of which collaborate and work closely with the local priest. Parish secretaries are now doing more of the day-to-day administrative work previously done by the priest. And the archdiocese has a full-time youth officer.

Fr Francis Mitchell said the outlook is more positive, even though the numbers of priests available to serve in parishes has and continues to decline.

“That does mean that aspects of ministry which require a priest (eg the celebration of Mass) may be affected, and the number of Sunday Masses celebrated in any one parish may have to be examined and even reduced.

“The steady decline in religious practice among the people is, in fact, more of a reason to make these changes. Where churches were once full and required several Masses each weekend, there is now in many parishes a regular congregation that can be accommodated in one Mass.

“However, while the number of priests reaching the age of retirement is greater than the numbers being ordained or coming to the archdiocese from elsewhere, the truth remains that retired priests in good health continue to provide a service — either as assistant priests (eg remaining on in a parish and working with a new parish priest), or by providing weekend, holiday, and emergency cover when necessary.

“My greater concern is the decline in religious practice despite census figures showing the majority of people in Ireland identifying as Catholic. The underlying problem is not the number of priests being ordained or available to serve in a diocese, it’s the cultural challenge. It seems to me that Pope Francis is the face of a very welcoming Church. The individual experiences of many parishioners here and everywhere will confirm that they were welcomed and accommodated by local clergy when they had a need or a request.

“The Pope has presented this truth on a global level (and indeed on a stratospheric level as he did in January on a jet when he celebrated the sacrament of marriage with a couple), and people warm to him and to his message.”

However, he said the same people do not feel the need to actively engage with their local parish on a regular and ongoing basis.

“Yes, they are happy to come to get married, to have children baptised and receive the other sacraments, they come at Christmas and maybe at Easter, and the traditional Irish Catholic funeral, thankfully, continues to gather and minister to everybody, and priests really do make the effort to accommodate them, but the on-going commitment to the local parish appears not to be a priority for many. And the answer to all of that lies at the level of faith, and that is not something that can be forced, but, rather, it will develop over time by these people feeling welcome and cared for when they do present themselves on occasions such as mentioned above.”

Special Report - Diocese by diocese: The state of the Catholic Church on the island of Ireland today

Elphin

37 parishes

62 priests

In the past three years, three priests in active ministry have died and six have retired (Nine in total).

In the same period, seven priests have begun ministry in the diocese, mostly on temporary loan from overseas. None of the new arrivals are newly ordained. There are eight deacons in active service.

There has been a reduction in the number of Masses in some areas, corresponding not only to the availability of priests, but also to the decline in population in the West.

Sheena Darcy, Elphin diocesan office, said the large number of priests that we active, especially in the period from the 1950s to the 1980s, was a “bubble”. The numbers now are more like the numbers 100 years ago.

“In the past two years, we have established a formation programme for volunteer catechists, who will offer opportunities for their fellow parishioners to deepen their faith through various spiritual and educational programmes.

“We don’t really need more priests than we currently have in ministry, but we do need a greater balance in the age range of priests. While it is wonderful to be able to welcome priests among us from countries which were evangelised by Irish missionaries, we do also need to provide priests of our own, whose own faith and experience of Church is rooted in the West of Ireland.

“A faith community which did not inspire people to mission would have to question its depth of faith. We are blessed currently to have two men preparing for the priesthood for our diocese.

“We would really want to send two men every year. We are also blessed with a new and vibrant community of six young religious sisters, two of them Irish, who have established themselves in the diocese in the past year.”

Achonry

No details supplied

Clonfert

24 parishes

33 priests in active ministry. Seven retired priests — of these, four are available to supply in parishes when needed.

In the past five years four priests have retired at 75. There have been no departures from ministry and three priests began ministry in Clonfert in that period — none of these was newly ordained.

There is at present no parish without a resident priest.

There have been no changes in services available in the last five years. Sunday weddings are not allowed for the past 15 years or thereabouts, but this decision was not related to decline in numbers. Pastoral councils are active in many parishes and performing some administrative duties in some parishes. Three town parishes have secretaries.

It is about 10 years since the last set of changes in the number of Masses. There was some rationalisation in 2009/2010 but not since then.

Bishop John Kirby said: “Clonfert would be able to function with the current level of priests. The problem is the increasing age of the priests. We could certainly provide important work if more priests were available, but currently we are able to meet essential requirements.

“Currently there are two priests from Jalingo Diocese, Nigeria ministering in Clonfert. We hope to have a third Jalingo priest in September.”

Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora

39 parishes

40 priests plus 8 non-diocesan (order) priests in fulltime ministry

10 priest departures in last five years (7 retired, one moved, one on leave)

7 new priests (4 ordinations, 3 returnees)

Diarmuid Hogan said: “Every parish makes various changes and applies various rules and exception for a whole variety of reasons, not just personnel and resource issues.

“However, in the past five years the Parish of Kinvara and of Ballinderreen have been amalgamated which has involved various restructuring of timetables and expectations. It should also be noted that most parishes now have a parish office and clerical assistance. This has freed priests from much of the administrative work which previously was so time-consuming.

“I don’t believe there have been any significant or newsworthy changes to the schedule of Masses across the diocese in recent times.”

Killala

22 parishes

30 priests

Six priests have retired since 2013. One priest came on loan to the diocese. One priest was ordained.

No parish is without a full-time priest. To date, no changes have been made regarding scheduling of certain services such as baptisms or weddings and minor changes have been made to the Mass schedule in the parishes, with reduced weekend Masses in one parish. Due to the provision of some new nursing homes, cover has increased slightly for those facilities.

Bishop John Fleming said there is currently a “Listening Process” in place in preparation for a fiocesan assembly next June which will provide for the pastoral care of the diocese for the foreseeable future. “We don’t have any priests from overseas serving in the diocese at present. We have two priests from Irish religious congregations. Our diocesan assembly will determine the answer to this question.

Special Report - Diocese by diocese: The state of the Catholic Church on the island of Ireland today

“Lay people are now very involved in chairing boards of management in the primary schools. They are also involved in our diocesan safeguarding children committee as well as in the diocesan education council, the parish pastoral councils and the parish finance councils. They form a majority in the diocesan finance council and in the management committee for St Muredach’s Trust.”

Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly

46 parishes

79 priests

9 priest departures in past five years (6 deaths, one retirement, 2 left ministry)

2 new priests (ordinations) in same period

No changes noted to the hosting of to weddings, baptisms etc.

Very Rev Nicholas J Irwin, diocesan secretary, said: “In some parishes there has been a decrease in weekend Masses. Some parishes had to adapt to fewer priests serving in the parish. Currently, we are assessing parish needs and formulating a pastoral plan for the diocese; this will take some months to complete as we consult the parishioners in each parish by way of a Listening Process.”

“With fewer priests, more focus will inevitably fall on the role of the lay people in any parish — especially as they involve themselves more in administrative activity.”

Cork and Ross

67 parishes

91 priests in full-time parish ministry (not all are diocesan priests)

21 priests in chaplaincy, administration and education

21 retired priests (all diocesan)

In the last three years, four new priests ordained along with two deacons. Three priests have retired and one priest in ministry died.

There have been no significant changes regarding baptisms, funeral. There have been no significant changes to masses other than the introduction of two additional Sunday evening Masses in the city area. Two Polish chaplains and one Indian chaplain work in the Diocese.

Fr Charlie Kiely, director of pastoral development and planning, confirmed every parish has a full-time priest or priests assigned to them.

“The diocese actively encourages lay people to live out their baptismal call to the full. Priests exercise a particular vital ministry in our Church. The priest is the one responsible for the pastoral care of the parish who administers the sacraments to the people.

“Therefore it is a necessary action of the parish community to encourage vocations to the priesthood from among the families of the parish. This is to ensure that we can continue to develop the team ministry of laity and clergy working together to bring the Gospel to all people and to deepen the faith of one another.

“As the number of priests declines over the coming years it will no doubt mean that the service provided will be impacted, however, this calls us to develop new ways of being Church together and new responses to the call of the Gospel.”

Cloyne

46 parishes

120 priests — 90 full time, 20 retired but in part-time ministry and 10 fully retired from active ministry.

In the last five years six priests have retired. Two have been ordained. Six permanent deacons were ordained last September and have been appointed to parishes to assist. Many lay people involved in various apostolates.

Some parishes have reduced Masses and changed Mass times. Parish pastoral councils have been set up in many parishes to assist the priest.

Fr Jim Moore said: “We have a good number of priests in the 55-75 age bracket. Some reduction or consolidation will be needed over the next ten years but no dramatic reduction in service is anticipated.”

Killaloe

58 parishes

99 priests — four serve outside the diocese in various ministries, 66 are in active ministry in parishes and the remainder are retired. There are 137 churches in these 58 parishes and in the past each of these church areas was a Christian community in its own right.

Since 2013, there has been one ordination and two priests have come from India. Two priests have left ministry in that time and 7 have died.

Fr Ger Nash, diocesan secretary, said the diocese, for over 10 years, has been clustering parishes to streamline services and to facilitate priests working together.

Masses have been reduced by approximately 30. Currently 185 Masses are celebrated every weekend in the 58 parishes. There has been no other reduction in services.

“There has been no increase in the number of services provided but in many cases programmes for First Holy Communion and Confirmation and Baptism have been developed.

“The involvement of people in the development of a diocesan pastoral plan has increased and there are a lot of training events for lay people across the diocese.

“We have more than 20 parishes which do not have a resident parish priest and where the people of the parish have to take responsibility for the day to day running of the parish. This includes finance, safeguarding, liturgy, maintenance and school board functions. Many parishes have trained people to lead liturgy in the absence of a priest and this will likely develop into the future in training in funeral liturgies.”

He said the diocese has 129,000 people and almost 35% live in seven of the 58 parishes.

“The challenge facing the Diocese of Killaloe is how maintain the Christian community which exists around each of the individual 137 churches, particularly in rural areas where there is serious depopulation due to demographic factors.

“The principal issue facing this diocese is not so much the scarcity of priests but the age structure. The average age in Killaloe is 66 and so the quantity of priests is not so much the issue as the decreasing energy due to older age.”

Kerry

53 parishes

54 priests in parish ministry, this includes four non-diocesan clergy and two Assistant Priests

There are six diocesan priests under 50

In the last three years, seven priests have left active ministry — four have retired, two have died and one has left. There have been no new priests. Six parishes are without a resident priest.

Mary Fagan, diocesan director of communications, said diocesan planning over the last 10 years has taken into account the decreasing number of priests.

“Less priests mean less Masses. The structure of the pastoral area is being used to co-ordinate Mass times to keep the availability clear. Funerals no longer happen at weekends. Six parishes are without resident priests.

“Priests are required to exercise a vital ministry in the Church. Therefore the need for vocations to the priesthood is critical, notwithstanding the involvement and support of the lay faithful in reaching out to parishioners. Naturally the decreasing number of priests has had an impact on the service available by priests through the parishes.

“Lay people are active as chairs and members of parish councils and pastoral area councils, ministers of the eucharist, ministers of the Word, chairs and members of the board of management of the parish school, members of baptism preparation and funeral ministry teams. The diocese of Kerry has five Deacons.“

Special Report - Diocese by diocese: The state of the Catholic Church on the island of Ireland today

Limerick

60 parishes

65 priests in active ministry, but with 27 priests due to retire within the next 10 years.

17 priests have left ministry in the diocese in the last five years.

There are currently two students in Rome who are in their second year of formation. Priestly formation can take anything from six years upwards.

The last priest to be ordained was four years ago.

A spokesperson for the diocese said with fewer priests many lay people taking up new roles.

“For example the diocese has appointed a lay diocesan secretary, all primary and secondary school advisors are lay people. In the past, these roles would have been undertaken by priests. Ultimately, all this was very much addressed in our Synod in 2016, the first of its kind in the country in over half a century and one very much aimed at turning the Church very much to the future and providing the type of pastoral leadership and support that reflects the needs of the faithful.”

The Synod was a three-day gathering of 400 delegates — 300 lay and 60% female — in Limerick after an 18-month listening process that engaged with over 5,000 people across the diocese. Some 97 proposals across six themes that covered the biggest issues for the Church were agreed.

“Ultimately, all our changes are inspired by the Synod call for a renewal in the Church so that we can reach out more, especially to younger generations. The diocese is working towards a team ministry model which proposes that parishes work together in small clusters within current pastoral areas sharing resources and personnel, including clergy. The exact shape that this will take will inevitably vary from one place to another as parishes themselves vary and each has its own challenges and gifts.”

In the last year:

  • more than 120 parish volunteers have been trained to lead public prayer
  • 65 people have been trained in leading congregational singing;
  • 45 people have participated in a Liam Lawton music workshop;
  • 26 people have been trained for Baptism Teams;
  • 57 people have been trained as ministers of the Word;
  • 75 people have been trained as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.

Waterford and Lismore

45 parishes

66 priests

Nine priests have left active service in the past five years and seven have entered the priesthood in the area over the same period, including one newly ordained priest.

No changes in relation to baptisms or marriages.

Fr Liam Power, communications officer confirmed the diocese has launched a ‘Listening Process’ with parishioners invited to contribute to a pastoral planning process.

“The process was held at a number of different venues in the diocese and will engage with other groups as we go forward. This will help to generate a sense of participation and responsibility within parish communities and will lead to the development of a vision and strategic directions for ministry and pastoral development in our diocese, taking into account the increasing secularisation of our culture.

“There has been a dramatic increase in the number of lay people who volunteer for various ministries in their parishes.”

Archdiocese of Dublin

247 diocesan priests

166 religious priests

22 Permanent Deacons.

97 priests have retired

There are also 25 Parish Pastoral workers with appointments – these are full-time positions held by 17 women and eight men, who work in parishes and in Youth Evangelisation.

A spokesperson for the archdiocese said many parishes have reduced the number of masses.

The archdiocese referred to recent speeches made by Archbishop Martin, including last November when he remarked on how 15 priests had died in the past year in the area, while two new priests were ordained for the diocese of Dublin. In that speech, looking ahead to 2030, he said: “If religious orders were to relinquish the parishes they currently serve, due to the age profile of their own priests, the drop by 2030 would be 70 percent leaving just 111 priests carrying out parish ministry across Dublin’s 199 parishes. Fifty-seven percent of the current priests serving in Dublin are over 60 years of age and this is projected to increase to 75% by 2030 and the findings predict that just one new priest under the age of 40 will join the priesthood in Dublin every year up to 2030.”

Ferns

No detail supplied

Ossory

42 parishes

53 priests

In the past years, three priests have retired from ministry in Ossory and one priest has been ordained for service in the diocese.

There is one parish without a resident priest — cared for by a neighbouring priest who has been appointed to this role alongside his duties, and another which is cared for by a priest from a neighbouring parish in a similar fashion — although this parish has also a resident retired priest.

The diocese has no plans overseas priests working in parishes and, as of now, no plans to begin this practise.

The diocese has parishes that have introduced changes with regard to its services such as adjusting Mass times. No changes to the days on which weddings and funerals are celebrated.

Some parishes there have been changes in mass times. The diocese has also employed a coordinator for our diocesan pastoral plan which has been worked on in recent years as a means of prioritising the areas on which we will focus in the years ahead to better serve people in the diocese.

Rev Dr Dermot Ryan, communications, Ossory Diocese,said: “Priests are essential for their ongoing service of the people of the diocese and the celebration of the Eucharist in our communities. We must, therefore, continue to promote and welcome vocations to the priesthood. This is happening alongside an ever developing appreciation by people of their ability to contribute to the faith community in so many ways. The diminishing number of priests will, and is having, an impact on the services we can offer (eg rationalisation of mass times to allow priests to help between parishes).”

Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin

56 parishes

90 priests in parish ministry

In the last three years two priests have retired, one priest has been ordained and two priests come to minister in the Diocese from the Diocese of Iasi in Romania.

Aisling Brennan, diocesan spokesperson, said there have been changes in many parishes. “Some parishes have re-organised their Mass times. Priests are required to exercise a vital ministry in the Church. Therefore the need for vocations to the priesthood is critical, notwithstanding the involvement and support of the lay faithful in reaching out to parishioners. Naturally the decreasing number of priests has had an impact on the service available by priests through the parishes.

“In many parishes lay people, in accordance with their vocation in baptism, exercise many responsibilities some of which were traditionally undertaken by priests, for example, as ministers of the Eucharist, ministers of the Word, as chairs and members of parish councils, as chairs and members of the board of management of the parish school, as members of baptism preparation and funeral ministry teams.

“In the diocese, we also have eight permanent deacons who make a substantial contribution to parish life, in both pastoral and administration capacities.”

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