A petition of 1,200 signatures is to be handed into the Bishop of Kerry in the coming days as a standoff escalates between him and parishioners of Kilcummin, Co Kerry, over the decision to remove the parish priest.
The diocesan changes were announced in June by Bishop Ray Browne, on foot of the retirement of three priests, each with more than 50 years of service, and came into effect last week. The decision will leave the large parish of Kilcummin near Killarney without a resident parish priest.
The decision to move Fr Eamon Mulvihill to Castlegregory has been greeted with anger by Kilcummin parishioners.
Mass collections have dropped significantly as people continue to boycott the weekend collections.
Two public meetings attended by hundreds of people have been held, with the bishop’s representatives angrily questioned about the decision.
One suggestion from the floor of one of the meetings to picket Bishop’s House in Killarney was rejected. Instead, “a peaceful presentation” involving the handing in of the petition to the bishop is being arranged, with as many people as possible being asked to turn out, according to parishioner Marie Moloney.
Parishioners want the bishop himself to be at the door to accept the petition.
Ms Moloney, a Labour county councillor and former senator, is a member of the six-person committee which met with the bishop on the impasse.
While the level of anger has decreased somewhat, “there is still disappointment and a feeling of being let down”, said Ms Moloney.
Exactly how parishes are selected to be left without a priest is still a mystery, Ms Moloney said of the meeting with Bishop Browne earlier this week.
“We have been told it’s based on the judgment of a gathering of six priests,” she said. “But we don’t know the criteria that are used.”
Kilcummin is the first parish in Co Kerry to mount a campaign of protest. Eight of the 53 parishes in the sprawling diocese are now without resident priests as a result of retirements, an ageing priesthood, and lack of vocations.
Although he fully understands the upset and sadness of the parishioners, Bishop Browne has told the delegates from Kilcummin he is not for turning.
Kilcummin will instead be served by priests from nearby Killarney, he has assured them, adding that they will see “no change” as regards baptisms, funerals, weddings, First Communions, Confirmations, and First Friday calls.
“The parish continues to have its own identity,” Bishop Browne has said.
The bishop attended Masses in Kilcummin prior to the public announcement of the changes and he had also met the Parish Pastoral Council “and fully discussed all aspects of the situation with them”, he said in a statement.
Kilcummin man Pat O’Sullivan, one of the spokespeople for parishioners, has called for priests involved in administration in the diocese, including in the Bishop’s Palace and some of those attached to hospitals, to be based in parishes.
He says moves are afoot to seek help from the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland.