Pressure on parishes with dozens of ageing priests due to retire

Pressure on parishes with dozens of ageing priests due to retire

No newly-ordained priest has joined the Diocese of Cork and Ross in the past four years. File picture

The number of Catholic priests serving in Ireland is set to decline dramatically over the coming months. 

Priests who were due to retire over the past year but stayed on to help colleagues during the pandemic are now hoping they can step down from active ministry — but a lack of ordinations means there is no one to replace them.

In the Diocese of Cork and Ross, for example, around 11 priests are due to retire over the next three years. Nine of the diocese’s 94 serving parish priests are aged over 75.

Diocesan secretary Fr Michael Keohane told the Irish Examiner: “Several factors, including the Covid pandemic, meant many of the priests who were due to retire in recent years continue to hold full-time appointments.

As a result, the number who have passed retirement age is higher, and it is hoped that many of these priests will be permitted to retire in the coming year. 

However, no newly-ordained priest joined the diocese in the past four years, and just one will join in 2022.

As well as retirements, a significant number have died in the past year, with more than 135 priests passing away between March and August 2020 alone.

Cork native, Bishop Tom Deenihan, recently announced that in the Diocese of Meath — which lost six priests during the pandemic — it was “increasingly difficult” to keep priests in all parishes. He is now having to rely on priests coming from abroad.

“The diocese is increasingly reliant on priests from Romania, Africa, and Poland,” he said.

There has been a reduction in clergy in some parishes. There is also a need to encourage collaboration between parishes. 

The Diocese of Cloyne, which currently has five parishes without a resident priest, will see six of its 70 priests retire between now and 2023.

The Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh, and Kilfenora has about 40 priests in full-time ministry, but seven of them are due to retire by 2023.

And in the last four years, just one newly-ordained priest or curate has joined.

At the moment, 12 of the Kerry Diocese’s 53 parishes no longer have a resident priest, and that number is set to rise because four of its 46 priests in parish ministry are due to reach the retirement age of 75 by summer 2023.

Three priests retired in the summer, bringing to 20 the number of retired priests in the parish.

The Diocese of Waterford and Lismore’s website notes that five priests retired in 2020.

Mayo Diocese of Killala currently has 26 priests, of which the oldest is 78. But in November last year, the diocese’s website listed the names of 41 priests, of which eight were retired. 

In 10 to 15 years, priests in the Diocese of Killala will be down to just seven priests.

When asked about the shortage, diocesan communications officer Fr Diarmuid Hogan replied: “This question requires a thesis or two, and perhaps a national synod to address. 

However, there are very significantly more priests in Ireland at present than there were before the Famine when the population was twice what it is now.

“Perhaps there are enough priests, but too many churches.”

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