More than 20% of priests and brothers have died in past three years

More than 20% of priests and brothers have died in past three years

'It is very sad to see so many have died in such a short space of time,' said Association of Catholic Priests director Fr John Collins. File image.

More than 21% of Ireland's entire population of parish priests and brothers — both serving and retired — have died in just three years.

The Association of Catholic Priests says that parishes are going to have to be amalgamated, churches closed, and fewer Masses held.

Fr John Collins, one of the ACP’s directors, said: “The figures are shocking. It is very sad to see so many have died in such a short space of time.

“We are all aware of an ageing priest population, but it is only when you look at the figures that you realise what a high number it is. 

This is a truly shocking illustration of the extent of the problem facing the Church.”

He added that the number of those dying every year is "only going to keep rising".

The number of serving Diocesan priests was officially recorded by the Catholic Church as being around 2,067 in 2014.

However, this was when the number of priests aged 75-84 was increasing steadily compared to previous years, as was the number of priests aged 65-74.

By the end of 2018, there were an estimated 1,800 working priests and around 720 retired priests, some of which were still helping out for holiday and sickness cover.

The list of most — but not all — clerical deaths in Ireland is contained each year in the Irish Catholic Directory, the official directory of the Irish Catholic Church published by Veritas Publications on behalf of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

According to those statistics, 174 nuns and 166 priests and brothers died in 2019.

A further 191 nuns died in 2020, and 223 priests and brothers also died.

Up to September 2021, another 131 nuns had died, as had 131 priests and brothers.

However, the figures from the directories are likely to be conservative, because not every religious order or diocese reports the death of its clergy to Veritas.

In addition, according to, at least another 76 nuns, at least another 36 priests, and five religious brothers died between October and January 4 this year.

The Irish Examiner reported recently that the number of priests is set to decline dramatically over the coming months as pressures on parishes from the pandemic ease.

This is because priests who were due to retire but stayed on to help colleagues are now hoping they can now finally retire.

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 over 75 years old.

Cloyne Diocese-based Fr Tim Hazelwood, of the Association of Catholic Priests, said: “In Ireland, the Church we knew in the past is dying. That's the reality.

"You are seeing the traditional Catholic parish structure disappearing.

Covid-19 has accelerated the change, and very quickly, the old traditional way the Church we grew up with is literally dying. There's a huge change going to happen, and churches will close."

The Catholic Communications Office was asked for a comment about the number of deaths and referred the Irish Examiner to a homily by Archbishop Eamon Martin, Primate of All Ireland last year.

In it, he said: “The Covid-19 virus may have struck at the very heart of our outreach and ministry to the sick, the dying and the bereaved but, it could not, and did not, and will not destroy our hope and our conviction that God remains especially near to people who suffer, and God is close to those who are broken-hearted.”

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