Bishop warns of declining priest numbers as a 'sign of the times'

By Marita Moloney

A Bishop has warned of the challenges facing the Catholic Church, with the number of priests in his diocese set to halve in the next decade.

Bishop of Ossory Dermot Farrell said in a pastoral letter that everyone needs to "read and respond to the signs of the times".

"After two centuries of flourishing, the Catholic Church in Ireland has come into different times," he wrote in the letter which will be distributed at masses this weekend in the Kilkenny-based diocese.

He says that the diocese currently has 40 priests under the age of 75, but that this will be halved over the next 10 years.

"This changing reality presents a challenge that cannot be ignored," he said.

It will entail change for our parishes. We need to consider how we can serve our parishes in the best way possible, taking into account the new situation in which we find ourselves.

Bishop Farrell urged people to attend mass, with him citing a survey which showed that 24% of parishioners attend a mass in the Ossory diocese every weekend.

"For these approximately 18,500 people, there are 142 Masses; some are attended by several hundred people, others attended by just a few," he said.

"The Mass calls for the full and active participation of all: servers, readers, singers, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, young and old, male and female, clergy and lay.

"This is not always possible in many of the smaller Sunday gatherings in our churches. We have a responsibility therefore to pool our talents and resources, in order to strengthen and encourage, and to console our sisters and brothers."

Bishop Farrell said that he and a group of priests and lay people have been working to explore "new models to sustain a viable and vibrant future" for the parishes under his remit.

These options will be proposed to Parish Pastoral Councils, Finance Committees and to the people and priests and will call for "institutional reform as well as a sharing of authority at all levels".

This will involve parishes working together and a change to Mass frequencies, but not an amalgamation of parishes.

"I recognise that there may be a certain loss in these necessary changes, but there is also a gain.

"What we grew up with exists no more; we mourn that loss. However, we are asked to find new ways to permit the Church to live in new times," he wrote.

Most Read in Ireland