Impact of decline in priestly numbers in two rural Catholic dioceses – The Irish Times

The sharp drop in the number of priests was described in a Lenten pastoral letter from Bishop of Achonry Paul Dempsey, while Bishop of Ferns Ger Nash appealed to people to attend Masses in person, as they had done before the Covid-19 outbreak. pandemic did.

The Diocese of Achonry, one of the smallest and most rural in Ireland, comprising parishes in Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon, has not had an ordination in 10 years and currently has no seminarian studying for the priesthood.

“The best-case scenario will be 12 priests serving in the 23 parishes of our diocese in 10 years,” Bishop Dempsey said.

“It is important that we are fully aware of this reality and its implications. We’ve never been here,” he said.

It would mean “letting go of some of the familiar ways that we have experienced in the past,” he said, recalling how Pope Benedict “reminded us in 2009 that “the lay faithful are no longer to be considered collaborators of the clergy , but as ‘jointly responsible’ for the being and work of the Church’”.

“Bold and creative”

Bishop Dempsey hoped that people in the diocese would be “courageous and creative” in the coming months, as Pope Francis suggested in discussions about the future with members of parish councils, deacons, religious and priests.

Last November it emerged that the Diocese of Killala, which includes 22 parishes in North Mayo and Sligo, could reduce the number of priests from 23 to eight in five years.

Father Brendan Hoban, a priest in the diocese, recently wrote in Western People magazine: “The clear, undeniable truth was that the ever-declining number of priests would not be able to offer the people of the region more than one minimal service to the diocese and if the Catholic Church is to survive in any effective form lay Catholics must come to the fore”.

At a meeting in Ballina last November, four lay “ministry” were presented to those in attendance. This included bringing communion to the housebound; visiting the needy or vulnerable; leaders of lay liturgies; and “accompaniment,” which would see a role for lay people and a priest at a funeral, for example.

Initially, this “funeral team” consisted of a priest and a lay mortician, who led prayers at the home or funeral home, received the remains at the church, and attended funeral mass and prayers together at the cemetery.

At the Newman Institute in Ballina, a program offering lay Catholics practical training in community liturgy and pastoral ministry began last month.

benefits and blessings

Meanwhile, Bishop Nash said: “I kindly invite people who have not been in church since before the pandemic to reconsider their decision this Lent and return to Sunday Mass so they can enjoy the benefits and blessings in their lives .”

The Bishop of Ferns, who covers most of Co Wexford, said it was his firm belief “that congregations must play their part in returning to worship and be innovative and imaginative in rebuilding the Christian community”.

“In churches where Covid restrictions are still in place, I encourage them to relax so that a sense of normality can be restored at our Sunday celebration.”

He also encouraged priests and parents in the diocese to “rebuild the ministry of altar boys where it was lost.”

“When I visit the schools, the youth I speak to, who invariably attend Mass, recall a time when they were associated with the Church. We long for the general participation of young people in church life and so we must take positive steps to encourage it.” Impact of decline in priestly numbers in two rural Catholic dioceses – The Irish Times

Dais Johnston

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