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Are Ireland's priests heading for extinction?

Numbers studying to be ordained are dwindling and one priest has suggested it is time to allow married men to fill the gaps.

Image: Priest image via Shutterstock

AN IRISH PRIEST has warned that the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland is in jeopardy as the number of priests in the country continues to dwindle.

Fr Brendan Hoban said that the church is “in denial about vocations to the priesthood”.

“When we try to pretend that everything is just as it used to be, that nothing has gone wrong, we do what the orchestra on the Titanic did, we keep playing, we pretend that everything is normal,” he said in an article for the Association of Catholic Priests. “That’s what denial is.”

In Mayo’s Killala diocese, there are now just seven priests under the age of 55 years old for 22 parishes. Tuam will have just 50 priests for 55 parishes by 2020, Hoban warned.

In 1984 there were 171 ordinations or religious professions in Ireland compared to the more recent figure of just 22 in 2006. There are now just 70 people studying for the diocesean priesthood in Ireland, with just 12 in Maynooth.

“We don’t need to have 20/20 vision to see this particular train coming down the track,” Hoban said. “All we need to do is to be able to count.”

The priest said a number of things could be done to address the problem, such as ordaining married deacons who already work in parishes as priests or fast-track education and formation for ‘men of proven faith’ in parishes. We could also invite priests who left to get married to return, he said.

“The reality is that in 20 years there will be few priests in Ireland and those that are still standing will be mainly in their 70s,” Hoban added. “So there is an inevitable logic with asking the question, Who will break the bread for us?”

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