The Isle without Priests

Source: SSPX Ireland

The numbers of working Catholic priests in Ireland will halve in the next 10 years, a bishop has warned.

Bishop Francis Duffy has issued a letter on the severity of the vocations crisis to all 41 churches in his diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise. He has told how a priest in each parish will be a thing of the past.

The bishop's pastoral letter detailed how the numbers of priests will drop from 52 to 25 by the year 2030.

Bishop Duffy said there are currently no seminarians getting ready to be ordained in the diocese, which covers most of Longford, much of Leitrim and parts of Westmeath, Offaly and Cavan.

He said it means that by the time children born now are making their confirmation "the diocese will be a very different place".

He wrote: "Many of you will fondly remember when there were two or three priests working in your parish, where now there is only one.

"Three of our parishes do not have a resident priest. The trend of a declining number of clergy is set to continue. By 2030, over the next 13 years, 28 of our diocesan priests will reach the retirement age of 75. At the moment, we have 52 very dedicated diocesan priests in our parishes, but sadly no seminarians preparing for ordination."

Vatican statistics show that the numbers of priests in Ireland dropped from 5,362 in 2002 to 4,688 in 2012.

With less and less seminarians, the maths show a major crisis on the cards.

This year, there were just three seminarians in Ardagh and Clonmacnois, and all three left, which he described as "unfortunate and disappointing".

There are many reasons for the decline, he said.

"There is a hesitancy to answer a calling. Some feel it is too demanding, some feel the celibacy is too big a demand and it will be a lonely life. Others aren't ready to take the risk.

"The horrendous and heinous crime of the abuse of children by clergy and how it was so badly managed, was also a big issue and had a huge impact on the view of the clergy and the church. A general mistrust of all institutions has left a lot of people questioning them."

In the last census, some 3.7 million people identified as Catholic (78pc), 132,220 fewer than in 2011 when the percentage stood at 84pc.

One in 10 Irish people say they have no religion (468,421 people), a 73.6pc increase since 2011. 

This makes 'no religion' the second largest group in this category behind Roman Catholics.