Lack of new priests one of the biggest challenges for the church, says Bishop
bishop Denis Brennan, whose own Diocese has seen a large fall in the number of new priests, said the lack of new recruits for the priesthood was one of the biggest challenges facing the Catholic Church.
Bishop Brennan told diocesan vocations directors in Maynooth that 50 years ago, 441 priests were ordained in a year while now it is 12 or 13 annually.
'This sharp decline in numbers studying for the priesthood obviously has huge implications for the future shape of ministry. It also impacts on the present by undermining and sapping our morale,' he said.
His own Diocese of Ferns illustrates the extent of the problem. In 2011 there were 86 priests in parishes, currently there are 67.
Since 1998, 26 parishes in the Diocese have seen numbers drop, while nine priests have been ordained.
The Diocese has 40 curacies, 21 of them without a resident priest.
One deacon was ordained in 2016 and is completing studies at Maynooth.
Bishop Brennan told the meeeting of vocations directors that abuse scandals had 'poisoned the well' but that the cultural shift had begun before them.
He said, however, they were not the first Catholics to be anxious about what lay ahead and said 'faith has to believe in the future'.
'The effect of this should not be underestimated. I know farmers and business people, who when they realise that none of the family are interested in continuing on the farm or in the business, sell up.
'They lose heart, they see no point in continuing when it becomes obvious that nobody is going to carry on the business. This realisation can take its toll in priesthood and religious life too.'
The bishops have agreed in principle to set up a National Office for Vocations to promote the call to priesthood and rejuvenate initiatives at diocesan level.