Studies of Clergy numbers in Dublin and Limerick

In the past week or two we have read of the rapidly declining number of priests in the dioceses of Dublin and Limerick. It is refreshing to see that both these dioceses are acknowledging and facing up to the problem. It is clearly dramatic, and raises serious questions about the very survival of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

While it is good that they are facing up to the problem, the solutions being proposed in both cases are very disappointing. There seems to be no “thinking outside the box” as the saying goes. Great effort is being put into stretching out the increasingly smaller and older number of priests, so as to keep the present structure and system working for as long as possible. The Dublin report even suggests that it might be possible for some priest to continue working into their late seventies, even up to eighty years of age. The article on Limerick features a woman, sitting at a computer, whose job is to stretch a small number of elderly priests into a large amount of churches and masses each weekend.
Two things about this are so obvious, that I cannot understand that the relevant authorities don’t recognise them.
The first is that the solutions being offered are abusive of the elderly priests. That in itself is a grave wrong.
The second is that, even if it does manage to get a few extra years out of these men, it is only postponing the inevitable, and failing to take the kind of decisions that eventually will have to be made.

Both dioceses talk about how the laity will need to take ownership of the church, in the diocese and at local level. This sounds good, but it fails to recognise that there has been little or no preparation of people to do this. With the collapse in credibility of the church generally in Ireland, the fact that very few under fifty go to church much anymore, and the decline in faith generally, what is much more likely to happen when priests disappear from the scene, is that people will give up altogether.

I think there are still ways in which something good can be salvaged from this wreckage, but it would need much more imaginative and courageous decisions than appear in the documentation coming from either diocese.
And there is little or nothing happening in the other twenty six dioceses around the country, or if there is we are not hearing about it.