11/17/09

Priest shortage in Ireland



Two recent articles (here and here) offer different takes on the declining number of priests in Ireland. Note the reaction of the congregation upon hearing Fr. Sean McKenna's announcement and contrast that with the stark statistics on Ireland's dwindling clergy.

Ireland was once a country from which a surplus of priests went forth to serve in other nations around the world - including the United States. The picture is changing radically.

This past Sunday a priest who assists me on weekends and who is on the faculty of St. John Seminary in Brighton brought five 4th year students with him to our 11:30 Mass. Upon introducing them to the assembly, the people gave them a standing ovation.

We applaud those who leave the ordained ministry and we applaud those few preparing to enter it. And in the meantime the numbers dip to precarious lows.
Fr Brendan Hoban, parish priest at St Muredach’s Cathedral, in Ballina, Co Mayo, writing in the Furrow magazine last June, said of his own Killala diocese that “in 20 years’ time there will be around eight priests instead of the present 34, with probably two or three under 60 years of age”.

He said “the difficult truth is that priests will have effectively disappeared in Ireland in two to three decades.”

-ConcordPastor

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why do you applaud those who leave the ordained ministry, Concord Pastor? Is it because they are showing integrity by leaving the priestly service instead of trying to maintain a hidden and illicit relationship? I am a little confused as to the point you are making here. Could you elaborate, please?

Irish Gal

Michael said...

There are 2 ways to address the priest shortage. A) reduce demand for services OR B) increase supply of priests.

So far the leaders of the church have chosen A and have done so by closing parishes. This is a strategy that can only work in the short term. There is a limit to the number of parishes you can close.

Will the leaders of the church embrace creative solutions to increase the supply of priests before it's too late? (Praying harder for more vocations hasn't worked so far.)

Or will they stand by and watch as their "going out of business" strategy proceeds to its logical conclusion?

I fear the latter, given the history of inaction around the clergy sexual abuse crisis.

Anonymous said...

What do you think it will take for the pope to address this reality in a realistic fashion? Are we all going to keep our heads buried in the sand waiting for the pope to lift the discipline of priestly celibacy? We really are sheep, aren't we? To think that the whole world must wait for one person to speak seems rather amazing, doesn't it?

I really don't know what to say or think. It just strikes me as very sad.

Rosemary

ConcordPastor said...

The "we" in my post was editorial, IG, not a suggestion that I was applauding Fr. McKenna's action but an effort to show that in the same country, one experiencing a serious decline in the number of priests, in one congregation, for their own reasons, the people applauded a priest announcing his departure from them ministry.

ConcordPastor said...

Rosemary, it's not as if the bishops of the world are clamoring (vocally or behind the scenes) for a change on this discipline of some 1,000 years duration. It doesn't all depend on one person.

Flit said...

Irish Gal your rash judgement leaves a cloud over some the wonderful priests we have.I do not have my head in the sand, but I doubt that your observation is turning men away.
We need never to forget what has happened--but we rally need to heal and move on and encourage these good young men who attended mass with us this weekend. I found it very uplifting.

Anonymous said...

Is it not the pope who could instantly lift this discipline if he chose to do so? Even though the discipline has been in place for some 1,000 years, it was not in place the prior 1,000 years. Can we recycle the discipline every 1,000 years when circumstances warrant it? Some bishops are clamoring for a change, but the minute one speaks out individually, he is silenced. Cardinal Claudio Hummes comes to mind.

As we are all aware, the priest shortage in many parts of the world is dire. In many parts of the United States it is worse than what we are experiencing in the Archdiocese of Boston. Somehow it seems to me that if the clergy (be it pope, bishops or priests) won't address the priest shortage problem, it falls to the laity to address it. How? With our voices of outrage over being denied the Eucharist when this isn't necessary. Are we all going to just accept what Rome says without voicing our own desires? Pretty pathetic I would say.

Rosemary

anne said...

The church cannot survive without the Eucharist. The priest shortage problem should be a priority yet our leaders seem to put other issues at the top of their list. The solutions seem all too obvious to most of us but no one in a high church leadership position seems willing to take this on as a serious issue. Someone has to have the courage to stress the necessity of discussion regarding this grave situation. Open ordination to all those who are called by God. Ordain married men and women so that the Eucharist may be accessible to all the faithful.

ConcordPastor said...

I believe IG misread my post and I think Flit may have misread IG.

ConcordPastor said...

No, I would not expect or want the pope to overturn 1,000 years of theology and discipline "instantly."
Such a change would wreak more havoc than solve problems.

anne said...

"Such a change would wreak more havoc than solve problems."

I don't believe the change would (or should) come "instantly" but what kind of havoc would it wreak?

ConcordPastor said...

I was unclear in my wording. I meant that if such a change were to occur "instantly" then havoc would follow before benefits might be realized.

Anonymous said...

Do you believe benefits would be realized eventually with the ordination that Anne is proposing, CP?



Irish Gal

Anonymous said...

I will answer to Irish Gal's question. I would be sad to lose him but I would applaud a priest who if it were true that he had fallen in love, had the integrity to say he fell in love with a wonderful woman, is leaving the priesthood to marry. Many priests, like this Irish priest, have left and married, and we can only imagine the depth of their struggle. To me leaving the priesthood in that situation is more noble, more loving and true, than staying in the priesthood and having a series of affairs. We need priests but not at the cost of the person (or other people)! If the struggle is that strong to stay celibate that it is destroying the priest as a human being, and celibacy truly cannot be lived by that priest, then it is time to let go and be true to whatever God's will is. His will may actually be to be a married priest, which although the church doesn't allow at this time except in the case of Anglicans, doesn't mean it's not God's will for men in that situation (or women)!

I honestly believe that the issue of celibacy is directly related to the problems that many priests struggle with (not that they are limited to priests!) but issues with addictions, including alcohol, drugs, sex addictions, etc. There is an extremely high price/very human toll that is taken when men at a young age answer "the call" but then struggle all their lives with the isolation and loneliness that is so much a part of that call today. We need real supports, greater care (long term therapy, 12 step programs)for our priests who are struggling with addictions and so filled with shame, so much alone. They can't do it alone.

We also need real involvement and partnership of the laity in our church in all areas. The Spirit of God speaks through all of us and the people of God are the Catholic Church including priests, religious and laity. We all need to begin to speak what the spirit is guiding us to say and take action as God's spirit calls us. I believe the health and future of our Church depends on this!

Theresa

ConcordPastor said...

Having read your comment, Theresa, I think the question must be asked: would you a man as much freedom to leave his wife and family if, some years into his pledged, sacramental life, he felt drawn elsewhere?

Anonymous said...

I see your point, CP, but couldn't it be said that maybe a priest, because of his young age, could make a decision that was not a fully informed (maybe not having enough life experience) or as in the case of a married spouse seeking an annulment, was a flawed decision?

I would never take either vocation lightly and would always strive to support our priests in their priesthood, (or spouses in their marriage vows) but not to the point of the suffering that it causes to so many if their vocation is being lived out in a way that is seriously affecting their physical and emotional health (and that of others) as seen in addictions, affairs, and sexual abuse. That is the havoc that I believe is happening now and that is not being fully recognized.

I think there is so much hope in a future for our church to include celibate priests (who feel called to that) along with a married priesthood, women priests, and full participation of the laity. I worry about our future without this openness to change and I'm very concerned about the health of our Church.

Theresa

ConcordPastor said...

An annulment is a decision by the Church that a marriage, as understood by the Church, never existed in circumstances that appeared to be a marriage.

The equivalent for priests would be a decision that somehow a defect in the ordination of a particular priest was serious enough to render his ordination invalid.

The youngest age a man might be ordained today would be 27 - although I believe most are closer to 30 or older. One would hope that by this age and with about 6 years or more of seminary formation that a man would not be unclear on the promise he was making in orders.

But does this indeed happen? Yes. But neither in marriage nor in ministry should we begin with a premise for how the commitment might be undone, dissolved. Commitment in these sacraments is based on the premise of fidelity for life.

The havoc of physical and emotional health problems, as seen in addictions, affairs, and sexual abuse, is matter first for treatment in the life of the ordained as it is in the life of the married. In some cases that might lead to an annulment of a marriage or to the laicization of a priest. But preservation of the bond of marriage and the promises of ordination should be the first priority.

St Edwards Blog said...

I am late to this post and comment thread, but I must say that this seems such a complex issue.

In the end it is not about a rapid change for "flipping a switch." I get very upset with my friends, Catholics and others, who think that a married and/or female clergy would just make everything better.

I am reminded of an anecdote told by Anne Lamott in one of her books, I think in "Plan B," where she discusses "too soon to tell." It is often too soon to tell what is working or not. Perhaps it is not too soon to tell that celibacy/gender matters are *not* working as we imagine it should work.

The trouble as I see it is a lack of real, generous, discussion on the matter. We tend, as humans and as Catholics, to be dogmatic. Thus we spend too much time and energy at "our end" of the game. The wisdom is there, in the ambiguous middle, or the "thin place."

Now I have no better ability to be in that place than anyone else. I do have a desire to be there.

Decisions made in haste are often not the best ones. That said - sticking with only what you know is not best, nor is just doing a whole new thing, most of the time anyway.

Fran

Anonymous said...

I am constantly amazed that people are willing to accept the idea that things will absolutely continue along a present or past course, that we know in twenty years we will be out of priests, that we must change the discipline at once or else! Anne labels this as "obvious" (Anne) and Rosemary suggests "outrage." Indeed. Does no one suspect that situation change, in fact, are changing right now? Vocations are rising steadily, especially in those congregations and dioceses faithful to the teachings of the church. Vocations plummeted under Archbishop Weakland, but were resurrected after Archbishop Dolan ran things. The same movement is evident with religious sisters: Orders part of the LCWR see very few vocations, the more traditional orders aligned with the rival group (whose name escapes me) are expanding at a fast rate.

Doesn't THAT tell you something, folks?

Irish Gal

ConcordPastor said...

Commenters and Readers: I've received a number of comments including links to other sites and I have chosen not to publish those comments.

Why?

These are links to sites that are definitely outside the boundaries of the Church, its teaching and its practice My posting them here will occasion... well, more of what we've seen so often before.

I'm choosing not to spend my blogging time refereeing the predictable.

anne said...

Irish Gal, I ask this respectfully...Are you one who does not believe there is a crisis? Across the country there are many parishes without a pastor and that is on the increase. We are not seeing too much of this in the Boston Archdiocese yet but we will. There needs to be serious discussion before we are forced to have lay led communion services instead of our right to Sunday Eucharistic celebrations with a priest.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Anne, there is a crisis. But I'm afraid too many here don't want to let this crisis go to waste -- and are intent on dwelling on it to the exclusion of the good things that are happening and that need to be reported and encouraged. I for one do not think it is a bad thing that the number of foreign born priests has increased in the archdiocese. I've attended Masses celebrated by African priests and find myself uplifted and reminded of the universality of the church. I applaud the growing number of seminarians. They don't come from parishes where the pastors and parishioners have a dour and dissenting outlook, they come from parishes and homes where the faith is nourished. Who knows what God will do in this situation? Our Lady of Guadalupe was responsible for nine million conversions in Mexico after her appearance. Pray, fast, believe...

anne said...

Yes Anon, the priests who come to serve us from other countries are wonderful and if they are willing, we should use them. The parochial vicar at my parish is from overseas. We love him. However, this is still not a solution to the problem. Why are young men not entering seminaries? Could it have something to do with the abuse crisis? I think that's a good possibility. Welcoming priests from other countries may work for a while but this will not encourage our bishops to look seriously at the problem.

Anonymous said...

Anne,
As the abuse crisis recedes into the past -- and it is receding, slowly and painfully -- lessons have been learned and new programs implemented. Perfect? Far from it! And there may yet be more revelations. But if you want to know about young men entering the seminary, why don't you contact the director of vocations? If you're local, you could invite him to your parish. Concord Pastor, YOU could have the two priests in the vocations ministry come and talk at Holy Family. Be part of the solution instead of part of the problem, as they said back in the seventies. Did you see the suggestion above: Prayer, fasting... Everyone should try it. It works. Young men ARE entering the seminaries. Get the facts.

Irish Gal

michelle said...

to quote from anonymous-
"who knows what God will do in this situation?"

no one knows.

in this situation or in ANY situation-

as I am writing this I am realizing that I don't have a real contribution to these comments-
to the conversation-


my intense desire to be part of this- to be part of anything-
got in the way-
or, was first in my mind before I realized I did not have the words or whatever to contribute...

anne said...

I disagree that the abuse crisis is receding. Horror stories are revealed frequently.
Re inviting the vocational director to speak...not a bad idea but who is he speaking to?! Older and middle age folks and families with young children. I don't know about your parish but I see few young single adults present in the congregation who would be inspired by such a talk.
There may be more young men entering the seminaries these days (not enough) in some parts but they seem to be very orthodox and traditionally bent. I grew up in the 50's. Been there done that...that mind set didn't work then on many levels. Why would it work now with our high tech educated society? We need people to lead us who want to continue the reforms of Vatican II and move forward, not backwards. Otherwise, our church is in trouble.

With that I am through with this discussion.

Michael said...

Irish Gal, here are the facts in the RCAB, taken directly from the recent Pastoral Planning Committee Report.

"The RCAB is currently served by a total of 500 active priests. Of these, 38 are on health leave or unassigned, 97 in special ministry and 365 in parish ministry."

"Of those in parish ministry, 108 are 65 years of age or older. At a projected net-loss rate of 25 active priests per year and a projected average of 5 newly ordained priests per year, by 2015 there will be only 292 active priests, i.e., priests who are not retired or permanently disabled; only an estimated 212 will be available for parish ministry."

"This will leave approximately 10-12 priests in each of the 20 vicariates in full-time parish work."

Since 25 priests will no longer be able to serve each year and there are only 5 new priests to replace them, I think we can all agree that’s a problem that needs to be addressed NOW.

Anonymous said...

Michael,
Then get to work. Start praying. Fasting. Offering sacrifices. Almsgiving. Invite vocation directors to talk to parish groups -- there are certainly youth groups in every parish, for anyone who troubles to look. Now indeed, it is time, Michael, to fund a scholarship for a seminarian, to take the trouble to befriend young foreign priests who are visiting... to do something besides whine.

Anne, I'm sure you're not listening, but if you really truly dislike the "traditionalists" who are on the rise, and want married men and women clergy, there are other churches that meet your needs. If you do not accept the discipline and doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, then perhaps you should consider making a difference elsewhere, should you not? Isn't that the logical conclusion? With all respect, going on and on about things that will not change -- women's ordination -- is draining for those who do and for those who listen.

Irish Gal

Anonymous said...

CP,

I'm wondering what the majority of priests you know are saying on this issue of married priests. You said in an earlier post that it's not as though the bishops are clammering for this issue to be brought forward of opening discussions regarding married priests. But it's the priests who are being most affected (in addition to the laity of course) not the bishops. Where are those priests who are on the front lines like yourself? Are discussions on this topic at all occurring in planning meetings, are priests able to voice their concerns for the future, or the personal toll this all takes on them?

Celtic Crone said...

I have never really been sure what a "good Catholic" is, but I think maybe I'm not one. I think that those who seem to disparage the legitimate concerns and worries of some of us about the lessenings of total relgious vocations, the dwindling church attendance, and the increase in numbers of those leaving the Church, tend to believe that they are the good Catholics. If indeed the disparagers are the good Catholcs, then I am a bad one, and superfluous to the church.

ConcordPastor said...

I've never actually polled any priests nor do I know of any studies on this question. Among priests I know and speak with I'd say most are open to the possibility of having married priests again. The restoration of a married clergy would, of course, have many implications and not be something that would easily be instituted. And who knows how it would be received? I believe that many priests I know would also be slow to predict that the possibility of a married clergy would suddenly or even eventually swell the numbers of Catholic clergy.

The topic of the possibility of a married Catholic clergy does not often come up in planning meetings because planning meetings on a diocesan or parish level are not the venue where such change is going to be made. Priests do, however, speak more and more clearly at such meetings about the toll this takes on them. Raising the retirement age for priests in Boston from 70 to 75 was an occasion for such comment.

I would also add that I believe that bishops, who are responsible for the vitality of parish life, carry the burden of the priest shortage as fully as do priests in parishes.

Anonymous said...

To follow up, CP, do you have any thoughts on what we can do as laity to help support our priests, many of whom we know are struggling greatly under the weight of all they carry, beyond praying for them and working as we're able within our parish communities?

Also, what can we do to help open this discussion, to fully face our future needs as Church in the archdiocese of Boston and beyond?

ConcordPastor said...

There are many good suggestions above: praying for and working with priests in one's parish are probably the best of all. One thing active parishioners might do that would be very helpful is to make it their personal mission to make more active those who are with us on Sundays and to draw back to Sunday worship those who have been away for some time.

Also important and helpful is taking seriously what the Church at large and the archdiocese locally are saying about how things are going to change significantly in the next 15-20 years in parish life as the number of priests continues to diminish. I do not expect any significant change in my life time regarding married Catholic priests. That means we need to work with the present and the coming reality. Others may take it upon themselves to petition bishops or Rome about alternatives but frankly that's not something in which I plan to invest my time or energy. I don't say that to disparage those who do - I would support their efforts - but it's not where I will be investing mine.

Jamma said...

Have read with great interest comments on this subject on your blog...such a tragic situation for the Church as we know it and such a dismal forecast for the future. Perhaps the End of the world is not so far away after all.

ConcordPastor said...

That would be one solution to the priest shortage, Jamma, but it's not one I'm counting on!

Anonymous said...

"Others may take it upon themselves to petition bishops or Rome about alternatives but frankly that's not something in which I plan to invest my time or energy. I don't say that to disparage those who do - I would support their efforts - but it's not where I will be investing mine."

Father Fleming, Since you know that the church will never alter its stance on women priests, for example, why on earth would support the efforts of those who seek to lobby for such a change? Even the discipline of celibacy is not open for discussion. Encouraging anyone to engage in a fruitless crusade against settled matters is hardly charitable, to my mind. You do your readers a disservice to encourage them in any way in this. It is not a pastoral response.


Irish Gal

ConcordPastor said...

My apology to: anyone misled, offended or ill-served by my comment.

It was not my intention to encourage dissent or pastorally mislead my readers.

And this brings us to the end of comments on this post and to my doing some serious thinking about how to handle comments on all posts in the future.

NONE of the church's concerns will ever be settled in the comboxes of blogs - NONE of them. To pretend otherwise is folly.

They style of comments in comboxes seldom leads to growth in understanding but more frequently to folks digging in their heels on one side of an issue or the other.

Comboxes on blogs quickly become sandlots where different points of view slug it out, with the blogger called to be the referee. I have neither the time nor the interest to function in that capacity, especially given that nothing is going to be resolved here.