Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ireland running out of priests

~from Times Online
Ireland, a country that used to export its Catholic clergy around the world, is running out of priests at such a rate that their numbers will have dropped by two thirds in the next 20 years, leaving parishes up and down the land vacant.

The decline of Catholic Ireland, for decades the Pope’s favourite bastion of faith in Europe, has been regularly predicted, as the economic successes of the Celtic Tiger brought growing secularisation. But new figures have starkly set out the fate of the Irish priesthood if action is not taken by the Church to reverse the trend.

One-hundred and sixty priests died last year but only nine were ordained. Figures for nuns were even more dramatic, with the deaths of 228 nuns and only two taking final vows for service in religious life.

Based upon these figures The Irish Catholic newspaper predicts that the number of priests will drop from the current 4,752 to about 1,500 by 2028.

The decline in vocations is attributed to the loss of the Church’s authority after a string of sex-abuse scandals. In 1994 the Government collapsed over the mishandling of the case of a paedophile priest Brendan Smyth.

The scandals broke a dam of silence, prompting apologies from both the Church and the Government for the abuse of children and women who passed through religious institutions. An estimated €1 billion (£750,000) are being paid out in compensation to victims.

Regular church attendance, which was at 90 per cent at the start of the 1990s, has suffered a collapse, mitigated partially in recent years by the mass influx of Polish workers.

The priestly age profile is creating another dilemma because most priests are already close to normal retirement age. The average age of Irish priests is currently 61.

Religious commentators are calling on the Church authorities to convene a national synod to address the crisis. Some are even challenging the vow of celibacy as unnecessary. “The time has come for the Church in Ireland to confront this problem much more seriously,” The Irish Catholic said.

Father Eamonn Bourke, director of vocations in Dublin, said: “These latest statistics bring the problems we are facing into sharp focus.

“It is impossible to argue with statistics and the situation is very grave. For a long time people have failed to real-ise how much the decline is.” He said he was concerned that “some priests are reluctant to offer priesthood to people as a valuable way of life. It will take a long time to increase this confidence.”

David Quinn, a commentator on Irish religious affairs, told The Times: “The real problem is that the demographic has finally caught up and priests are retiring and dying at a rate of knots.

“I’d say that a majority of priests in Ireland would probably favour dropping the celibacy rule, while the bishops would be more evenly split on the issue. But vocations in Ireland were exceptionally high between 1920 and 1960, higher than in the 19th century, just as now they are so low as to be an aberration. Ireland is now the vocations blackspot of the world.
Read more. Note to David Quinn: The Anglicans have married (and more!) clergy and they have a vocations crisis (among other things) too. So, dropping the celibacy rule will not solve the problem.

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